The Bears didn’t wait long to start attacking the offseason following a disappointing 2019. Just three days after their last game and one day after firing offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, they hired his replacement in Juan Castillo. He brings a wealth of experience to the role, having filled the same position in Philadelphia under Andy Reid from 1998-2010, in Baltimore from 2013-16, and in Buffalo from 2017-18.
Castillo is expected to be heavily involved in designing and coordinating the run game in Chicago, which will be revamped this offseason after 2 unproductive years under Hiestand and former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Accordingly, I dug into how well run games have fared under Castillo in the 19 years he’s served as an offensive line coach and/or run game coordinator. I did this using DVOA rankings, from Football Outsiders, which are a generally solid all-encompassing metric to evaluate both the rushing and passing production from an offense. The ranks for rushing and passing DVOA can be seen in the table below.
There’s a lot of data to parse through here, and I think you can look at it fairly from both an optimistic and pessimistic viewpoint. Let’s take a brief look at each perspective:
- The run game DVOA ranked better than the passing game DVOA in 17 of Castillo’s 19 seasons (he will be very involved in the run game, but Nagy runs the passing attack).
- When paired with a competent passing game, the run game works well. In the 12 seasons with a top 20 passing DVOA, the average rushing DVOA was 8th, and Castillo’s teams featured a top 10 rushing attack in 8 of those seasons (2/3 of the time). Their lowest finish in those 12 years was 18th, which is right around average.
- When the passing game struggles, Castillo’s run game can’t carry the load. In 7 seasons with a bottom 12 passing DVOA, the average rushing DVOA was 21st, and it was never better than 15th.
- None of Castillo’s success has come without Reid, and it all came at least a decade ago. His stints in Baltimore and Buffalo both featured consistently poor run games (though to be fair, the passing games were bad too).
Don’t expect Chicago’s rushing attack to magically improve just because of the coaching change. Jimmies and Joes beat Xs and Os every time, and Castillo’s history clearly shows that he’s capable of producing poor run games when he doesn’t have the talent.
With that said, the Bears should have some pieces in place for a decent run game. Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno, and Bobby Massie are all solid veterans on the offensive line, and they were all starting in Chicago when the Bears did run it decently well (run DVOA was between 17-19 from 2016-18, which is acceptable if not particularly good). Left guard James Daniels was very highly regarded in the draft 2 years ago and has been a capable player so far in the NFL, and rookie David Montgomery showed some decent ability as a rookie (7th in the NFL in broken tackle rate). They clearly need an upgrade at right guard, which was an unmitigated disaster in 2019, but will undoubtedly look to address that this offseason.
I think it’s not an accident that Castillo has a ton of experience in Andy Reid’s offensive system. The same could not be said of Hiestand, who was a well respected offensive line coach but came from a more traditional (read: under center, power run game) offensive background. There’s seemed to be a disconnect in how Nagy wants to call the run game and what was most effective the last two years, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Nagy deliberately brought in a run game coordinator who knows how to work within his offense, and I fully expect the offensive coordinator hire to be somebody from the Reid coaching tree as well.
Castillo’s history suggests that he can design a quality running game if he’s paired with a solid passing game. He’s not going to build a run-based offense, but he won’t be asked to either. The Bears want to be pass-first, so it’s on Nagy to build an aerial attack that works. If he can do that successfully, Castillo should be able to provide a solid complementary ground game.