Bears RB David Montgomery thriving under new play-caller

Since returning from a concussion to work under new play-caller Bill Lazor, Montgomery has played the best football of his Bears career.

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David Montgomery runs against the Texans on Sunday.

David Montgomery runs against the Texans on Sunday.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As running back David Montgomery zipped through a wide-open hole and sprinted 80 yards down the sideline on the Bears’ first offensive play Sunday, he reached 20.33 mph. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, it was the fastest he has ever run in the NFL. More important, he reached the end zone.

Two weeks earlier, he didn’t make it that far. On the Bears’ second offensive play against the Packers, he took a handoff up the middle for 57 yards, only to be tackled at the 8-yard line. The Bears lost a yard on the next play, threw two incompletions and were forced to kick a field goal. By halftime, they trailed by 17.

“[Montgomery] does that in practice every day, as far as finishing runs — whether it’s 50, 60, 70 yards down the field,” running backs coach Charles London said this week. “After he made that run [against the Texans], he came back and said that [practice] made a difference, just finishing long runs.”

The fact that Montgomery now has two to compare is a statement in itself. Since returning from a concussion — and with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor now in charge of play-calling — Montgomery has played the best football of his Bears career. Consider:

• In three games with Lazor calling the plays, he has averaged 7.38 yards per carry. That’s more than double his average of 3.6 when coach Matt Nagy was calling plays earlier in the season.

• He has averaged 10.1 yards per catch over the last three games after averaging 7.1 through the first nine games before his injury.

• The Bears have gone from averaging 19.1 points over the first 10 games to 30.3 points in Montgomery’s last three games with Lazor calling plays.

Some of the statistical uptick is explainable: The Lions and Texans have putrid defenses, and the Bears gained empty points and yards in the fourth quarter of the Packers game after trailing by 31.

But the Bears also have settled on an improved configuration of their offensive line, with Sam Mustipher at center, Cody Whitehair and Alex Bars at guard and Germain Ifedi sliding to tackle along with Charles Leno.

Montgomery’s growth the last three weeks prompts the same question that has been asked about the Bears suddenly playing to quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s strengths: What took so long?

Nagy never had the appetite to run the ball for the sake of doing so. Last season, he felt obligated to tell the world “I’m not an idiot” after ordering just seven carries against the Saints in Week 7. Montgomery’s 3.7 yards per carry ranked 41st in the NFL in 2019; only Le’Veon Bell, then with the Jets, had more carries and less success.

The Bears entered this season planning to run more with Trubisky under center, and it worked at first. Through two games, Montgomery averaged five yards per carry. Then came the switch to quarterback Nick Foles and a jump in the quality of opponents; Montgomery had 10 carries against both the Colts and Rams but didn’t total more than 29 yards either time.

In four games with Lazor as play-caller, the Bears are running the ball only slightly more than with Nagy as play-caller — 36.1% over four games versus Nagy’s 33.7% over nine games — but have been effective when they do.

However, they’re also spelling Montgomery with backup Cordarrelle Patterson more — to a frustrating degree. After Montgomery’s 80-yard run Sunday, he carried the ball only 10 more times. Patterson had six runs. The week before, Montgomery ran 17 times, Patterson 10.

Montgomery, though, wasn’t going to complain about his touches. For maybe the first time since he was drafted, the Bears’ rushing attack is clicking.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say anything’s changed,” Montgomery said. “I think we’re starting to buy in more, really believe. Believe. It gets to a point where, what do you really have to lose? Not saying we never did [believe], but we just believed more and bought in more.”

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