One of the Bears’ best indicators in the early part of the 2020 season suddenly turned into one of the worst Sunday, when the new-and-improved running game hit the wall — not coincidentally against the first good defense the Bears saw this season.
Coach Matt Nagy’s fixation on improving the running game from 2019 — including a new line coach in Juan Castillo and new tight ends coach in Clancy Barone — looked like it was paying off in the first three games against the Lions, Giants and Falcons.
The Bears rushed for 149 yards and 5.3 yards per carry against the Lions, 135 yards and 4.2 per carry against the Giants and 130 yards and 5.2 per carry against the Falcons. It was their best stretch since Weeks 4-7 of the 2018 playoff season with Jordan Howard and Mitch Trubisky when the Bears averaged 154 yards per game and 5.1 per carry against the Buccaneers, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
But that improvement looked like fool’s gold against the Colts, who came in ranked fourth in the NFL against the run (10th in yards per carry). The offensive line was manhandled by the Colts’ front as the Bears rushed for 29 yards on 15 carries (1.9 average), excluding Nick Foles’ kneel-down at the end of the first half. David Montgomery gained 27 yards on 10 carries. His long run was six yards.
Nagy is putting his faith in Castillo, the line and the backs that this was a one-off — a bad day against a good opponent.
“I hope it’s just one of those games where you feel like, that defensive line and what they were doing …” Nagy said, not finishing the thought. “But at the same time, I trust our guys. I really do. I trust our scheme. I trust David, Cordarrelle [Patterson], Ryan Nall — all these guys. We’ve just got to stay with it. We can’t get caught off-guard and all of a sudden be one-dimensional, and that’s my job.”
The downturn against the Colts looked more like the 2019 season, when the Bears dropped from 11th to 27th in rushing yards per game. After having 36 rushes of five yards or more in their first three games (10 or more in each game), the Bears had one against the Colts. Thirteen of their 15 rushes were for three yards or less.
And they were out of sync. On a second-and-five draw play in the second quarter, Foles tried to hand off to Montgomery, but Montgomery was already upfield. Nagy tried an end-around to Darnell Mooney when the Bears had gained only 21 yards on their first nine carries — it lost three yards.
And early in the fourth quarter, Patterson lost two yards on a third-and-one from the Bears’ 26-yard line with the Colts leading 16-3 — reminiscent of last year’s season opener against the Packers when Patterson lost two yards on an early third-and-one in a 10-3 loss.
“[The Colts] made a good play on the front line,” Nagy said of the Patterson run. “They got shove — they beat us on the line of scrimmage and made a play. I was going for it on fourth-and-one, but we ended up losing [two yards], so that made it harder.
“I was OK with the play-call there. I don’t like us losing [two yards] on that down and distance. That’s a time to really get ready to rock and roll and get that first down. More so it was a little bit of a challenge, and we didn’t get it. So that was part of the frustrating process there.”