Bears at the Bye: Montgomery, Cohen struggling to meet expectations


Previous: Quarterbacks

When the Chicago Bears selected running back David Montgomery in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft, it was assumed he'd take over lead-back duties on offense and provide coach Matt Nagy with the kind of do-it-all player he had in Kansas City when Kareem Hunt took the league by storm.

Instead, Montgomery is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and is entering the bye week following back-to-back games of under three yards per attempt. He's flipped 69 carries into just 225 yards, a total that ranks 29th on the NFL's rushing list.

Not great.

Montgomery's struggles are more complicated than just his per-carry production. The Bears' offensive line has been brutal through five games and isn't providing any clear running lanes to navigate through. Montgomery is being met by defensive linemen and linebackers at or behind the line of scrimmage on a great majority of his carries, and while he certainly runs hard and with a will to win, he's at a major disadvantage because of the turnstile up front. Of his 225 rushing yards, 149 have come after contact.

Still, Montgomery deserves some of the blame for the running game's struggles. He ranks 71st among running backs on Pro Football Focus this season with a 58.6 grade. He's looked very much like a rookie runner at times, lacking patience and making one move (usually a spin move) too many. 

But there's no denying that the success — or failure — of the ground attack will rest on Montgomery's shoulders. They're a good set to lean on; he has the character, work ethic and natural talent to be one of the NFL's most productive running backs. He just needs what every running back requires: an effective offensive line.

As for the other running backs on this roster? Tarik Cohen has been solid when given a chance to touch the ball. He has just 17 carries through five games and has done most of his damage as a receiver and return man. Cohen is second on the team with 20 catches for 128 yards and a receiving touchdown.

An argument could be made for Cohen to get more touches as a runner while the offensive line figures itself out. He's known for making chicken salad out of, well, not chicken salad, and that's the kind of spark the running game could use at this point. Nagy just hasn't tilted in that direction yet.

Then there's Mike Davis, the veteran free-agent signee who's settled into his role as the primary reserve early in the season. He has just nine carries for 22 yards this year and only one carry over the last two games combined. The Bears could do much worse than Davis as Montgomery's backup, but he doesn't offer an upgrade at this point. Barring injury, he's likely to remain in his role as a breather-back.

Overall, Chicago's rushing attack has left a lot to be desired, but it's for more reasons than just ineffective running backs. There's a very high ceiling with this group, led by Montgomery who has all the traits the Bears could possibly want from their feature back. He just has to start proving that those traits translate well to the NFL, even when his offensive line isn't at its best.

Bears RB grade at the bye: C

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