It’s been a long, mostly-frustrating season for the 2019 Chicago Bears that’s seen plenty of peaks and valleys. However, don’t look now, but the Monsters of the Midway have now rattled off two straight victories, bringing their record (6-6) to .500 for the first time since Oct. 20.
After sputtering out of the gates in their Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Lions, allowing UDFA David Blough to fire two touchdown strikes early on, Chicago went into halftime trailing 17-10. But as the offense finally found their footing in quarter three (a recurring instance this season), Mitchell Trubisky and Co. came back to find the endzone twice and sneak away with 24-20 win.
Standout performances from Trubisky, Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson played a massive role in this one, but another player that should receive more love is rookie call-carrier David Montgomery.
Late in the fourth quarter, Trubisky connected with Montgomery on a three-yard pass to complete the comeback. The Iowa State product was just one of three Bears to reach pay-dirt, notching his sixth touchdown of the season.
The @ChicagoBears gobble up the lead! 🦃
— NFL (@NFL) November 28, 2019
In total, this was one of Montgomery’s most efficient games as a pro. He took 16 rushes for 75 yards (4.9 yards per carry), chipping in with two receptions for 12 yards and a score. The 22-year-old finished the contest as the Bears’ highest-graded player (87.4) according to Pro Football Focus.
— PFF (@PFF) November 30, 2019
“It was a quick play, so get to the line fast,” Montgomery said to NBC Sports regarding his touchdown catch. “I had a shallow [route] coming across, and I just happened to squeeze open and I just caught the ball. I almost dropped it, but I caught it.”
Although Montgomery has shown flashes of elite running back traits in his rookie campaign, his first year in the Windy City as a whole hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Although he’s second to only Raiders’ Josh Jacobs in rookie rushing yards with 594, his 3.5 yards per carry places just 38th amongst all tailbacks with at least 75 carries.
However, there’s a strong argument to be made that this is far from his own fault as suspect play-calling and inept offensive line play are the main culprits of what has severely hindered his productivity.
Drafted to be the heir to two-time 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Howard this past offseason, Matt Nagy’s tendency to sporadically abandon the run has made it tough for Montgomery to find a consistent rhythm. In 2019, he has just two games with over 20 carries, falling below seven carries in two matchups as well.
When it comes to the O-line play, Chicago’s unit has taken a massive step back after grading as a consensus top-10 group in 2018. In fact, Football Outsiders have them ranked as the fourth-worst run-blocking line in all of football in terms of adjusted line yards (click here to see how that’s measured). Their 21 percent stuffed rate, where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage, is also bottom-eight.
There hasn’t been much room to operate for any Bears’ ball-carrier (2.2 yards before contact on average). Still, Montgomery has made due with what he’s had, compiling the 14th-most evaded tackles (45) in the league up to this point.
As college football’s record-holder for forced missed tackles in a season, topping 100 each of his last two years with the Cyclones, one thing has been clear — Montgomery is still incredibly tough to bring down, fighting for extra yards each time he touches the ball.
Down the stretch, there’s reason to believe first-year bruiser can build off what PFF ranked as his best game of the season against Detroit. Slowly but surely, the offense is beginning to build momentum, allowing Montgomery to progress as a result. Three of the Bears’ next four opponents (Dallas, Green Bay, and Kansas City) have had issues suppressing the run this year, something that should work in his favor.
Regardless of how the Navy and Orange finish the 2019 season, fans can be certain the offensive line will be a primary offseason focus for this team via the draft or free agency. With some added help, there’s little doubt that Montgomery can develop into one of the league’s better running backs. The underlying statistics back that notion.