Bears coach Matt Nagy says he wants to run the football and is committed to the run.
The inability to commit to running often been the sharp point of criticism for Nagy. Far too often that criticism was valid.
The Bears went through a stretch of seven games last year when they averaged less than 53 yards rushing a game, and not all of it was because their offensive line had issues blocking.
With David Montgomery gaining 1,070 yards last year and proving to be one of the league's best backs at either avoiding or breaking tackles, Nagy should know better this year than to avoid becoming a predictable pass-happy team. He said earlier 20 carries a game could be possible, although that does seem a bit optimistic.
"The commitment is for David, right, again within the flow of the game," Nagy said. "We understand that David for us, and every offense, like, when you can get that run game going it opens up the play-action, it opens up the screens, it protects the linemen from dropping back 50 times a game.
"So our goal is to be able to get him going. How we do it that will be to be seen. But we by no means feel like we have to go into this thing throwing a million times or anything like that. We know how important he is to us and our running game in general."
Again, the run-around with the running game from Nagy. He simply couldn't answer yes, they will be running it more. In Chicago, it's what people want to hear and not just the Ditka-phile meatball sect of Bears fans.
Why it's important for Bears to run
The running game is important. With Andy Dalton at quarterback it's even more critical because he's more of a sitting duck for pass rushers if he's dropping back 50 times a game.
Instead, Nagy dances around and talks about the flow of the game and how he's going to set up screens and play-action passing.
The running game does more than set up passes. The running game binds together the offense. It is an entity unto itself, but complements the passing game.
It also allows an offensive line to beat up on the defensive front so later in games it's easier to break big gains and put teams away in a time-consuming four-minute offense.
The Bears have not had a dependable four-minute offense since the Lovie Smith era when Thomas Jones was breaking off runs. Marc Trestman wanted to run as much as Nagy does. John Fox's teams had no offense, let alone one capable of running when they needed it.
Nagy still seems like the Arena League quarterback he was, always looking for the big gainer and never seeing how to set up a win with the run. This is apparent even when he talks about the running backs and running game.
"You know, I think our running backs have done a great job in training camp," Nagy said. "They understand where we're at and now. It's just a matter of us schematically figuring out what's the best way to be able to get, I think, like chunk runs.
"Stay away from those 1- to 2-yard runs and get more of those 4- to 5- to 6-yard runs and then pop a few, too."
With the offensive line the Bears currently have, getting those 1- and 2-yard runs might be a luxury. However, those gains are necessary early in games.
Much-maligned former Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop used to say those short gains early become longer gains later, and he was right. It was one of the few things he was right about, but he was correct.
Teams run it hoping to break runs but patience is required. Nagy needs to be patient with the running game and should have learned this last year. They seemed to during their run to the playoffs, but Bill Lazor called plays then. Nagy is doing it now.
Best teams run the football
Nagy has a good relationship with Montgomery and the cameras/microphones the Bears put out on the practice field for the sake of shooting website video have several times caught funny exchanges between the two. He's not about to let Montgomery down and forget him in the offense, right?
"I mean, you guys have heard me say it, I'm very close with him," he told reporters. "We talk all the time, not just when we're here in the building but outside of the building, and he knows the trust I have in him and I know the trust he has in me.
"Now it's just a matter of us doing it together."
This might be true, but Nagy's attitude toward running the ball was better reflected in another interview he did. Of all places, it was during a "Hangin' with the Hurt," episode, an interview he did with former White Sox great Frank Thomas for a program they frequently show on Comcast during rain delays.
Nagy was asked about the running game and his answer was about how in Kansas City "they always talk about the extension of the run game as the quick passing," within the West Coast offense.
This is where sirens or buzzers should go off.
It can have an effect like this, but it's often when the offense clicks on all cylinders. The quick passing game, in and of itself, does not beat up the interior of a defensive line. It might get the inside linebackers winded. It's not going to physically beat up anyone consistently except a cornerback or a safety.
The Baltimore Ravens don't throw the short passing game to beat people up. Neither did the good rushing teams Pittsburgh had. They beat people up, period. Good running games beat up the opposition.
Last year eight of the top 12 rushing teams made the playoffs. In 2019 eight of the top 10 rushing teams made the playoffs. In 2018 eight of the top 10 rushing teams made the playoffs. It's easy to go on because it's the same every year.
The Green Bay Packers know how to use the running game very well.
Bears aren't the Chiefs yet
One of the exceptions to this is Nagy's old team, the Kansas City Chiefs. A team can avoid depending on the run more when they have a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes and receivers who are a threat to score on every play, but the Bears have proven to have none of these. They think Justin Fields can make the difference, but no one knows yet and there still is no Tyreek Hill on the receiver corps.
And even in Kansas City, the running game matters. The Chiefs have at least ranked in the middle of the pack at rushing while they were throwing it all over the place.
Nagy said something else very telling in that episode of the Big Hurt's interview show. He said people in Chicago are always "joking" that they need to run the ball.
No one was joking. Running is serious.
It's not funny when a team averages 52.7 yards on the ground for seven weeks without gaining more than 96 yards in any of those games.