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ATM: Regardless of QB, Bears Need Better Running Game

| June 22nd, 2021

Whether it’s Andy Dalton or Justin Fields at quarterback, the Bears are going to have to help them out by running the ball.

The Bears found success at the end of last year. David Montgomery ran for 598 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s final six games. Over a full season, that would’ve been monstrous production, but the first nine games happened too. In those, Montgomery failed to reach 90 yards and only averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry twice.

That’s not necessarily Montgomery’s fault. Injuries and inconsistencies along the offensive line are largely what put the Bears in the Nick Foles-era tailspin. The Bears have been aggressive in fixing issues with depth and top-line talent, but there’s still a matter of actually being productive in the rushing attack over a full, 16-game season.

It may have been unrealistic to expect Juan Castillo to fix the running game out of the gates, considering they didn’t have an offseason program or a traditional training camp. By the end of the season, it was clear that the coach’s message was getting through and he had nearly every player competing at a level they had not yet reached in their careers. The Bears emphasized a bigger, more physical style of player at the line of scrimmage, with the idea that Castillo can coach them up. With a projected rookie starter at left tackle and questions on the right side of the line, he’ll have to do just that.

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ATM: Castillo’s Nasty Mothers.

| May 19th, 2021

The Chicago Bears offensive line approach has changed drastically under Juan Castillo, as we’ve seen the team go from smaller linemen to a bunch of nasty motherfuckers.

That line, of course, comes from 2021 second-round pick Teven Jenkins, who described himself as a “tough, physical, nasty motherfucker” when meeting the media before the draft. (Picking Jenkins is just one example of the Bears identifying a need to add toughness up front.)

Even Ryan Pace’s best offensive line pick, Cody Whitehair, entered the NFL as a player who needed to get stronger. As good as Whitehair was at Kansas State, there was some questioning if he had the strength to bang with the big guys in the NFL. The same is true for James Daniels, an otherwise good player, but can’t get push against strong defensive lines.

What happened to the Bears against the Indianapolis Colts last year has happened far too many times. They don’t even have a chance to run the ball because they aren’t physical enough.

Castillo is trying to change that.

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ATM: Bears Finding Answers During Playoff Push

| December 22nd, 2020

A month ago it looked like the Chicago Bears were heading towards a full-scale rebuild. But after two straight wins and a few quality offensive performances, the Bears might be finding they already have answers to some expected offseason questions.

The most significant answers are on the offensive side of the ball where Matt Nagy appears to have fixed what was wrong, even if that meant partially by stepping aside. It’s easy to say that Nagy giving up play calling was a negative on him, but fans should know better. The best Bears coach in recent history, Lovie Smith, had to convince his buddy Rod Marinelli to take defensive play calling away from him and we have seen numerous offensive geniuses – Sean Payton, Andy Reid come to mind – do the same for at least a short period of time.

While he isn’t calling the plays, Nagy still has oversight over the offense. It’s still his direction the team is following and his hires of Bill Lazor and Juan Castillo are suddenly looking fantastic. Lazor has found ways to consistently keep the offense simple for Mitch Trubisky and Castillo is getting standout play from undrafted free agents Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, two players who certainly look as if they could compete for starting spots next year.



Mustipher has played at a high level since entering the lineup against the Saints on Nov. 1. An injury knocked him out the next few weeks, but he returned Nov. 29 and seems to have locked down the job. In his five starts, the Bears have averaged 7.8 yards per carry when they run behind him. In all other games they’ve averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

Theoretically, most would be fine with the Bears going into the 2021 season with Leno, Whitehair and Mustipher taking up three of the five spots while James Daniels and Alex Bars compete at right guard. While they’d surely like to bring in more young depth, what once looked to be a full rebuild of the offensive line could now be the team focusing on just the tackle positions.

With that, we’ve realized that David Montgomery is a legitimate stud when he has blocking. Suddenly, the Bears just might have a piece to build their offense around.

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New Coach, New Players, New Mentality for the Bears Rushing Attack

| May 27th, 2020

Juan Castillo.

The question was finally asked.

During Matt Nagy’s presser two weeks ago, Brad Biggs asked it bluntly.

“What makes Juan Castillo better than Harry Hiestand?”

As delicately as the head coach tried to answer, the truth was just as blunt.

“Juan’s biggest strength is his ability to teach and reach his players,” Nagy said. “There’s going to be times when he chews their tails out and there’s going to be other times when he’s giving them nothing but love.”

Castillo has a long history of developing late-round picks in need of polish. Hiestand, while having a long history of taking four/five-star recruits and making them into terrific NFL prospects, never successfully developed a player once they were in the NFL. That lack of developmental prowess stood out particularly with James Daniels in 2019, a high second-round pick who could’ve been a first rounder if the draft weren’t stacked at the position in 2018. He’s long, athletic and, by all accounts, smart. Yet, hasn’t been improving.

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Castillo, Flip & Team Grades: Thoughts on the Off-Season (So Far)

| January 20th, 2020

The Bears offense was an abomination in 2019 and there was plenty of blame to go around. Here are five thoughts on what’s transpired since the end of one of the most disappointing campaigns in the history of this organization.


(1) The most pivotal decision made thus far (and unsurprisingly the first) was hiring Juan Castillo to rebuild the offensive line/run game. How did that happen? It’s pretty simple. Matt Nagy is in constant communication with Andy Reid, his mentor and friend. Reid’s recommendation was to get the run game fixed by getting Castillo. (And Andy was instrumental on making it happen.) This offense doesn’t want to be run first. But it needs to be run effectively. And under Helfrich/Hiestand, the rushing attack was disjointed and wildly ineffective. Relying on RPO concepts meant relying on the quarterback to make the right decision. He didn’t do that very often in 2019. Castillo will move the run game back down the hill.


(2) Nagy and Pat Shurmur had a deal done. Shurmur was going to be the next Bears offensive coordinator. But a day after I got word of the agreement, I got another word: “He’s got options.” The allure of Philly was strong. Shurmur is pissed off at the Giants and wanted to play them twice a year. The allure of Cleveland grew, even though he was fired there, because he has deep affinity for new head coach Kevin Stefanski. But ultimately it was Vic Fangio giving him the keys to the offensive kingdom in Denver that won the day. Now he’ll run half that program, nurture a young, talented QB and perhaps get himself a third shot at a head coaching gig.

[Side note: Shurmur was not turned off by working with Trubisky.]


(3) John DeFilippo interviewed to be the head coach of the Bears in 2018 and, since then, his star has been rapidly falling in the league. Why? Because many folks in the league don’t believe Flip is a play-caller. He’s a leader of men. He’s a teacher. He’s great on the whiteboard and even better on the sideline. But his talents are misused trying to figure out which run to call on third-and-one. Flip will make every QB in the 2020 QB room better. Now it’s just a matter of finding out who is going to be in that room.

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A Closer Look at New OL Coach Juan Castillo

| January 2nd, 2020

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:

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