Bears establish run-first identity — can they sustain it?Mark Potashon October 4, 2021 at 7:52 pm

Running back David Montgomery (32) rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in the Bears’ 24-14 victory over the Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field. | Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photos

David Montgomery’s knee injury put a damper on one of the Bears’ most productive running games of the Matt Nagy era. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Nagy said. Damien Williams is likely to start if Montgomery can’t go.

Even Matt Nagy seemed to notice the difference in the Bears’ offense with Bill Lazor calling the plays.

“From the very first play of the game,” the Bears’ head coach said, “you could feel the offensive line, the tight ends, the running back — the energy; the confidence in saying, ‘You know what? We’re going to start this game off the right way.'”

Indeed, the Bears established from the outset that they planned to establish the run against the Lions. The Bears used three tight ends — Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham and Jesse James — on their first play from scrimmage, a nine-yard run by David Montgomery.

On the next play, yet another tight end, J.P. Holtz, lined up at fullback and Montgomery ran right behind him for a four-yard gain and a first down less than one minute into the game.

That set the tone for a run-heavy game — 39 rushes for 188 yards and three rushing touchdowns. It was the fourth time in Nagy’s four seasons the Bears have rushed for three touchdowns in a game — and three of the four have come with Lazor calling the plays.

The highlight was Montgomery’s nine-yard touchdown run that gave the Bears a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. With receivers Damiere Byrd and Darnell Mooney and tight ends Kmet and James chipping in, Montgomery ran off left tackle and bulled his way in for the final four yards — with literally every offensive player except Fields helping out.

“A couple of those touchdown runs, when you watch the tape, you can really see the finish,” Nagy said. “That’s what I love, when you put that finish on tape and you see how excited the guys are after they score — the juice, the energy, the vibe — that’s what I felt watching the tape last night. I love that part of it. I felt that, and that was important.

We’ll see how much he felt it and how important it is to Nagy when the Bears play the Raiders on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. The Bears have struggled to consistently establish the run — for various reasons. Sometimes they’ve come up against a better run defense. Sometimes they fall behind early. Sometimes Nagy just gets distracted.

And sometimes fate gets in the way. Montgomery suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter against the Lions. NFL Network reported that it was not a torn ACL, but it’s likely Montgomery could miss a few games. Montgomery rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries — including a 24-yard run as the Wildcat quarterback.

Nagy did not have an update and could not rule out the possibility it could be a season-ending injury. Regardless of the severity, Montgomery’s injury comes at a time when he is establishing himself as a heart-and-soul leader on and off the field — in the locker room and as a public face and voice of the franchise.

“With a lot of this offense going through him, I think a lot of you feel it, you see it — his energy; his passion, the way he runs the football,” Nagy said. “The other stuff you guys [reporters] can’t always see is how he is in practice and how focused he is and how he runs that huddle at times. You love that about him.

“So we’ll keep our fingers crossed and see where he’s at. He played a really good game [Sunday]. And he knew going into it that we were going to be leaning on him. But at the same time, it’s the next-man-up mentality. If that’s the case, we’ll get our guys ready. That’s our job as coaches to be able to game plan around that.”

Nagy said Damien Williams would replace Montgomery. Williams also was injured against the Lions, but NFL Network reported that it is a thigh bruise that should not prevent Williams from playing against the Raiders Sunday. Rookie Khalil Herbert likely would be the starter if Williams cannot play.

“Khalil has shown to us from the very first day he got here — he’s very mature, very focused,” Nagy said. “He’s a bright young man. And I think he’s got a bright future.”

Nagy recalled that when he was with the Chiefs in 2017, starting running back Spencer Ware suffered a torn PCL in his right knee in the final preseason game. Third-round rookie Kareem Hunt replaced him — and ended up leading the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards.

“You just never know where guys are and how they go,” Nagy said. “If that’s the case, we have confidence in [Herbert].”

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