‘Next men up’ give Bears’ running game a boost

With David Montgomery on injured reserve, Damien Williams (16 carries, 64 yards, one TD) and rookie Khalil Herbert (18-75) ably filled the void — just like the good offenses do. “There’s a little bit of an identity going on right now,” coach Matt Nagy said of the run game.

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Rookie running back Khalil Herbert (24) had 18 carries for 75 yards in the Bears’ 20-9 victory over the Raiders on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Rookie running back Khalil Herbert (24) had 18 carries for 75 yards in the Bears’ 20-9 victory over the Raiders on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

David Becker/AP

LAS VEGAS — When Bears coach Matt Nagy referenced Kareem Hunt replacing Spencer Ware for the Chiefs in 2017 in response to a question about filling David Montgomery’s role in the offense, you could feel Bears fans collectively rolling their eyes. 

Nagy’s offense is not the Chiefs offense. And the idea of the Bears just plugging in one weapon to replace another like many good NFL offenses do didn’t really compute. The Bears aren’t there yet. 

But lo and behold, the Bears pulled it off against a capable Raiders defense in a 20-9 victory Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Damien Williams (16 carries, 64 yards, one touchdown) and rookie Khalil Herbert (18-75) were a productive, complementary tandem as the Bears rushed for 143 yards on 37 carries. 

The last time Montgomery was out, the Bears turned to Cordarrelle Patterson (12-30) and Artavis Pierce (3-9) and had 17 carries for 41 yards (2.4 avg.) in a 19-13 loss to the Vikings at Soldier Field last Nov. 20. This is progress.

“I know [Montgomery] is at home now watching this and he’s proud,” Nagy said. “For Damien Williams to step up and have 16 carries. For Khalil Herbert to come in as a rookie and run the ball like he did — that’s impressive.

“It talks to the offensive line and the tight ends. It talks a lot to those running backs. It talks a lot to our coaches for getting those guys ready. I think you guys [reporters] would probably agree there’s a little bit of an identity going on right now.” 

Indeed, the Bears success on the ground against the Raiders was a testament to not only the Bears’ depth at running back, but arguably more so to their offense, which has placed a greater emphasis on establishing the run with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor calling plays. The Bears not only used three tight ends, but even used offensive lineman Alex Bars as a third tackle to facilitate the run, including on Williams’ four-yard touchdown run. 

It was one thing to do that against the Lions. Doing it against the Raiders is a step further in the right direction. 

“I just think Bill Lazor has done a phenomenal job to get guys in rhythm and be able to feel who’s hot and where we’re at,” Nagy said. “The other coaches on the staff being able to help out — it’s a group deal. Everybody included is what makes this special. Some of that stuff is where we feel like we have a strength.”

It all came together particularly on the Bears’ 16-play, 86-yard scoring drive that used up 8:17 of the clock and gave them a 14-3 lead with 1:56 left in the first half. Herbert and Williams each had four carries for 23 yards in the drive, with Williams scoring from the 4-yard line on a nifty spin move that had even Justin Fields envious. 

“When I saw that, I just stood there and I was like, ‘Yo, that was crazy.’ I wish I could do that,” Fields said. “That’s all I’ve got to say about that. I wish I could do that.”

Williams has played this role before with the Chiefs in 2017 and 2018. But Herbert’s success might be more promising. The sixth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech came into game with three rushes for seven yards. 

“Man, I was telling him all game — especially coming out in the second half — ‘This is on you now,’” Williams said. “I gave my first blows in the first half. Now it’s your turn to get your blows in.’ As a young kid coming into this environment, he held himself great. 

“He’s a very consistent person and I feel like if he continues to do that, he’s going to have a long, long future.” 

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