Much of the positive attention around the Bears this week has gone to running back David Montgomery with good reason.
The rookie running back turned heads with a 135-yard effort that varied between chunk plays like his 55-yard run and ground-and-pound sequences, like his five-carry, 23-yard effort to start the second half.
After the game, Montgomery pointed to the five guys in front of him as one key to his breakout. In a manner more consistent than the Bears have seen all year, the offensive line managed to win one-on-one matchups.
In Matt Nagy’s adjustments to his offense–I-formation, extra blockers–the offensive line has started to find an identity.
“You can see it from the first play,” said tackle Charles Leno. “I formation, simple, but it’s just a way that offensive linemen and running backs can hit their hole, get off the ball and just be physical, and that’s what we were doing — just things like that. Not a lot of RPO stuff, just going straight at defenders because as offensive linemen and running backs, that’s what we like to do. We like to go straight downhill.”
Leno said that he prefers the philosophy of the “I” formation, although, in his time with the Bears and in college at Boise State, he has generally played in more pass-centric spread offenses. “
“Punish them,” said Leno. “That’s really what it is. We just want to go out there and hit people. It’s fun for offensive linemen when you get to hit somebody instead of in pass pro those guys are coming 275 pounds, running 4.5s at your face all day. It’s better when we can go attack them.”
Due to injuries and illness, the Bears have started four different combinations on the line in the first seven games. For the second straight week, the Bears have used Leno, Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Rashaad Coward and Bobbie Massie, and the lineup seems to be developing chemistry together.
Coward showed some growing pains, getting called for two false starts and one holding penalty, but held his own in his second start. Coward, who replaced Kyle Long at guard after the latter went on injured reserve earlier this month, said that he’s learning on the go, increasing his comfort-level and familiarity with his assignments.
Daniels, the youngest member of the unit at 22, has been finding his way at center. The second-year player covered the position at Iowa but struggled at times early in the year but has found strength in the veterans around him.
“It’s my teammates that give me confidence,” said Daniels. “My teammates are the ones that are encouraging me.”
The offensive line can be a punching bag during lean times on offense, and the Bears’ unit has known its share of criticism. However, Daniels doesn’t believe that Sunday’s performance was a vindication. He doesn’t think it matters one way or the other.
“We really don’t focus on that,” said Daniels. “We just focus on every play getting our job done, so it doesn’t matter what the media says or anybody says. Offensive line, we all know what we’re capable of doing, so we’re just trying to play at that level every time we go out on the field.”