The Bears have finally found an identity with physical ballcarriers
Justin Fields had just trucked Lions safety DeShon Elliott at the goal line to score in the second quarter Sunday when he stomped down the Bears sideline with his helmet off, screaming.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields had just trucked Lions safety DeShon Elliott at the goal line to score in the second quarter last Sunday when he stomped down the Bears’ sideline with his helmet off, screaming.
The typically mild-mannered Fields didn’t remember what he said.
“But I was definitely hyped up,” he said.
He wanted to make his teammates feel the same way, even if it took lowering his throwing shoulder into a tackler to do it.
“That is the competitor in him,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “I think that’s why these guys rally around him. He’s about winning. The dude just wants to win. That’s our mindset.”
The physicality, however, is their offensive identity.
Former Bears coach Matt Nagy struggled for years trying to find one. John Fox couldn’t identify one after coordinator Adam Gase left. Marc Trestman could — for a year.
It took coach Matt Eberflus and Getsy — who could be a head-coaching candidate as soon as January — about six weeks to figure out what the Bears do best. They’ve averaged 31 points over the last four games entering Sunday’s game at the Falcons, buoyed by the NFL’s best running attack and a quarterback putting together the best five-week rushing stretch of anyone to ever play the position.
“I think what the Bears have done is they’ve found an identity,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith told reporters this week. “They have a formula right now. You see what the numbers are — running the football as well as anybody. And [Fields] is a huge part of that, whether it’s designed runs or you get into a game like New England when they get those third downs and he was able to break those tackles. He’s a hard guy to bring down, and those play extensions, they have been crushing to some people.”
And inspiring to others. Running back David Montgomery, who figures to get the majority of the carries Sunday with Khalil Herbert on injured reserve, wasn’t worried about Fields lowering his shoulder at the goal line.
“Because he’s Justin,” Montgomery said. “I was more concerned about the guy he had trucked. Seriously.”
Elliott, the tackler, was helped off the field with a concussion.
That one-yard run impressed more teammates than Fields’ 67-yard touchdown sprint late in the game.
“He’s supposed to slide,” Montgomery said with a smile. “If y’all haven’t noticed, Justin has a problem sliding.”
Fields will have a little extra motivation Sunday. He grew up in suburban Atlanta and went to Falcons games growing up with his dad, a season-ticket holder. He was fond of quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones.
“It’s exciting, for sure,” Fields said of his homecoming.
Smith is trying to prepare the Falcons for it.
“[Fields] is strong as hell,” he said. “He’s probably the strongest guy they’ve got in the backfield, taking into account the running back.”
Fields’ toughness has translated to other position groups. Tight end Cole Kmet, who has scored five touchdowns over the last three games, is turning heads with the way he plows into tacklers after a catch.
An offensive line with major long-term questions has embraced its identity, too. The Bears rank seventh in ESPN’s team run-block win-rate percentage. They average a league-high 3.6 yards before contact — a testament to run-blocking. And their ball-carriers rank second in broken tackles on running plays and sixth in yards after contact per rush. Montgomery’s ability to break tackles has always impressed his teammates.
The Bears’ trade Nov. 1 for 6-4, 238-pound Chase Claypool gave them a rough-and-tumble element outside to go with a group of standout run-blocking receivers.
“I think this team really harps on physicality,” Claypool said.
It’s what the Bears do well, and it’s contagious.
It’s their identity — finally.