Earlier this week, we asked you who you thought would lead the Chicago Bears in rushing in 2023 and if you thought the Bears would repeat as the NFL’s rushing leader this season. I was a bit surprised by the results.
When the Bears drafted running back Roschon Johnson in the fourth round, the talk around social media, our comment section, and local sports radio was that his all-around game would eventually see him become Chicago’s RB1. Khalil Herbert would begin the year as the starter, but by mid-season, it would be the RoJo show.
Somewhere between then and now, fans have come around to appreciate Herbert’s running skills, and 56% of us have him pegged as the most likely player to lead Chicago’s ground attack.
In 2022, Justin Fields led the Bears with 1,143 rushing yards, David Montgomery was second with 801, and Herbert third with 731. Montgomery played 328 more snaps than Herbert, so if Herbert is on the field more, he might put his 5.7 yards per carry to use more often.
The key for Herbert getting more opportunities and improving on last year’s 301 offensive snaps is proving he’s a viable option in the passing game. If he does that, he’ll be able to stay in the game, and the Bears won’t be tipping their hand with him.
Last season, the Bears rushed for a league-leading 3,014 yards, with the Baltimore Ravens in second (2,720), the Atlanta Falcons next (2,718), followed by the New York Giants (2,519), and the Philadelphia Eagles (2,509) rounding out the top five. Each of those teams had an athletic quarterback boosting their numbers, which is something the Bears will have again in 2023.
More than half of our fans feel the Bears will lead the NFL in rushing in 2023, but if offensive coordinator Luke Getsy opens things up a bit, then there’s no way the Bears run the ball a league-leading 56% of the time again.
The Bears were one of three teams (Falcons and Ravens) that ran more than they passed last year, but sticking with that script doesn’t make sense with a bonafide number-one receiver on the team now. Or with Chase Claypool having an entire offseason to work with Fields. Or with a healthy Darnell Mooney, a returning Cole Kmet, and a legit move tight end in Robert Tonyan in the offense.
Last year, Fields did a lot of his damage on scrambles, but what if the revamped receiving corps allows him to throw the ball a few more times per game? What if more trust in the receivers will lead to fewer sacks?
In 2022, Fields attempted 318 passes, he scrambled on 69 more called pass attempts, and he was sacked on 55 other pass attempts, meaning Getsy called 442 pass plays.
If Chicago’s offense is more functional, then some of those scrambles and sacks will be attempted passes. Getsy will also be able to scale back some of the designed QB runs if he trusts his playmakers. This is a big reason I expect Fields to grow as a passer and why I don’t think he’ll crack a thousand yards again.
The Bears will still want to pound teams, but that ratio will creep closer to 50/50, and if Fields shows that his short game is better, it’ll swing to more passes than runs.
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