Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields completed 17-of-29 passes for 291 yards, one touchdown and one interception and an 89.9 passer rating against the Steelers in Week 9. | Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
After gaining 414 yards vs. the Steelers, there’s still room for a lot of growth. And that’s where the focus is Sunday: Can this coaching staff, this quarterback and this offense build on their success?
After the Bears gained a season-high 414 total yards and 297 passing yards against the Steelers, coach Matt Nagy was playfully miffed when asked about getting running backs more involved in the passing game. At least I think it was playfully.
“You guys are tough, man,” Nagy said. “You got tight ends. You’ve got the wide receivers. Now you’re hitting us with the running backs.”
Nagy said he was being facetious and in reality was probably half-kidding. We’re just never happy, he probably is thinking. Then again, there are two truths here — the Bears gained 414 yards against the Steelers. But they’re still 31st in the NFL in total offense.
In other words, there’s still room for growth. A lot of it, actually. And that’s where the focus is against the Ravens on Sunday at Soldier Field. Can this coaching staff, this quarterback and this offense build on their success against the Steelers? As well-coached teams like the Ravens respond to what the Bears have done, can Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and Justin Fields stay one step ahead with the right counter-move?
Incorporating the running backs seems like a logical next move. The Bears are last in the NFL in receiving yards from their running backs — 29 receptions for 178 yards (6.1) rom David Montgomery (8-66), Damien Williams (11-64), rookie Khalil Herbert (9-44) and Ryan Nall (1-4). Their long gain is Herbert’s 20-yard gain against the Buccaneers when the Bears trailed 35-3.
In fact, 23 running backs have more individual receiving yards than the Bears running backs combined. The leader is former Bear Cordarrelle Patterson, who has 39 receptions for 473 yards (12.1 avg.) and five touchdowns for the Falcons this season.
Patterson, though, is in a dual role as running back and wide receiver. He also has 77 rushes for 303 yards (3.9 avg.) and two touchdowns. Still, his production with the Falcons is notable after Patterson’s two seasons a wide receiver and running back in Nagy’s offense. Patterson has more total yards (776 on 116 touches, 6.7 avg.) and touchdowns (seven) in nine games with the Falcons than he did in 32 games with the Bears (550 yards, one touchdown on 113 touches, 4.9 avg.).
Be that as it may, Nagy’s offense is becoming more diversified with Lazor calling the plays. The Bears’ four pass plays of 25 yards or more against the Steelers not only equaled their 25-plus pass plays in the first eight games, but went to four different receivers — wide receivers Marquise Goodwin (50) and Allen Robinson (39) and tight ends Jimmy Graham (28) and Cole Kmet (25).
Nagy purposefully replaced Jordan Howard with Montgomery with an eye on Montgomery’s versatility. Herbert, the sixth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech, fits the same mold. So you know Nagy has plans for them in the passing game, eventually.
“If teams are going to try to take away shots and zone you out and do different things, the running back is an important position,” Nagy said. “We’ve got guys that can catch the football. We’ve got guys that can break tackles. We’ve got smart running backs.
“If [opponents] are going to give you that opportunity, the we want to take that. Some games you’ll get more than others. And it just depends where that defensive coordinator’s mindset is against you that day.”
That sets the stage for Sunday’s game against a Ravens defense that ranks 24th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. They now have to account for open tight ends and receivers that have produced big plays. Whether it’s the running backs, Darnell Mooney downfield or Justin Fields throwing the ball to himself, it’s up to Nagy, Lazor and the Bears to have the right answer.