(670 The Score) Bears coach Matt Nagy had plenty of time for reflection this past offseason.
"I know a lot of the players can get criticized for execution and there are certain positions that get criticized," Nagy said recently. "I want to make sure that myself included, that I was always evaluating where I was as a play-caller too and where I could get better."
After a disappointing 2019 season, Nagy realized that both he as a play-caller and the Bears' offense could improve with a bigger commitment to the running game -- whether Chicago was leading by 17 points or trailing by 17, as we've seen in the first two weeks of the regular season.
The Bears are now getting off the bus running, averaging 142 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry in the first two games. The ground game has become a key component to Chicago's budding identity on offense.
The Bears have showcased a more rounded effort to sustain a strong rushing attack. They rushed 28 times against the Lions in their season opener and 32 times against the Giants on Sunday. The offensive line has been better early on than it was in 2019 and has benefited from Nagy's balanced play-calling, which has featured quarterback Mitchell Trubisky working more from under center and with packages of 12 and 13 personnel (two- and three-tight end sets).
Second-year running back David Montgomery has found cleaner rushing lanes, averaging 5.1 yards before contact against the Giants on Sunday, according to Pro Football Reference. That was the highest mark for a game in his career. Overall, he rushed 16 times for 82 yards.
In 2019, Montgomery averaged 2.0 yards before contact and 3.7 yards per carry. Through two games, he's at 3.6 yards before contact and 5.0 yards per carry. The Bears' offensive line has helped make a difference for Montgomery.
"Just get hands on guys and get down the field," Montgomery said. "Those guys are being way more aggressive and it's a lot of less thinking."
After the Bears were 27th in the NFL with 91.1 rushing yards per game in 2019, they didn't seek changes at running back. Instead, Nagy fired offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and tabbed Juan Castillo to replace him. The hope was Castillo could lead a more physical and forceful offensive line.
Nagy stood firm in his belief with Montgomery and Tarik Cohen out of the backfield, then the Bears converted receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to running back. They have also passed on opportunities to sign established running backs like Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman and others in free agency.
The Bears believed a better running game could be established with what they already had.
"My biggest love is definitely the offensive line," Cohen said. "I feel like they’re getting down, nitty and gritty. You love to see that from your O-linemen. The same thing I love about this year is the commitment to it (running the ball). We’re calling runs on maybe second-and-long, maybe third-and-intermediate. We’re calling those run plays, and we’re picking it up."
Perhaps the lowest point of Nagy's tenure as Bears coach came last Oct. 20, when Chicago lost 36-25 to New Orleans. The Bears recorded a franchise-low seven rushing attempts that day, with Nagy later declaring, "I know we need to run the ball more, I'm not an idiot." But the running game never got fully established in 2019.
Now, Nagy and the Bears are committed to running the football, and that effort has found early success.
"It's definitely an exciting thing that we know we can run the ball when we have to," Montgomery said. "And now you're running it because we want to."
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.