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The myth that is “backfield by committee”

ECD isn’t buying what the media is selling in regards to the Bears’ plans at runningback.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Iowa State v Washington State Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Backfield by Committee - the suggestion that a team’s running game is comprised of several players being featured as opposed to one.

Almost every kind of source for speculation within the NFL has been suggesting the Chicago Bears intend to deploy such a method during the 2019 regular season. Shoot, a large number of my peers agree with that idea. A large amount of overhauling has been made with the Bears’ backfield.

Instead of the “Pony Express” formerly led by Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, we now have DMC (Davis, Montgomery, Cohen) in our backfield.

Yeah, I’m buying this “committee” shortly after I purchase earthquake insurance in the state of Florida. Or the moment after Jason La Canfora makes a credible statement regarding the Chicago Bears. Whichever comes first.

First, we’ll address the tweet. It’s a cool concept, and it features the idea of all three backs getting some type of action this season. And, a backfield which features a Ghidorah-like manifestation — a three headed monster — would be pretty difficult to defend against.

It also doesn’t tell you who’s the featured back, nor their honest plans, at least not outright.

In my full opinion, I believe for a backfield to be considered a “committee” as opposed to having a featured back, the leading player would have to have less than 55% of the offense’s total workload. This includes the cumulative amount of handoffs, targets in the receiving game, and pass protection in the passing game.

I asked my fellow writers here at WCG to weigh in on how they see the Bears’ backfield shaping up this year. Here are some of their thoughts.

I think snap count percentage is the best way to tell and I think the Bears number one will be less than 50% in 2019. - Lester Wiltfong Jr.

Total work as in snaps or carries or carries + targets? 55% seems low. I’d draw it closer to 2/3. - Jeff Berckes

I guess I’d go by the newer stat of ‘touches’ and I’d think the Bears’ leader will be less than 55 percent this year. Snaps would be my other choice of stat. - Sam Householder

I think that RBs do so much more the touch the ball, so I would go by snapcount as well. My guess is the 2019 Bears will be in the middle third of all teams.

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at how the Bears divided up the workload last season in terms of snaps percentages between Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Taquan Mizzell, and Benny Cunningham.

Bears 2018 RB Snaps Percentages

Player Snap %
Player Snap %
Howard 58.05
Cohen 46.05
Mizzell 6.51
Cunningham 3.44

One item to note is how each player was used last season. I used Pro Football Reference to gather my data for this section of the article.

Jordan Howard, who was the de-facto featured back in the rotation, saw a lopsided amount of work running the ball as opposed to being used in the entire gameplan. In fact, Howard was targeted just 26 times as a receiver in 2018, while rushing 250 times. The Bears’ new featured back will be expected to have a much larger role as a receiver heading into 2019.

Tarik Cohen, on the other hand, was almost 50/50 a receiver as much as he was handed the ball. He was targeted 91 times in the passing game, and rushed the ball 99 times in 2018. This is on top of being the Bears’ ace punt returner on special teams.

Between Taquan Mizzell and Benny Cunningham, Mizzell rushed the ball 9 times and was targeted 8 times; Cunningham was targeted just twice while rushing 11 times. Cunningham already left the team in free agency, and I do not expect Mizzell to have much of anything outside of special teams next season thanks to Mike Davis’s arrival.

As the Bears enter year two on offense under Matt Nagy, I’ll bring up the percentages and usage of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. That is what I envision Nagy’s gameplan becoming when it’s develop into a more advanced stage in Chicago. Their backfield consisted of the following players: Kareem Hunt; Charcandrick West; Akeem Hunt; and C.J. Spiller.

Chiefs 2017 RB Snaps Percentages

Player Snap %
Player Snap %
K. Hunt 64.75
West 21.71
A. Hunt 5.06
Spiller 1.17

The biggest difference between the Bears’ backfield in 2018 and the Chiefs’ backfield in 2017 is balance in the featured back’s role.

Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing yards with 1,327 yards on 272 carries as a rookie. He was also targeted 63 times as a receiver in the passing game. This is the type of role we should expect the Bears’ lead back to have in 2019. Having multiple options in the backfield is tough to defend. Defending against a true 3-down player at runningback is much harder.

Meanwhile, Chardandrick West’s role was more receiver-oriented than being a true runningback. He rushed the ball 18 times while being targeted 34 times in the passing game. I envision Cohen in a similar matter — seeing more action as a receiver than as a rusher — although I do believe he’ll continue to be a bigger factor in the Bears’ offense than West was in the Chiefs’.

For the rest of the Chiefs’ backfield; A. Hunt rushed the ball 8 times and was targeted 4 times, and C.J. Spiller had 2 carries and 2 targets. I definitely see Mike Davis having a much larger amount of work than both of these players combined.

As we can clearly see, Matt Nagy doesn’t use a committee approach for his backfield.

Yes, the Bears now have three talented players who all can catch as well as they can run the ball in David Montgomery, Mike Davis, and Tarik Cohen. Yet the suggestion that having three talented players at the RB position automatically a committee, is a complete fallacy. That, to me, is simply quality depth.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.

Tarik Cohen was used evenly as a receiver and a rusher. There’s no reason to believe his work at receiver will lighten up any time soon. Instead, thanks to the arrival of both Davis and Montgomery, expect for his opportunities and snaps at receiver to increase. This includes the addition of Cordarrelle Patterson, who too will see his fair share of gadget type plays on offense.

Mike Davis factors in as the ideal 3rd down back in Matt Nagy’s offense. That was the role he played with a run-heavy offense in the Seattle Seahawks’ gameplans, and thanks to his balance between being a tough runner and a capable receiver, he’ll receive a decent chunk of the snaps behind David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen.

And then there’s David Montgomery himself. The perfect fit as a 3-down player at this position. Both Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace have confirmed as much in their respective thoughts at seperate conferences.

“When you have guys that can play all three downs, it’s nice for the play caller and it’s nice for the offense.” - Matt Nagy, via

David Montgomery is the player the Bears were missing in their offense last season. Tough, explosive, and pops violently in close quarters without needing a large volume of carries to get going. The noise regarding the perceived lack of “top-end speed” is over-rated; Montgomery’s 40-time nearly matched Hunt’s (4.63 vs. 4.62) and is better than Le’Veon Bell’s (4.66). Montgomery’s game/on-field speed is what counts, and when he receives good blocking up front — a rarity while at Iowa State — he’s gone.

Pace’s actions in the draft speak for themselves. He traded up 14 slots in the 3rd round for the right to draft Montgomery. Every time Ryan Pace has traded up in the draft, it has resulted in a player who figures as a primary player at their position.

  • Bears trade up in the 2016 draft for Leonard Floyd
  • Bears trade up in the 2017 draft for Mitchell Trubisky and Eddie Jackson
  • Bears trade up in the 2018 draft for Anthony Miller

The only one who isn’t a full-time starter (yet) is Anthony Miller. His expectations are sky-high for 2019. Montgomery’s expectations are similar as a rookie.

And, really, why on earth would you trade up in the top 4 rounds for anybody who isn’t a likely starter at some point? Trading up for a rotational/committee player would result in terrible value and wasted resources. There is no question that Montgomery is Matt Nagy’s guy at RB moving forward.

So, this leads me to my expectations for the Bears’ offense during the 2019 season.

ECD’s expected percentages for 2019

Player Snap %
Player Snap %
Montgomery 62
Cohen 45
Davis 15
Mizzell/Others <1%

Where I do not expect Montgomery to have as much of a load as Kareem Hunt did during his rookie season, it won’t be because of who the better player is. Rather, it’ll be because Cohen and Davis are that much better than C. West and all the other backs Matt Nagy had at Kansas City and last year in Chicago.

Cohen will see another year of a fairly balanced load between receiver and runningback. However, since Montgomery will likely earn the vast majority of totes, I do see the balance being 45/55 between rushing and receiving. Besides, Cohen is the Bears’ most explosive receiver in their inventory, they’ll use that to their advantage.

And Davis, where he’s not as explosive as either Montgomery or Cohen, will be quite a catch as the 3rd back in this rotation. He’ll likely produce similar numbers with the Bears as he did with the Seahawks, albeit I do not see him registering a single start unless something happened to either Montgomery or Cohen. Which isn’t a knock on him, it’s more a testament to how good both those later players are.

Will the Bears use all three of Davis, Montgomery, and Cohen (DMC) next season? Absolutely. Will this result in the Bears deploying a “backfield by committee” tactic? Absolutely not. Look for Nagy to develop various packages highlighting all three players, if not a 3-back formation like, say, the T-Formation?

Now that I can dig. Just don’t call it a committee.