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Second half needs running start

Matt Forte leads a Bears rushing attack that is 26th in the NFL in rushing average (88.6), and 30th in attempts. Geoff Burke/Getty Images

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The bye week gave the Chicago Bears time to conduct a critical self analysis of their performance through the first seven games.

It appears the most pertinent information emerging from the evaluation was the need to “tighten things up,” which is what coach Lovie Smith said all last week and reiterated Monday, shortly after the Bears concluded practice in preparation for Sunday’s game against the winless Buffalo Bills.

“We’re a 4-3 team. That’s how we’ve played. That’s about where we are. [A] 4-3 [record] says, to me, you’re a good football team [and there are] some things you need to tighten up on,” Smith said. “We’re right into the thick of the [NFC North] race. We feel like we match up with anyone.

"But again, we need to tighten up on some things. We had good evaluations last week on everything we’re doing -- offense, defense and special teams. We just feel like we can get a streak going now.”

Having lost three of their past four, the Bears need to get something going -- namely the running game -- given they’ve suffered two consecutive defeats in which they passed the ball more than three times more than they handed off to running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor.

Chicago ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing average (88.6), and 30th in attempts. Interestingly the 29th-ranked team (Detroit Lions) in terms of rushing attempts (159) ran 24 fewer times than the 28th-ranked club (Green Bay Packers).

Of the four teams (Lions, Bears, Cowboys, and Cardinals) ranked at the bottom of the league in rushing attempts, only one -- the Bears -- has a record of .500 or better. Of the four teams (Saints, Broncos, Redskins and Packers) ranked just above the bottom four, all but one -- the Broncos -- has a winning record.

“If you ask me, I think it’s key or essential to our offense because in order to pass it effectively and use play action, you need to run the ball,” Forte said.

Taylor chimed in with similar sentiments.

“It’s good to have a balanced offense,” Taylor said. “I think the running game will help the passing game, too.”

Lovie After A Bye

It’s unclear if the Bears will ever find out whether that’s the case. Smith and Martz spoke repeatedly over the past several weeks about the need to run, especially after the Bears churned out a season-high 218 yards in an Oct. 10 rout of the Carolina Panthers.

The conditions this week set up for a productive showing from the Bears’ ground attack, given the fact the Bills rank last in the NFL against the run (188.7 yards per game), allowing a 220-yard average over the past five games, including a 274-yard display of ineptitude Sunday in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Smith seems somewhat perturbed by repeated inquiries about the club’s rushing situation, but the cost-conscious Bears appear to be wasting money, given the distribution of the workload on offense. Between Forte and Taylor, the Bears are paying $16.21 million combined in contracts, which include a combined $9 million guaranteed.

Yet they’ve run the ball just 134 times. Extrapolated over 16 games, Taylor’s workload at the club’s current pace -- based solely on his guaranteed money -- comes out to $69,602.57 per attempt.

“We have a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. We plan on using them all,” Smith said. “Matt has been ready. I’m sure he’ll probably tell you he was ready to go today. He’s been like that the entire time. You mentioned Chester Taylor, too. We do need to get those guys involved more. The more times they touch the football, the more likely something good will happen for the Bears.”