Running Backs, Tight Ends Key to Chicago Bears Victory in Week 2

A Week 1 victory for the Chicago Bears might have shown running backs and tight ends could be the key in Week 2. Chicago will host the 0-1 New York Giants at Soldier Field in what will be the third meeting of the franchises in Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s tenure. He is 1-1 in those games which, for Bears fans at least, is a disappointment as the Bears have been the better team.

Running Backs and Tight Ends Keys to Week 2 Bears Victory

Running Around

Much of the talk leading up to this game will center around Giants running back Saquon Barkley. He was held to a measly six yards on 15 carries against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 but remains one of the most talented backs in the NFL as evidenced by his six catches for 60 yards in that game. He has given the Bears some trouble too. In two meetings against Chicago, Barkley is averaging 20.5 carries for 92 yards or 4.5 yards per carry. He has surprisingly been quiet as a receiver, though.

Chicago had their hands full with the Detroit Lions ground attack in Week 1; allowing 138 yards at a 4.75 yards per carry clip, including 14 totes for 93 yards to the ageless Adrian Peterson. The Bears typically stout run defense will have to adjust better to life without Eddie Goldman. They struggled to do so in Akiem Hicks’ absence last season.

Offensively, Nagy showed a renewed dedication to the running game as the Bears handed it off 28 times for 149 yards. An even better development for fans was the commitment to David Montgomery who handled 13 carries (for 64 yards). That was almost twice as many as Tarik Cohen had and nine more than the converted Cordarrelle Patterson. The Bears even used the trio diversely in the aerial attack with Montgomery (three), Cohen (two), and Patterson (one) all catching passes. This is the usage fans thought they were getting in 2019.

This looks like a great matchup for the Bears backs, too. They just allowed Pittsburgh Steelers backup running back Benny Snell to rush for 113 yards on 19 carries. This despite having the talented trio of Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Dexter Lawrence. They also added tackling dynamo Blake Martinez from the Green Bay Packers though he is still susceptible to the pass.

New York faced the fourth-most carries, allowed the 12th-most yards, and tied for fifth-most rushing touchdowns allowed in 2019. Their numbers against back in the passing game were no better. It could be a big day for the Bears backs if they stay as committed to the rushing attack as they were in the opener. After last week’s close call, look for them to establish it early and go to it often behind what looked like a revitalized offensive line for Chicago.

A Tight Rope

One of the biggest red flags for the Bears to come out of Week 1 epic comeback victory was how effective Detroit’s Matthew Stafford was when targeting T.J. Hockenson. The second-year tight end routinely found room to work over the middle, at the expense of Danny Trevathan, to the tune of five catches for 56 yards and a score. This is worrisome because tight ends gave the Bears fits last season. Tight ends facing Chicago had the fourth-most targets, receptions, the ninth-most yards in 2019.

Evan Engram had a quiet night on Monday Night Football if you just look at the box score; he finished with just two catches for nine yards. But a closer look reveals he got seven looks from quarterback Daniel Jones even though he had a bad night in several other aspects including getting offensive pass interference called against him and running the wrong route on a potential touchdown. Still, Engram profiles as a tough matchup for the Bears (whom he has never faced) linebackers and secondary.

Chicago’s tight ends were practically non-existent last season. Trey Burton spent much of the year injured and the rest of it wholly ineffective while Adam Shaheen proved to be a bust. The position is such an important piece for an offensive system like Nagy’s. All three of the other prominent variations of it feature talented tight ends. Travis Kelce in Kansas City, Zach Ertz (and Dallas Goedert) in Philly, while the Indianapolis Colts have made Jack Doyle a household name and revived the career of Eric Ebron.

Jimmy Graham might not be what he once was athletically but he is still 6’7 with good hands and an understanding of how to “post-up” his defender. We saw this on full display against the Lions when Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky found him in the end zone. Graham may have (see: definitely) made use of a push-off, but his big body allows him to wall-off his man.

Graham (3/25/1) along with rookie second-round pick Cole Kmet and Chiefs free agent Demetrius Harris face a Giants defense that was middle of the pack in catches and yards allowed to tight ends but did tie for the fourth-most scores allowed to the position. We could get even more looks at the Bears ‘13’ personnel.

Backs, Tight Ends Key for Bears

Everyone is still learning what will work and what won’t so early in the season. But we can still look to past performances and personnel to get a feel of what to expect. This is especially true for the Bears where the changes have been minimal.

It’s a little tougher to gauge Giants rookie head coach Joe Judge. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has a long track record, though. Including a 31-24 loss to these Bears in a Week 14 thriller last year. Ezekiel Elliott had 19 carries for 81 yards in that game. Meanwhile tight ends Blake Jarwin and Jason Witten combined for 11 grabs (14 targets) and 87 yards. Backs and tight ends are key for the Bears in Week 2.

 

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