Herbert leads the NFL in rushing yards per carry with six.
The Bears excel at only a few things, but running the ball is at the top of the list. They’ve consistently been the most prolific rushing team in the NFL, and they’ll be back to full strength against the Bills on Saturday with the return of speedster Khalil Herbert. Herbert, who leads all NFL running backs with six yards per carry, missed four games due to a hip injury but claims to be fully recovered.
If the frigid temperatures and strong winds at Soldier Field make passing difficult, the game may come down to who has the better rushing attack. This would not necessarily offset the Bills’ overall personnel advantage, but it would certainly help the Bears.
Herbert is a great running partner for power back David Montgomery, and the Bears have 1,000-yard rusher Justin Fields at quarterback. It’s what they do best, and despite all three being injured, they lead the NFL in 186.9 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry.
“It’ll be nice to have our 1-2 punch back in the run game, along with Justin,” Eberflus said. “We’re thrilled with that feature.”
The Bears aren’t particularly exciting, but Herbert qualifies. Not only did he have 705 yards of total offense and five touchdowns when he was injured, but he also had two 50-yard runs.
It’s a vastly different running game than Matt Nagy’s offense, which didn’t run much in the first place and relied heavily on Montgomery when it did. For the first time in Bears history, three players have rushed for at least 600 yards: Fields with 1,000 yards, Montgomery with 694 yards, and Herbert with 643.
If they keep this up, the Bears will break their 1955 franchise record for yards per carry by half a yard, and their per-game average will be their highest since 200.8 in 1977, when Walter Payton won the MVP.
The only other teams with 1,000-yard rushers at quarterback, thanks to Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson, respectively, are the 2006 Falcons and the 2019 and 2020 Ravens, who average 5.5 yards per carry for the season.
The 2019 Ravens set the NFL season rushing record with 3,296 yards per game, averaging 206. To beat that, the Bears must average 227 yards in their final three games. Despite ranking sixth in run defense, the Bills have exceeded 227 yards six times this season.
Before Herbert went down, the Bears were averaging 201.7 yards rushing per game, but that dropped to 171.4 without him. While Herbert was out, Montgomery rushed for 260 yards and three touchdowns on 57 attempts.
“Having two different types of runners has value,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said of Herbert and Montgomery. “[And] Herbert, as we’ve seen, has the ability to take what could be a seven-yard gain and turn it into a big one because he has enough speed.”
Having Herbert and Montgomery together for the final three games allows Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles to assess whether that’s the combination they need moving forward. Montgomery is a free agent at the end of the season.
The Bears undoubtedly intend to do more passing in the future, as Fields alluded to this week when he stated that he does not intend to be a perennial 1,000-yard rusher, so this run-heavy offense is likely more of a necessity for this season than the essence of Getsy’s philosophy.
But for the time being, it’s the best they can do. And Herbert elevates it even further.