LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith likes his team’s “commitment” to running the football, but he’s not as pleased about is the team’s inability to do so through the first three games.
Although the Bears average 101 yards per game on the ground (16th in the NFL), they seem to be unanimous in their belief that getting the rushing attack untracked is paramount to the offense moving forward in its development.
“There’s a commitment to the run and that’s good,” Smith said. “But we still need to get more production from our running game.”
Running back Matt Forte averaged 5 yards per carry in the opener against the Indianapolis Colts, and finished with 80 yards, which ranks as the club’s best individual rushing performance through the first four games. So although the team has posted a 6-4 record over the past four years when they generate between 75 and 99 yards on the ground collectively, the Bears are 8-3 in that span with a 100-yard rusher.
Since Smith arrived in 2004, the Bears have posted a record of 23-9 when one of their rushers puts together a 100-yard performance. Looking back at the team’s 34-18 win over the Cowboys, Smith wants to see more production from the offensive line.
“Our run blocking wasn’t as good as we’d like it to be (against the Cowboys),” Smith said. “But we’ll keep working on some of those things.”
Added center Roberto Garza: “It’s time for us to make that next step and get our running game going.”
By stating the desire to do it, the Bears won’t automatically make the running game improve. Garza said the Bears boosted their performance in the pass-blocking department against the Cowboys by practicing with more intensity throughout the week which “showed in our game.” So they’ll have to do something similar to shore up the run blocking headed into Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.
Garza says it’s “up to us” to make that happen.
“We have to create movement,” he said. “We have to create those holes for those guys to hit. We were just a little off this weekend, and we’ve got another week to get ready for.”
Through 16 quarters of action, the Bears produced 11 runs of 10 yards or more with quarterback Jay Cutler being responsible for two of those. Forte, Michael Bush and Kahlil Bell accounted for the rest. But of that trio, only Forte averages more than 3 yards per attempt (4.5).
Timing plays a role in some of the struggles, as well as the health of Forte and Bush. Forte missed time with an ankle injury, and took a hit early in the game at Dallas that caused him to leave for a few plays. Forte still might not be 100 percent while Bush has battled through a shoulder injury.
Just 29.3 percent of the club’s 75 first downs have come by way of the rushing attack, and the Bears have averaged 3.5 yards per attempt or better in just two of the first four games.
“We’re still in my opinion, not running the ball well,” said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. “We’re going to continue to run it. We’re going to continue to try and find the personality that we’re going to have as a run team. I think that it shouldn’t take that long, but it is. Football wise, that’s the most important thing right now that we can focus on in this short week: making sure we run the ball efficiently on first down.”