The Bears' ground attack looks primed to be amongst the league's best
The Chicago Bears finished last season with a historically proficient 3,014 yards on the ground. The mark not only set a franchise record, but it was also the fifth-most all-time. Normally, teams fall back down to earth following such an outstanding performance, but Chicago could be in an even better position to churn out yards on the ground heading into 2023.
Chicago had the most available cap space this offseason, and they put it to good use with a few massive improvements. Fielding a more competitive roster should allow them to be ahead more often, which would help them to stay committed to the ground game.
The fact the Bears had a historic rushing season despite finishing with a league-worst (and franchise-worst) 3-14 record makes the feat even more impressive. They have a storied history of elite running back play, highlighted by one of the NFL's all-time greats in Walter Payton (who was responsible for the previous franchise record after helping them finish with 2,974 yards in 1984), but their best rushing performance came in their worst year of existence.
It's no coincidence the Bears' historic rushing season accompanied a breakout year from quarterback Justin Fields, who finished the year with 1,143 yards on the ground (good for second-most all-time) despite missing two games. The 1973 Buffalo Bills were the only team with more rushing yards without significant contributions from their signal-caller, and they featured a 2000-yard rusher in O.J. Simpson (yes, that one).
Skeptics have been critical of Fields' development through three seasons, but there is no denying that he is uber-dynamic with the ball in his hands. While his rushing yards might take a step back as his passing yards (hopefully) take a leap forward, the coaching staff would literally be shooting themselves in the foot by neglecting to use his legs. Even if they call less designed runs to keep him out of harm's way, his speed and agility make him a threat to go the distance at any moment once a play breaks down.
We officially entered unchartered territory when PointsBet Senior Editor Max Meyer announced the Bears signal-caller has received more MVP votes than Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert combined. He has the potential to become one of the greatest running quarterbacks in NFL history, and it feels safe to say Chicago's ground game will be in great shape as long as he is at the helm. Even with a jump in passing production, it feels safe to pencil him in for at least 800 yards on the ground.
Fields may be the most hyped member of the Bears' backfield, but he is far from the only reason for optimism, as their running back room also has the potential to be one of the most well-rounded. While they lost David Montgomery to the rival Detroit Lions in the offseason, you could argue they located an improvement for a much cheaper price tag in D'Onta Foreman, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract this offseason.
Foreman, whom the Texans selected in the third round of the 2017 Draft, was plagued by injuries early in his career and finally showed what he could do in Tennessee after Derrick Henry went down to injury in 2021. However, his real breakout performance came last season when he took over the Panthers' starting job after the team traded away Christian McCaffrey. Many expected their ground game to falter down the stretch, but Foreman exceeded all expectations and even looked better than his predecessor at times. He finished the year with 877 yards through the final 11 games, eclipsing the century mark five times down the stretch.
Foreman may have been overshadowed by star running backs in his previous stops, but he has every intention of locking down the starting running back job in Chicago.
“I can’t really speak for the coaches and the plan that they have,” Foreman said in his introductory media availability. "I came here to try to be the guy. I think if I didn’t come here with that mentality, I would be doing myself a disservice, and I think I would be doing the team a disservice."
Foreman doesn't lack confidence in his abilities, but Khalil Herbert might have something to say about him getting the brunt of the carries. The third-year back is coming off a season in which he led all running backs with 5.7 yards-per-carry, and he is looking to build off the impressive performance, especially with the absence of Montgomery (who finished last season with 201 carries, 72 more than Herbert).
While both Herbert and Foreman have proven capable of playing at a high level, rookie running back Roschon Johnson, whom the team selected in the fourth round, is a complete unknown. The 22-year-old played behind Bijan Robinson at the University of Texas, and he should benefit from entering the league with fresh legs. Johnson may have lived in Robinson's shadow in college, but he was a former five-star recruit in his own right, and many believed he would have gotten selected much earlier in the draft had he been the focal point of his college offense.
The Bears' new stable of running backs provides reason for optimism heading into the season, but their most promising improvements have come along the offensive line. They added two new starters in Nate Davis, a four-year starter with the Titans who developed into their best run-blocking lineman last season, and Darnell Wright, whom the team selected in the first round in April. The 10th overall pick will experience some growing pains, but the University of Tennessee product displayed a mean streak that will be a welcome addition to Chicago's offensive line room.
When they are at their best, Chicago has been home to the 'Monsters of the Midway', a term appropriately used for their ferocious play on the defense. However, this season, their 'monster' could be unleashed on the other side of the ball through their play in the trenches.