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More than One Way to Run the Football

Bears running backs Khalil Herbert and Damien Williams benefited from strong blocking on all levels of the offense and made the most of it in a 20-9 win over the Raiders.

There is more to the running game than simply handing the football to someone and then someone else throws a block.

It's not as complicated as the passing game but there's a reason former Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop was fond of saying "it takes a village" to run the football. 

The Bears on Sunday used different types of strategies to help get running backs Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert openings for yardage as they filled in Sunday for injured David Montgomery, and will continue this until the starter's knee injury heals.

"It talks a lot to the offensive line and tight ends," Bears coach Matt Nagy said about the running attack. "It talks a lot to those running backs. It talks a lot to our coaches for getting those guys ready."

With the Raiders not really respecting the pass too much because Justin Fields hasn't thrown for big yardage on opponents yet, the running game still flourished with 75 yards on 18 carries for Herbert and 64 on 16 attempts by Williams.

It was a case for the backs of living up to the standard, which is Montgomery.

"Well, when you have a guy like David who is a run-hard kind of guy and he's going to get those hard yards, that's what everyone is expecting," Williams said. "And me being who I am, that's how I carry myself as well. We are going to go in here and get these hard yards and keep going.

"And 24 (Herbert) had that same mentality So whenever I went out and he went in, we kept doing the same thing."

The blocking for the backs included 17 plays when backup guard/tackle Alex Bars lined up as a blocking tight end or extra tackle in an unbalanced line. He even went into motion. It wasn't a bad option considering blocking tight end J.P. Holtz was out with an injury and the regular third tight end, Jesse James, had a personal reason to be absent from the game.

"You'll see some teams that use extra O-linemen at that tight end position," Nagy said. "It's how much you do with them, but Alex is an under-the-radar guy who has been very beneficial to this offense in the fact that he can play a lot of different positions.

"This past week going into it, with where we were with tight ends and what we thought we could do, and who knows moving forward, we felt like he's done a great job of being able to give us an advantage and he had quite a bit of plays yesterday. So that was helpful, and we just appreciate that from him."

Bars was having fun with it on the trip back to Chicago. The Bears even put him in motion like a tight end at times, which he obviously enjoyed.

"Now, he thinks it's pretty sweet," Nagy said. "He said it on the plane last night, he said, 'I look pretty good out there going in my motion.' We said, 'Aw, I don't know about that.' But there is a strategic advantage to some of that."

It wasn't just linemen and tight ends or "pseudo tight ends" blocking but even receivers. On Williams' spinning 4-yard touchdown run, wide receiver Darnell Mooney, all 173 pounds of him, was on the inside throwing an effective seal block.

"The offensive line and tight ends, you go back and watch that tape, you better include those wideouts in there, because there's some awesome blocks by the wideouts," Magy said. "That's a part of that. And I think that's what, when you highlight that to the guys and they see the effort—in particular the one that jumps out to me is Mooney out there on the touchdown run—sticking his nose in there and getting leverage like he did.

"But Damiere Byrd had a bunch of stiff blocks. It was neat to see. Those were two that I think of, but all the wideouts were blocking, too, so it was pretty neat."

Of course, the running backs had something to do with it. The Bears knew what Williams would do, as a grizzled veteran of six previous seasons and Super bowl LIV. However, Herbert was anyone's guess.

"Yeah, he did a great job," Nagy said. "I mean, he's somebody that when you have 18 carries you're doing something right. I think it's just him and Damien were complementary to each other. You saw some really good times where he hit that zone and he stuck that right or left foot in the ground, planted it, and he went north and south and got 7, 8 yards every time.

"So I like his vision. I like his patience. I also like his toughness, and you guys see it when he's returning kickoffs. He's smooth, and people bounce off him, so he's got good contact balance. I really like where he's at."

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