Carolina Panthers defensive end Stephen Weatherly chases Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery during the first half Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Stephen Weatherly chases Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery during the first half Sunday in Charlotte, N.C. — AP photo

Since the start of the 2019 season, the Bears are 11-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer. They have the most such wins of any NFL team during that span.

Oh, and the 2020 Bears are in first place in the NFC North. The 5-1 Bears are a touch above the 4-1 Green Bay Packers.

So what’s working and what’s not? We take a look in the latest Bear Down, Nerd Up, our weekly stat breakdown of the Chicago Bears.

What’s wrong with the Bears' run game? What a disappointing string of games for the Bears run game. It didn’t show up against Indianapolis or Tampa Bay, but those at least were somewhat excusable by the fact that those opponents were two of the three best NFL defenses against the run.

But 63 rushing yards on 25 carries against the Carolina Panthers is cause for concern. Matt Nagy doesn’t think running back David Montgomery is the issue.

“You see some of those runs where he’s breaking some tackles and getting extra yards and yards after contact,” Nagy said. “That’s what he’s always done. I love that about him. And yeah, then in regards to the schematics, the execution, we’ve got to make sure we do our job in handling all of that stuff.”

The second half of Nagy’s answer tells the story. That was the nice way of saying the scheme has to be better and the offensive line has to execute.

Digging in deeper, while Montgomery is ostensibly the type of north-south runner who tries to barrel through defenders, the numbers don’t really indicate that. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Montgomery’s “efficiency” is one of the lowest among qualified rushers. The metric takes the total distance a ball carrier travels on a play and divides it by rushing yards gained. A low number indicates more of a north-south runner. A high number means a back is moving side-to-side more.

Philadelphia running back Miles Sanders leads the NFL with a 3.02 efficiency. Montgomery’s 4.17 is near the bottom. Montgomery is also near the bottom in average time spent behind the line of scrimmage.

What does this tell us? There are a ton of factors at play here. No. 1 has to be the scheme. The Bears found success in Weeks 1 and 2 running the ball when they had the quarterback lining up under center. According to Next Gen Stats, Montgomery was one of the most efficient running backs those first two weeks.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky lined up under center 57% of plays in those games, and 68% of the team’s runs came with Trubisky under center, according to SharpFootballStats.com.

In Nick Foles’ three starts, he has been under center only 25% of the time. The Bears have run out of those formations 60% of the time. Lining up in the shotgun plays to Foles’ strengths. It did during both his stints in Philadelphia. But it might not play to Montgomery’s strengths.

The second factor has to be the offensive line. Here’s a weird nugget: Over the past four games, Montgomery has run off-tackle to the left 10 times, resulting in nine yards. Note that this predates the injury to left guard James Daniels. In Daniels’ final two full games, Montgomery had negative-4 yards running wide of left tackle Charles Leno.

In that same four-game span, Montgomery totaled 76 yards on 19 carries running off-tackle to the right.

The injury to Daniels is going to hurt. Rashaad Coward stepped in at left guard for the first time in his career. This is clearly going to be a work in progress. Shaw Media’s Hub Arkush gave the Bears offensive line a C- grade this week, and noted that the left side of the offensive line is “holding back the entire offense.”

The numbers seem to bear that out.

Kicking Cairo: Cairo Santos made a career-long 55-yard field goal just before halftime to give the Bears a 13-6 lead. This was the eighth field goal off 55 yards or more in Bears history, and the first since 2017.

The Bears longest field goals ever:

58 – Robbie Gould, Sept. 8, 2013

57 – Robbie Gould, Dec. 11, 2011

55 – Cairo Santos, Oct. 18, 2020

55 – Mike Nugent, Dec. 31, 2017

55 – Robbie Gould, Nov. 1, 2015

55 – Kevin Butler, Dec. 12, 1993

55 – Kevin Butler, Oct. 25, 1993

55 – Bob Thomas, Nov. 23, 1975

Santos has gone 10-for-12 on field goals this season, after converting on all three of his attempts against Carolina. For a kicker who was brought in as last-minute help when Eddy Pineiro went down with an injury, Santos is making a case to remain the starting kicker.

Just how good is this 2020 Bears defense? The numbers speak for themselves.

Fifth in passing yards per play (6.14 yards). Seventh in total yards per game (337.2). Second in third-down efficiency (31.82% conversion rate). First in red-zone defense (36.36% touchdown rate).

The takeaways haven’t been overwhelming, but they’ve come at the right time. Three takeaways Sunday against Carolina was a breakout performance in that regard. The Bears are tied for 18th in the league with eight takeaways.

There’s a reason cornerback Kyle Fuller always seems to be involved in the controversial plays this year. It’s because he’s always near the ball. Fuller is playing to a ridiculously high standard right now. Safety Eddie Jackson again saw zero targets in the pass game.

The Bears have 32 passes defended, third in the NFL behind only the Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks (each with 37). If they keep doing that, more interceptions are going to come.

The Bears’ pass rush appears to be finding its groove. Another four sacks against Carolina was its most since Week 2 against the Giants. The Bears have seven of their 15 total sacks in their last two games.