(670 The Score) The Bears left Las Vegas up for the weekend, earning a 20-9 win against the Raiders on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. Here are the observations of the day as the Bears improved to 3-2.
A budding identity
Every so often during the four-year tenure of Bears coach Matt Nagy, he has referred his team's identity – or sometimes the lack thereof.
On Sunday, the Bears seemed closer than they have been since 2018 to forging a winning identity. And be warned, it won’t be pretty.
With rookie quarterback Justin Fields under center, the Bears have committed to pounding the football on the ground, which has helped sustain drives and keep their defense fresh. Or to put it more simply, the Bears are seeking to play four quarters of complementary football.
Until the day arrives when Fields has a better grasp of his role, the Bears will likely stay committed to this approach. On Sunday, the offense did it without top running back David Montgomery, who's expected to miss at least three more weeks with a left knee sprain. It was encouraging to see the ground game keep moving without Montgomery.
The Bears used a two-man attack out of their backfield with veteran Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert, who combined with Fields to rush 37 times for 143 yards and a score. The Bears' consistent running game once again allowed Fields to find opportunities in the passing game, as he went 12-of-20 for 111 yards and his first NFL touchdown pass.
The Bears’ defense remained fresh and kept the Raiders in check offensively. Las Vegas had entered Sunday ranking in the top 10 in the NFL in both scoring and yardage. First-year Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai continued to show a comfort in his new role while leading a unit that looks better as each week passes.
The Bears have found a way to win.
Run it back?
Bears general manager Ryan Pace has rightfully taken criticism during his seven-year tenure in Chicago that doesn't yet include a playoff win, but there are certain aspects of his scouting that have proved consistently successful.
One example of that is at running back, where Pace has done well in identifying talent. He transitioned from Matt Forte in 2016 by drafting Jordan Howard in the fifth round, selected Tarik Cohen in the fourth round in 2017 to add a backfield complement and secured the Bears’ running back position by nabbing Montgomery in 2019.
Now, the Bears might have another dynamic running back in Herbert, who shined Sunday in his first big opportunity in the NFL. A sixth-round pick of the Bears this past spring, Herbert carried 18 times for 75 yards while leading Chicago’s backfield in its first full game without Montgomery.
In his strong effort, Herbert displayed great patience to find openings at the line of scrimmage and then showcased his burst to hit the second level.
Herbert seemed primed to break a big run on several occasions Sunday. He should see more carries in the next few weeks as Montgomery remains out, and perhaps that breakaway carry will come soon.
A nod for Mack
We should take a moment to appreciate Bears star pass rusher Khalil Mack, because there are certainly plenty of Raiders fans Sunday who wished to be doing the same.
Mack recorded his fifth sack of the season Sunday -- he has a sack in four straight games -- doing so while dealing with injuries to his foot and ribs. Mack isn't one to discuss injuries or make excuses for his play at any time, and his Bears teammates wouldn’t either.
But former Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano shed light on Mack’s durability in recent comments. While with the Bears in 2019 and 2020, Pagano saw a player who dealt with constant pain but found a way to play through it.
"He gets himself right by Sunday, goes out there and does it all over again,” Pagano said. “And then finds himself a way to get healed up and go out there next Sunday."
The Bears’ offensive line struggled early in the season. Against the Raiders, the unit produced one of its most impressive games – particularly with its run blocking.
Williams' rushing touchdown was an example of how the line opened up an opportunity.
-- Before the Bears played Sunday, Pace joined the WBBM Newsradio 780 pregame show, where he offered an important reminder on Fields and his development.
“There are going to be ebbs and flows -- we know that,” Pace said. “That's life with a rookie quarterback and that's part of his growth. He'll progress with this experience. We've got to be good around him too.”
-- In the first quarter of a scoreless game, the Raiders drove 13 plays and 69 yards but were held to a field goal. It wasn’t clear at the time, but that served as a turning point for the Bears, who controlled the game from there on out.
-- Field is one tough cookie, something that’s been abundantly clear already. The Bears need to make that less obvious by protecting him better. The offense seemed to shift away from designed runs and five-man protection schemes late in the game to ensure Fields would survive the day without a serious injury.
-- Do what Olin Kreutz says and just watch this.
-- The Bears may have suffered a serious loss in reserve pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, who suffered a pectoral injury Sunday. But they also seem to have something in second-year linebacker Trevis Gipson, who recorded his second career sack. Gipson seems poised to play a key role.
-- I was 4-0 picking the Bears' results before Sunday. They proved me wrong – and also made me reconsider where this team could go.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.