Ryan Pace and Bears' Raheem Mostert Blame Game

Gene Chamberlain

Throwing blame at Ryan Pace for Raheem Mostert getting away from the Bears seems a little like looking with a microscope for things to blame on the Bears' general manager.

Pace had a hand in it, but five other teams did the same and when Pace did it he had even less exposure to Mostert's abilities than almost all the others.

Mostert did run for 220 yards for the 49ers in Sunday's NFC championship win but when the Bears waived him in 2016 it was at least as much John Fox's mistake as Pace's for not letting him play in Chicago.

The Bears didn't acquire Mostert until after the season began, on Sept. 13, and he'd been cut by the New York Jets. They immediately had him on the practice squad and he only wound up on the regular roster on Sept. 21 after Ka'Deem Carey suffered a hamstring injury Sept. 19, and was thought of then more as a potential special teams player than a running back. 

Mostert's biggest impact in the NFL to that point had been as a kick returner, with regular-season returns of 53 yards with the Browns in 2015 and 50 yards with the Eagles in 2016. Carey was an up-back or blocker for the return man on kick returns at the time, and occasionally provided deep returner relief.

Carey returned a few weeks later, but running back Joique Bell was signed by the Bears after an ankle injury to Jordan Howard's backup, Jeremy Langford. They signed Bell because he had extensive game experience and the need especially then was for someone who could come in during passing situations as a receiving back or as a blocker, and Mostert had never proven this ability in the NFL. 

The Bears were sending quarterbacks to injured reserve on a regular basis that year, with Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley each starting five games or more.

So Mostert ended up back on the practice squad after 17 special teams plays and remained there for seven weeks until being waived Nov. 24, and then winding up with the 49ers four days later.

Blaming Pace or any other GM for not seeing the running ability shown by Mostert would have required them to be looking closer than anyone could have. Mostert didn't really even show that running ability in college.

At Purdue, he never had significant carries until his senior year, and when he did then it was only as the second back behind Akeem Hunt. He had returned a couple kicks for touchdowns in college and it was in this area where he most showed a knack for playing.

If any teams in the NFL deserve some blame for letting Mostert get away was former Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who took over Eagles personnel decisions all of 2015 and had Mostert in training camp. He was fired after that season.

In the NFL, the only time teams really get to see running backs facing live fire is in preseason games, regular-season games or in training camp work when full-speed drills are used. No one is playing full contact in regular-season practices.

So the only teams who saw what Mostert could do first hand and up close were the Eagles of Kelly in 2015 and he gave them a very big eye full in preseason. Mostert ran 39 times in four preseason games for 157 yards with a 16-yard long. He also caught 15 passes for 194 yards and returned five kicks for a 32.4-yard average. Yet they cut him.

The Browns had him the next season under Hue Jackson in training camp and preseason and Mostert didn't accomplish as much. He had seven runs for 46 yards, with one nice 27-yard run, and a 7-yard reception. He returned four kickoffs for a 15-yard average. Sashi Brown made personnel decisions then for the Browns and cut him.

Of the six teams to cut Mostert before he played in San Francisco, the Bears and Jets were the only ones who he never carried the ball for in a game.

The Ravens, Browns and Dolphins had Mostert return a few regular-season kicks. He averaged 32.8 yards a return for Baltimore on five returns, and had a 53-yard return for the Browns in 2015. He had eight regular-season kick returns before going to the 49ers.

While people are looking around for past GMs to throw blame at for missing on Mostert, what about blaming John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. They went through 2017 and 2018 with Mostert getting fewer carries than Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Alfred Morris and Jeff Wilson. He was essentially buried on their roster. If he was so good, why didn't he get more carries there ahead of that group?

The Bears are only one in a list of teams who couldn't project a useful way to use Mostert. 

It's a long road to where Mostert was Sunday, gaining 220 yards because of some of the most devastating, effective textbook blocking seen in the NFC playoffs since the great Cowboys offensive lines of the 1990s, and a Packers defense that seemed unwilling to show a spine and stop him.