Bears News

Emma’s Tailgater: Reality setting in for Bears backfield of the future

2 years agoChris Emma

LAKE FOREST, Ill. —The cruel reality for a running back like David Montgomery is two-fold. Not only can an injury occur during a contract year, but there’s a capable replacement ready to carry the load.


NFL teams simply do not want to pay running backs a considerable second contract because of the wear and tear their bodies endure and how expendable they become. It’s part of the new-age approach in league front offices. Bears general manager Ryan Poles has this to consider in the coming months. 


Montgomery is dealing with an ankle/knee injury that he suffered during the Bears’ 23-20 win over the Texans on Sunday at Soldier Field. After he went down late in the first quarter, second-year running back Khalil Herbert stepped in for 20 carries, 157 yards and two scores. He dedicated the performance to Montgomery in the postgame locker room. 


The Bears believe Montgomery’s prognosis was promising after an injury that appeared gruesome. But the reality is that Herbert is the better fit for what offensive coordinator Luke Getsy seeks in his scheme. 


“He’s one of our rocks,” Getsy said. “And we’re lucky to have him.” 


And the Bears have Herbert under contract for two more years after this. He’s in position to take over for Montgomery as Chicago’s lead back. 


During his time with the Chiefs, Poles was part of a front office that simply wasn’t willing to overpay at running back. Instead, Kansas City preferred to identify fits late in the NFL Draft and run those backs through their rookie contracts. 


On the other side of the field Sunday when the Bears (2-1) take on the Giants (2-1) is an example of a team that overvalued the running back position. Star rusher Saquon Barkley was selected No. 2 overall in the 2018 draft. He carried for 2,310 yards and 17 touchdowns his first two seasons before suffering a torn ACL early in the 2020 campaign during a game at Soldier Field. 


The Giants appear hesitant to hand Barkley a long-term contract extension, especially with first-year general manager Joe Schoen inheriting him on this roster. The NFL’s leading rusher through three weeks is Browns running back Nick Chubb (341 yards), who is playing the second season of a team-friendly three-year, $36.6-million extension signed in 2021.  


Montgomery is due $2.790 million in base salary this season and will earn more than $4 million on his four-year rookie contract, the product of falling into the third round of the 2019 draft. He should set his sights for a contract like Chubb’s deal. The reality is Montgomery’s market will likely fall short of his hopes – and the Bears almost certainly won’t pay beyond their perceived value for a running back. Herbert’s continued ascension is a key part of that equation.


When Montgomery returns this season, the Bears seem likely to strike a balance with their backfield workload. But once this offseason comes, Herbert’s valuable makes Montgomery expendable. 


This is a harsh business for NFL running backs. 


4-down territory 


1. Fields seeks a bounceback  


As a rookie last season, Bears quarterback Justin Fields reminded that he wasn’t used to losing. He certainly hadn’t endured personal struggles in performance on his path to the NFL. 


But this has now become a trend for Fields, who has not emerged in his second season like the Bears had hoped. Fields is 23-of-45 for 297 yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. His passer rating this season is 50 and Chicago’s passing offense ranks near the bottom of the league in most key statistical categories. 


For now, Fields said all he can do is keep working for improvements. 


“Just learn from your mistakes knowing that you’re not going to be perfect,” Fields said Wednesday. “And move on.  


“Just correct each and every mistake and try to be better in every aspect.” 


Fields seems keenly aware of the doubt being cast upon his career – and how the skepticism will only rise as his struggles continue. 


Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy also has not catered his offense to the development of Fields, instead working his game plan towards what is needed to win. Chicago is second in team rushing this season and carried for 281 yards on the ground during Sunday’s win at Soldier Field, this while Fields finished 8-of-17 passing for 106 yards and 2 interceptions. 


For his part, Getsy said his game plans are not a reflection of his confidence lacking in Fields; rather, it’s the Bears’ best chance at victory each game. 


“We do what we feel is best to help our team play a team football game, to help us win games,” Getsy said. 


“We got to do what’s best across the board to take advantage of matchups.” 


Perhaps there’s a game to come this season when Getsy and the Bears turn to Fields’ strengths and hope he leads them to victory. Maybe that is when it all changes for Fields.


Until that game comes, all Fields can do is keep working and hold his head high. 


2. Key adjustments 


When Matt Eberflus was hired as the Bears’ head coach in January, he brought in his entire defensive staff from the Colts. It was a notable decision as he sought continuity and coaches he could trust. Those connections have paid off three games into their tenure together in Chicago. 


The Bears have allowed just 12 second-half points in three games this season, all coming on field goals. Chicago has not allowed a touchdown in the second half of a game this season. At halftime of each game, Eberflus, defensive coordinator Alan Williams and their staff meet together and work through necessary adjustments to make.  


The Bears’ coaches present it to their players and the defense has come out strong in the second half. 


“You just see how smart those guys are,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “We knew it early on in OTAs and camp, we’ve seen the scheme and everything. We kind of knew there were already smart. Obviously, their work speaks for itself. 


“We trust the process. Everything they say, we take the coaching and run with it.” 


Bears linebacker Nicholas Morrow was attracted to the opportunity in Chicago this offseason in part because of his admiration for Eberflus’ defensive identity. He had studied the film closely and gained an appreciation for how this scheme operates, a considerable draw as he signed a two-year deal with the Bears. 


Morrow said he isn’t surprised by how effectively Eberflus and his coaches are able to draw up key adjustments during a game. But he has been struck by the way they seek changes in details during a week. 


During Sunday’s game, the Bears failed to recover a “city fumble,” as Eberflus termed it – a loose ball in a crowd that requires players to hit the ground – and he sought to correct that. This week in practice, the Bears worked through managing a fumble in a scrum. 


“The biggest thing about ‘Flus is the meticulous details or the way we do our fundamentals,” Morrow said. “So, he’ll pull up a clip and be like, ‘Hey, this is a good play, but we can make it better if you run your feet or you can make it better if you play with this kind of leverage.’ I think that’s the thing that’s most impressive, is just the smaller details he finds to make the play better.” 


3. Containing Barkley 


The Bears recognize the threat they face Sunday in going up against the dynamic Barkley.  


“He is a scary guy in terms of his home run ability,” Williams said.


Barkley rushed 18 times for 164 yards and a touchdown during the Giants’ season-opening win against the Titans. The Bears took note of what the film showed from that game – Tennessee lost containment of Barkley and allowed him to the open field. In the two games since, Barkley has rushed 35 times for 153 yards. 


The Bears struggled to prevent the run during their Sept. 18 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, with Pro Bowl rusher Aaron Jones carrying 15 times for 132 yards and a score and A.J. Dillon adding 18 rushes for 61 yards. 


The Bears responded last Sunday as they held Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce to 20 carries for 80 yards. 


Barkley is a different challenge for the Bears. 


“The biggest thing is getting more than one hat to the ball,” Morrow said. “He’s a good back. He has good contact balance, he’s got great speed. You got to set edges and keep him in the cut, not let him get out to the sidelines, because that’s where he can hurt you.” 


4. For Country 

For the next two weeks, the NFL will allow more than 200 players to wear helmet stickers with flags representing and celebrating their heritage.

The Bears’ representatives include wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (Germany), kicker Cairo Santos (Brazil), running back Khalil Herbert (Jamaica, British Virgin Islands), pass rusher Robert Quinn (Puerto Rico), punter Trenton Gill (Canada, United Kingdom) and offensive lineman Dieter Eiselen (South Africa). 

For these players, this new initiative means honoring their countries and backgrounds. 


“It just means a lot,” said St. Brown, whose mother is from Germany and who speaks fluent German. “It means a lot to a lot of German people, too.” 


Quote to note 


“We recognize on offense that we got a lot of work to do. We want to be the reason why we win games.” 


—Bears tight end Cole Kmet 


Injury Report 


RB David Montgomery (ankle/knee) — The Bears have suggested Montgomery could play Sunday’s game, but another week could help him get to full strength.  


LB Roquan Smith (quad) — Smith played through the injury last Sunday. He should be able to play again, barring a setback. 


CB Jaylon Johnson (quad) — It’s not wise to push a quad injury, so Johnson could well miss his second straight game. The Bears will be forced to rearrange their secondary again without him. 


WR Velus Jones Jr. (hamstring) — Another week of wondering about whether Jones will make his NFL debut. If everything checks out with his hamstring heading into Sunday, he should finally take the field. 


LB Matt Adams (hamstring) — This seems to be a multi-week injury for Adams. The Bears promoted Joe Thomas from the practice squad to fill his role. 


DB Dane Cruikshank (hamstring) — Another hamstring injury, with Cruikshank needing more time to mend this. The Bears are preparing to be without a key special-teams player for another game. 


TE Ryan Griffin (Achilles) — Griffin returned to practice in a limited role Wednesday but was held out again Thursday. The Bears could use their depth at tight end. 


Emma’s Prediction (3-0): Giants 20, Bears 16 


Giants star Saquon Barkley is back to form and he’s the X-factor in this matchup. The Bears’ defense will struggle to keep him in check while Justin Fields and the offense still have work to do before improvements are revealed. A close game goes to New York. 

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