The disappointment surrounding David Montgomery’s rookie season with the Chicago Bears is real. NBC Sports is already calling this year a “make-or-break season,” for him. NFL.com has him as the 27th ranked starting running back in the league. ESPN called his rookie season, “below average.” Yahoo Sports has this trifecta of quotes form three different analysts in a recent article; “He’s coming off a miserable rookie season that saw him finish 48th out of 50 running backs in YPC after contact,” and “there’s no denying Montgomery struggled with inefficiency in his rookie campaign,” and that he “was remarkably inefficient last season in terms of both traditional (3.7 YPC) and advanced metrics. He wasn’t great.”
After trading up to grab the talented Iowa State tailback, it was expected his more versatile skill-set would be a perfect fit for what the Bears wanted to do on offense in 2019.
But then the season happened and there seemed to be one offensive misstep after the other from the players, the coaches and overall scheme. The offensive line, the play calling, and the personnel usage all had a hand in Montgomery not breaking out as big as many hoped, but he deserves plenty of blame as well.
He was indecisive at times, he simply read his blocks wrong at other times, and he didn’t play with the same aggressiveness and burst that we saw him have in college.
Dumping Jordan Howard for a late round draft pick just added to the expectations many heaped on Montgomery, but when comparing Howard’s overall productivity his last season as a Bear (2018), to Montgomery’s rookie year, I was surprised at how close they were.
In 2019 running back David Montgomery had 267 touches for 1,074 yards from scrimmage with 7 touchdowns for the #Bears. That was good for 4.02 yards per touch.— Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. (@wiltfongjr) July 13, 2020
In 2018 Jordan Howard had 270 touches and 1,080 yards from scrimmage for the Bears which was 4.0 ypt and he had 9 TDs.
There was only a difference of three offensive touches, six yards, and two touchdowns between the two seasons, but while Montgomery was a rookie playing in a broken offense, Howard was a third-year pro that was in a serviceable O.
To break those numbers down even more, in 2019 Montgomery touched the ball on 26.1% of Chicago’s offensive plays with Howard getting 26.7% of the plays in 2018. But when talking total offensive yards, Montgomery accounted for 22.7% of the Bears’ yards a year ago, while Howard ate up 19.7% of the yards in 2018.
With the offense running more efficiently in 2018, opposing defenses weren’t able to zero in on what head coach and play caller Matt Nagy wanted to do quite as much. Formation and personnel may have tipped off defenses as to Montgomery's usage at times in 2019 and his impact suffered.
Nagy knew his offense was too predictable last year which is a big reason he revamped his offensive coaching staff. He’ll never be a ‘get off the bus running’ type of play caller, but some more balance couldn’t hurt.
In 2018 the Bears ran the ball 47.8% of the time, which was a 6th highest in the NFL, but in 2019 that number dipped to only 40.5% (22nd in the league).
Balance in play calling is helped out if the players can execute early in games, because too often in 2019 the offense found themselves trailing in the second half. Nagy still had times where he abandoned the run too quickly, but the overall ineffectiveness in scoring from his offense forced his hand as well.
In 2018 the Bears were 11th in the league in 1st quarter scoring, but last year they were 31st. In the second quarter the Bears were 9th highest in scoring during their 12 win 2018 season, but ranked just 30th in second quarter scoring in 2019.
The Bears were dead last in first half scoring last season, so constantly playing catch-up in the second halves of games is going to kill a run/pass ratio in the long run.
Montgomery, and the running game as a whole, can be much more effective in 2020, but it’ll only be better if the offense can play more efficiently.