Nearly a year has passed since the Bears last played the Saints at Soldier Field, but Chicago finds itself in an eerily similar situation heading into Sunday’s matchup.
Matt Nagy’s offense is still, like it did for the entire 2019 season, struggling to produce in the running game.
The reason why this time around, well, that is an answer Nagy is still trying to find out.
“Yeah, I think there’s probably a little bit of everything involved with that Adam,” Nagy said during Wednesday’s Zoom conference call. “Some of that is for us just understanding the way that we’re executing, the way that we’re calling plays and who our opponent is. … If we had the exact answer, we would surely probably be doing a lot better.”
To Nagy’s credit, it has been “a little bit of everything” that has led to the struggles. From questionable playcalls to missed blocks to lack of talent on the offensive line, the Bears have showcased all their flaws throughout this season.
Through seven games, Nagy’s rushing offense looks nearly identical as it did after the same number of games in 2019.
Running back David Montgomery is also averaging 3.7 yards per carry — the same number he finished with in his rookie year. For Cordarrelle Patterson, his 25 rushing attempts already have eclipsed his total from last season by eight, but he has seen his average per carry go down from 6.1 to 2.8.
Since Nick Foles took over as the starting quarterback in Week 4, the offense has had a dramatic drop in production in the run game, accumulating just 175 total yards rushing in four games. With Mitch Trubisky as the starter, the offense ran for 414 total yards.
Granted, the Bears have faced tougher defenses in Foles’ starts, and the offensive line also lost starting left guard James Daniels to a season-ending pectoral injury against the Buccaneers.
But a switch at quarterback isn’t going to solve the Bears’ issues running the football. And on Sunday, the Bears will face a Saints team that limited the offense to 17 rushing yards on a franchise-low seven carries in last season’s Week 7 matchup.
It also looks like the Bears may be without center Cody Whitehair, who injured his calf in the loss against the Rams on “Monday Night Football” and was replaced by second-year player Sam Mustipher. Since Nagy was hired as Bears coach in 2018, Whitehair has not missed a single snap.
The Week 8 interior starting offensive line may feature a converted defensive lineman now turned left guard in Rashaad Coward, an undrafted free agent making his first-career start in Mustipher and a former right tackle now converted right guard in Germain Ifedi.
The run game isn’t going to get much help from the O-line this week or anytime soon — even when Whitehair returns. Maybe the addition of Lamar Miller could help? The veteran running back tore his ACL in a 2019 preseason game, but he was a productive player before the injury, rushing for 2,934 yards in three seasons with the Texans.
“I do think he is getting close and I love that part about him,” Nagy said. “He’s done everything really well as far as in meetings and at practice, obviously, he was a really, heck of a running back.”
Miller first needs to be activated from the practice squad and elevated to the 53-man roster before he makes an impact on game days. So for now, the Bears have to go with the personnel that they have.
The Bears may not have answers to solve their multitude of problems on offense, but at least they have remained consistent since last year’s loss to the Saints. Chicago can’t run the football, and that’s something fans should expect to see as the season continues.
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