Throughout his first three seasons as Bears head coach, Matt Nagy has often had to parry questions about his running game, or lack thereof, particularly after losses. The perception in Chicago is that the coach often meanders away from the ground attack at inopportune times.
Perception doesn't exactly match the reality for the play-caller. Still, Nagy spent part of a recent interview with Kenneth Davis on theUnder Center Podcastat the American Century Classic golf tournament over the weekend harping on his plan for running back David Montgomery.
The Bears rode Montgomery down the stretch last season as Nagy's club backed into the postseason. In the final three games of the regular season, the starting running back saw 32, 23 and 22 carries, respectively.
Those are target figures the coach hopes to see the running back hit more regularly in 2021.
"Depending on what the game is, what's happened the last couple years and why some of David's carries -- which aren't low -- haven't been quite as high is a lot of guys get it in to four-minute mode in the fourth quarter," Nagy said, via SI.com. "That's where they can get those extra four or five carries, which can bump them into the top five, you know, with 20 rushes a game. That's our goal."
In 15 regular-season games played last season, Montgomery averaged 16.5 carries per game. That's hardly forgotten. Only three backs saw more total totes than the Bears leading rusher last season: Derrick Henry (averaged 23.6 carries per game), Dalvin Cook (22.3) and Josh Jacobs (18.2).
"We want to have the lead so that we can give him the ball, so he has touches," Nagy said. "Because you know from just seeing him run the football, that guy in four-minute mode it takes more than one guy to bring him down. He's one of my favorite players on the team.
"I love his work ethic. He cares so much. He's, I guarantee you every single day, he's out here working. He wants to have a great year. He's motivated."
In the Bears' eight regular-season wins, the RB averaged 17.3 totes per tilt. In the seven losses in which Montgomery participated, that figure waned just slightly, dipping to 15.6. Given the league-wide trend away from the running game and toward multi-player backfields, there is little to fret in terms of Montgomery's carries.
His end-of-season stretch above the 20-carry threshold did buoy his numbers. He had four games in which he didn't hit the dozen-carry mark. However, those instances didn't exactly indicate a win or loss, as two came in wins and two in defeats.
Most of the criticism of Nagy's play calls isn't that he doesn't call enough runs, but rather the timing of his calls -- i.e., electing to pass on short-yardage third downs when the running game has been clicking.
The overall inefficiency of the offense has been the biggest bugaboo for Nagy the past two seasons, with most of that due to erratic quarterback play. If he gets more efficiency and electric output from his signal-caller -- whether Justin Fields or Andy Dalton -- it should open up the ground game.
Again, Nagy insisted he doesn't hate running the ball.
"Not at all," he said. "I understand what city I'm in and where we're at with Chicago and defense and running the ball. You have to be able to run the football in this league to be successful and set up the pass and that's our goal is to get better in every area."
The reality of the modern league -- and a reality Nagy's play-calling usually reflects -- is that the pass sets up the run. But let's not let truth get in the way of good ol' clichés.