Forte: Rushing game 'took major step back'

CHICAGO -- Fittingly dressed in all black minutes after a putrid performance on offense contributed to the Chicago Bears falling to third place in the NFC North, running back Matt Forte eschewed optimistic talk to honestly assess the team’s progress through three games.

The Bears (1-2) produced their second-lowest rushing total (13 yards) since at least 1960 during a lopsided 27-17 loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. The woeful rushing game sticks out as arguably the most significant of myriad issues on this struggling Chicago offense.

“Last week [in the loss to the New Orleans Saints], I think we took a little step back,” Forte said. “This week, we took a major step back.”

Chicago’s 13 rushing yards against the Packers goes down as the worst documented performance by the team’s running attack since Oct. 26, 1952, when the Bears ran for just 1 yard against the Los Angeles Rams. Information from 1952 to 1960 wasn’t immediately available to team officials.

For the second consecutive week, the Bears attempted to play winning football with a severely skewed pass-run ratio. In the loss against the Saints, the Bears ran the ball 12 times, and passed on 45 occasions. Against the Packers, the Bears ran 12 times while quarterback Jay Cutler launched 37 passes.

Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke adamantly after his team fell to the Saints about the need for the unit -- directed by offensive coordinator Mike Martz -- to play with a better balance of passes and runs. Green Bay didn’t allow that plan to unfold as it stuffed Forte for negative yardage on the majority of his runs, and forced the Bears to resort to the passing game.

“They played good, sound defense,” Smith said. “You have to give them a lot of the credit.”

Forte finished the day with 2 yards on nine attempts, but caught a team-high seven passes for 80 yards. Over the past two weeks, he’s rushed for 51 yards on 19 carries while catching 17 passes for 197 yards.

Interestingly, Forte has more than twice as many receptions (22) through the first three games as Johnny Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher, who are tied for second on the team in receptions with nine apiece.

“We knew coming in that he started this year pretty quick,” said Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. “In the first couple of games, he was the go-to guy in the passing game and running. Our D-line did such a fantastic job stopping the run that the only thing up to us linebackers was to make sure he didn’t get anything after the catch.”

The Packers certainly received plenty of opportunities, given that Forte led the team in receptions for the third game in a row, catching all but one pass thrown his direction.

Cutler admitted the team’s current formula isn’t conducive to winning football games.

“We’re 0-2 doing this, so it’s not looking very good,” he said.

Forte ran the ball six times in the first half for 2 yards. Yet the Bears were still in the game at intermission, after Robbie Gould kicked a 25-yard field goal with 49 seconds left in the second quarter to make the score 17-10.

“Obviously we do a lot better when it’s balanced; we run the ball and throw the ball,” Forte said. “We didn’t make any plays in the running game. We made just a few in the passing game. Our game plan wasn’t bad or anything. I think they just outplayed us. We had a bunch of three-and-outs.”

Instead of trying to re-establish the running game, the team called a pass on its first play of the third quarter, which resulted in Cutler taking an 8-yard sack. The Bears completed two fruitless three-and-out drives in the third quarter with Forte taking two handoffs for minus-3 yards.

Forte finished the quarter with 0 yards on three attempts, and was never given another handoff because the team needed to throw the ball to try to overcome starting the fourth quarter down 20-10.

Bears center Roberto Garza blamed the offensive line -- which showed improvement in protection by allowing just three sacks, after surrendering six to the Saints -- for spoiling Forte’s potential chances to shine as a runner.

“We have to block them,” Garza said. “We’re not creating those holes, and Matt’s not able to get to the line of scrimmage. That’s our fault. It starts with the offensive line. We have to create movement. We have a great running back and we’re not allowing him to showcase his skills.”

Of Forte’s six attempts in the first half, just two went for positive gains. The others were losses of 1, 1, 4 and 1 yards, with Packers defenders knifing through the Bears offensive line on all those occasions to drop Forte in the backfield.

“Watch the film; it’s easy [to figure out what happened],” Forte said. “There’s nothing else to say about that. Maybe three or four times when I got the ball, [there] wasn’t [anything] there. It was just a tackle for loss. We didn’t play well the whole time. We didn’t run the ball because we weren’t able to.”