David Montgomery excelled in spite of Bears offense, not because of it

  • Bears running back David Montgomery had an excellent sophomore season, but he can be helped by a go-to No. 2 running back.

    Bears running back David Montgomery had an excellent sophomore season, but he can be helped by a go-to No. 2 running back. Mark Busch/mbusch@shawmedia.com

  • David Montgomery is one of the best in the league running in traffic and needing more than one tackler to bring him down.

    David Montgomery is one of the best in the league running in traffic and needing more than one tackler to bring him down. Mark Busch/mbusch@shawmedia.com

  • Cordarrelle Patterson is a kick returner, receiver and backup running back, and was often used to spell David Montgomery.

    Cordarrelle Patterson is a kick returner, receiver and backup running back, and was often used to spell David Montgomery. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/21/2021 1:48 PM

Fourth in a series

How bad was the Bears' ground game in 2020?

 

That the club finished 25th in rushing yards and 21st in average gain per rush doesn't begin to tell the story.

The Bears were 30th in the league running the ball until late-season adjustments to the offensive line and scheme unleashed its potential, but it was too little too late.

Consider this from the Bears' first five losses:

Significant improvement coming out of the bye against the Packers, Lions, Texans, Vikings, Jaguars and Packers got them to the playoffs, but it was nullified wild-card weekend as the Bears were held to nine points and 48 yards on 19 carries -- the second time around versus the Saints.

After poor quarterback play it was the second biggest problem with the team's woeful 2020 offense, but it wasn't because of poor play by the running backs.

How they were used was the biggest issue.

Positives: David Montgomery had a breakout second half of his sophomore year with 247 carries for 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns. He also finished as the third leading receiver with 54 catches for 438 yards and two more TDs.

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Montgomery was one of the best in the NFL at making the first tackler miss and piling up yards after contact. His 1,508 yards from scrimmage were fourth among NFL backs, trailing only Derrick Henry (2,141), Dalvin Cook (1,918) and Alvin Kamara (1,688).

Montgomery lacks "long speed" but has great initial and short area quickness, outstanding balance, and is rarely tackled by just one defender.

Cordarrelle Patterson prepped for the position as a special weapon and third-down option going into the season but became the No. 2 back by default. He was the most violent of the Bears runners and produced decent numbers -- 64 carries, 232 yards, 1 TD -- but poor play in front of him and questionable play design and play calling limited his production more than his own play.

Artavis Pierce showed just enough to tease us with his six carries for 34 yards, but why he didn't get more is anybody's guess.

Negatives: The offense took a huge hit when Tarik Cohen tore his ACL in Week 3.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While Cohen, like Patterson, is a better fit as a third-down specialist, he was No. 2 on the depth chart. The Bears never really figured out a regular rotation behind Montgomery once he went down.

There was hope when the Bears added former Pro Bowl back Lamar Miller immediately following the loss to the Colts in Week 5 -- reuniting him with former coaches Bill Lazor and Charles London, whom he played for in Miami and Houston -- but his time as a Bear was limited to the practice squad other than being activated Week 10 vs. the Vikings and getting two catches for 6 yards.

Washington signed him off the Bears practice squad prior to Week 15.

Ryan Nall has been excellent in the preseason, but the Bears refuse to give him the ball in real games. He was active more than half the season and made special teams contributions had just three carries and nine targets.

Defining moments: It was obvious throughout the offseason and preseason the Bears were dangerously thin at running back. They lacked a true No. 2, but ignored the deficiency and paid the price when Cohen went down.

The other big moment: Switching to an outside zone-read run scheme coming out of the bye flipped a switch for the line and Montgomery.

Contract status: Montgomery has two years on his rookie deal, Cohen got a three-year extension last offseason and Patterson is a free agent. Pierce and Nall remain under team control.

Hub's grade: B. But it's a B+ for Montgomery, a C+ for the others, and a C for the game plan.

Hub's plan: Montgomery can be one of the best backs in the league the next three or four seasons if the Bears upgrade the tackle positions and stick with the scheme they went to coming out of the bye.

It would be a shame to lose Patterson to free agency, but they are in good shape on third downs with Cohen and Montgomery as options.

For a truly effective ground game the Bears need to add a legitimate No. 2 this offseason, which I'd like to see them address in the third round of the draft, but it can be done on day three as well.

• Twitter: @Hub_Arkush

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