Bear Down, Nerd Up: Khalil Herbert leads biggest rushing effort in almost 40 years

Is this Bears team good? The eye test tells a different story

Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert gets outside of Houston Texans linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo during their game Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Chicago Bears have a winning record.

They have had a winning record after Week 3 in four of the past five years. Only a 1-2 start last season kept that from being 5 for 5.

Now, is this Bears team good? The eye test tells a different story. And so, too, do the numbers. So let’s dive into those numbers – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Run, run, run: The 281 rushing yards the Bears piled up Sunday marked the 14th-highest total in franchise history. It was the highest total since the Bears ran for 283 yards against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 30, 1984. The Bears lost that game against the Cowboys. Legendary running back Walter Payton ran for 155 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

The Bears’ 110 rushing yards in the first quarter Sunday marked their most in the first quarter of a game since Oct. 10, 2010, in a matchup against the Carolina Panthers. QB Todd Collins was starting in place of injured Jay Cutler that day. Collins threw four interceptions, but the run game and defense powered the Bears to a win. Matt Forte ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.

The Bears’ 186 rushing yards in the first half Sunday marked their most in a first half since at least 1970, according to the team. It also was the most since that 2010 game against the Panthers, when they finished the first half with 168 rushing yards.

Khalil Herbert’s 52-yard run at the start of the second half was one of the most improbable runs of the NFL season so far, according to NFL Next Gen Stats’ models. On that particular run, based on the location of the defenders, Herbert generally could be expected to gain 10 yards. Instead, he scooted his way through a hole and found an opening for a big gain.

His 42 yards over expected ranks tied for ninth among all NFL rushes so far this season and ranked No. 2 among Week 3 rushes. It also was a top-20 longest play of the season so far.

The Bears now have the No. 2 rushing attack in all of football. Their 186.7 rushing yards per game ranks second behind only Cleveland’s 190.7. The Bears rank fourth in yards per carry with 5.38 rushing yards per attempt.

Passing game questions? The run game might be rolling, but the passing attack is certainly not. Through three games, the Bears are averaging a league-worst (by a mile) 78.3 passing yards per game. No other team has fewer than 160 passing yards per game. The Bears could double their passing yards per game and still rank below the rest of the league.

In his career, quarterback Justin Fields has now started and finished four games in which he completed fewer than 10 passes. Three of them have come this season, the other was his first career start in Cleveland last year. The five sacks he allowed Sunday was the most he gave up since that debut in Cleveland when the Browns sacked him nine times. Fields’ QB rating Sunday was a career-worst 27.7.

Among receivers with a minimum of eight targets through three weeks, Darnell Mooney is tied for second to last in catch percentage (catches divided by targets) with four catches on 11 targets.

Not all targets are created equally in the NFL. A missed connection could be on either the receiver or the quarterback.

But regardless of whose fault it is, it’s telling that the only two Bears pass catchers with enough targets to qualify are near the bottom of this list. Of the 124 qualified pass catchers, Equanimeous St. Brown ranks 112th (44%) and Mooney ranks 122nd (36%).

Interceptions: Bears safety Eddie Jackson pulled in the 12th interception of his career late in the second quarter. Twelve interceptions ties him for 39th among Bears’ all-time interception leaders. He would need 11 more to crack the top 10.

The Bears are 12-0 in games when Jackson has intercepted a pass.

Roquan Smith’s clutch fourth-quarter interception marked the sixth interception of his career. According to Next Gen Stats, Smith has been one of the best linebackers in coverage since entering the league in 2018. Opponents have a 76.2 passer rating when throwing near Smith, which ranks second best among linebackers in that time frame.

Smith’s interception swung the Bears’ probability of winning the game from 46% to 87%.

Big leg: Kicker Cairo Santos went 3 for 3 on field goals Sunday, including the game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired.

He also made a 50-yard field goal in the second quarter. Santos hadn’t made a field goal from 50 yards or longer since Nov. 1, 2020, against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field. Sunday’s 50-yard kick marked his 11th career field goal from 50 yards or beyond.

Dating to December of last season, Santos has made 10 consecutive field goal tries. His only misses during that stretch came on a pair of extra points in the sloppy Week 1 win over San Francisco.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.