One of the most puzzling situations for the Chicago Bears this season is the maddening inconsistency of their running game.
Despite facing one of the worst run defenses in the league on Sunday, and employing both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, the Bears managed just 113 yards on 27 carries in the game. It’s baffling to see given how fewer stacked boxes the team faces this year compared to last. Howard is in the midst of the worst season of his young career and people are struggling for answers. Most of them circle back to head coach Matt Nagy just not knowing how to use him properly.
In actuality, it may be something a bit more fundamental than that. The offensive line isn’t blocking well enough. People always give so much of the credit for ground game success to the running backs when in actuality they’re at the mercy of the five men up front. Put simply this current group the Bears have isn’t getting it done. Some may be surprised by this. Isn’t it the same cast who led Howard to two-straight 1,000-yard seasons.
Yes, but that was in a different offense. Those offensive linemen were groomed to play in an Adam Gase-Dowell Loggains type of attack. Nagy has proven throughout this year that his system has little in common with what it replaced. The reality is the Bears aren’t running the ball well in Nagy’s system because they don’t have the right blockers to execute it.
Andy Reid and Doug Pederson also needed time to build their lines
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It’s rare for offenses to be great right away when a new coach takes over. One thing that often sparks it is a revamped offensive line. Take what the Los Angeles Rams did in 2017. Sean McVay and Les Snead overhauled the group, replacing three of its starters from the previous year with Andrew Whitworth, John Sullivan, and Jamon Brown. Whitworth and Sullivan were free agent signings. The offense went from 32nd to 1st in scoring.
Former Nagy colleague Doug Pederson saw similar results. His first year the Eagles signed Brandon Brooks and Stefen Wisniewski to take over at guard. A year later the offense was 3rd in the NFL and they won the Super Bowl. The point is that those systems don’t function at peak efficiency until the right blockers are in place. Andy Reid, Nagy’s mentor is another example.
In 2013, his first year with the Chiefs, the team employed just one blocker of his own choosing on their front five in left tackle Eric Fisher. That began to change over the next few years as Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, and Mitchell Schwartz arrived via the draft and free agency. After ranking 21st, 25th, and 27th those first three years in total offense, the Chiefs rose to 20th in 2016 and 5th in 2017. They are currently 3rd. Having the right blockers in place matters.
Currently, just one notable player on the Bears offensive line was one of Nagy’s choosing. That’s rookie James Daniels. The rest were signed or drafted during the previous eras. Bryan Witzmann doesn’t count because he was an emergency addition after Kyle Long got injured. That means there is a strong possibility that other spots on that front could be replaced next offseason as Nagy searched for guys who can block his style of offense.