One of Matt Nagy's primary goals entering the 2020 season was to establish an identity on offense the Bears coach felt was lacking last year.
Granted, it's a small sample size. But after two games, it's evident that the Bears have hit the ground running—both literally and figuratively. In opening the season with wins over the Lions and Giants, they've shown not only a greater commitment to their ground game, but improved execution.
"It just creates rhythm for our offense, and it's nice to have an identity," said quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. "We know what we can lean on, and that's our run game and our O-line up front creating holes and establishing the line of scrimmage."
Having rushed for 149 yards against the Lions and 135 yards versus the Giants, the Bears are averaging 142.0 yards per game on the ground, ninth in the NFL. Last season, they ranked 27th in the league, averaging 91.1 yards.
"We're trying to create an identity right now," Nagy said. "You can see that running the ball is important to us. I feel like there's been growth in that area across the board, the whole offense in general."
The Bears' success on the ground has been a group effort. The running backs have run hard, the offensive line has performed well under first-year coach Juan Castillo, and the tight ends and receivers have delivered key blocks as well. David Montgomery has rushed for a team-high 146 yards on 29 carries, Tarik Cohen has added 53 yards on 12 attempts and Cordarrelle Patterson has gained 44 yards on 11 rushes.
The Bears' commitment to the run game has created more balance on offense. Through two weeks, they're averaging 30.0 rushing attempts and 32.0 passes per contest; last season, they averaged 24.7 runs and 36.2 passes.
Running the ball more frequently and successfully has also benefited the passing game, especially in terms of increasing the efficiency of play-action fakes by creating conflict of assignment for defenders.
"The thing it helps you do is distort the defense," said offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. "It helps you get a defender who has a particular run responsibility and a particular pass responsibility and try to put him in a position where he can't do both. If we do a good job with the fake, we understand we've got that defender; maybe he thinks he's filling the 'B' gap and now we're throwing the ball over his head in the area where he was supposed to cover."
Trubisky has noticed the positive impact the running game has had on the passing attack.
"The windows are a little bit bigger and they're having to cover more of the field because maybe they're in a little bit more of a panic because they respect the run game or they lose track of their assignment for whatever reason," Trubisky said. "It's just nice to keep the defense off balance, and I think when you have a steady run game, and the way our O-line is doing a great job controlling the line of scrimmage, it gives more stability to this offense."
Placing a greater emphasis on the run game was among the tweaks that Nagy made after self-scouting the Bears on tape during the offseason.
"You go back to knowing where your players are at and what their strengths and weaknesses are," Nagy said. "We have come to kind of realize that in two years now, and heading into our third year that, schematically, this is the direction that we want to go to.
"I don't know if we will always live in this world. I have no idea. But it's something that we felt like, 'OK, let's work to our players' strengths, let's go ahead and adjust what we need to do schematically and see if it works.' So far, it's been pretty good.
"We have other things that we can do, we have alternative ideas and thoughts. But I just give credit to the coaching staff and players accepting it and now putting it into motion. We are still growing; we are not close to where we need to be. We are kind of figuring it out right now and it's nice to be 2-0 while we are doing it."