Bears boast best rushing attack in NFL — and now Khalil Herbert returns

Herbert’s return gives the Bears an outside chance of breaking the Ravens’ NFL record for yards rushing in a season.

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A photo of Bears running back Khalil Herbert running with the ball.

Khalil Herbert leads the NFL at six yards per carry.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The list of things the Bears do well is disturbingly short, but running the ball is at the top of it.

They’ve consistently been the most prolific rushing team in the NFL, and they’ll finally be restored to full strength Saturday with the return of speedster Khalil Herbert against the Bills. Herbert, who leads all NFL running backs at six yards per carry, missed four games with a hip injury but said he’s back to 100%.

If frigid temperatures and disruptive winds make passing problematic at Soldier Field, the game could come down to who has the better rushing attack. That wouldn’t necessarily offset the Bills’ across-the-board personnel advantage, but it certainly would help the Bears. 

Herbert is an ideal running mate for power back David Montgomery, and the Bears top it off with 1,000-yard rusher Justin Fields at quarterback. It’s what they do best, and even with all three players dealing with injuries, they stand atop the NFL at 186.9 yards per game and 5.4 per carry.

“It will be good to have our 1-2 punch back, along with Justin, in the run game,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “We’re excited about that feature.”

There isn’t much exciting about the Bears, but Herbert qualifies. Not only did he have 705 yards of total offense and five touchdowns before he got hurt, but he also had two runs of 50-plus yards.

It’s a dramatically different running game than the Bears had under former coach Matt Nagy, who didn’t use the run much to begin with and relied heavily on Montgomery when he did. This is the first time in Bears history that three players have run for at least 600 yards: Fields at 1,000, Montgomery at 694 and Herbert at 643.

The Bears would break their 1955 franchise record for yards per carry by half a yard if they maintain this pace. Their per-game average is their highest since 1977, when they hit 200.8 yards the year Walter Payton won the NFL MVP Award.

The 2006 Falcons and the 2019 and 2020 Ravens — the only other teams with 1,000-yard rushers at quarterback in Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson, respectively — are the only teams to average 5.5 yards per carry for a season. The 2019 Ravens own the NFL season record with 3,296 yards rushing, averaging 206 per game. The Bears need to average 227 yards over their last three games to beat that. They’ve exceeded 227 six times this season, although the Bills are No. 6 in run defense.

Before Herbert went down, the Bears were averaging 201.7 yards rushing per game, but without him, they dipped to 171.4. Montgomery ran for 260 yards and three touchdowns on 57 carries while Herbert was out.

“There’s a value in having two different types of runners,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said of Herbert and Montgomery. “[And Herbert] has the opportunity, like we’ve seen, to take what could be a seven-yard gain and turn it into a big one because he has enough speed.”

Having Herbert and Montgomery together for the final three games also gives Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles a chance to evaluate whether that’s the combination they need going forward. Montgomery will be a free agent after the season.

The Bears undoubtedly see more passing in their future, something Fields alluded to this week when he said he didn’t plan on being a perennial 1,000-yard rusher. So this run-heavy offense likely is more out of necessity for this season rather than the essence of Getsy’s philosophy.

But for now, it’s the best thing they’ve got. And Herbert makes it even better.

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