Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

After the Chicago Bears’ 34-29 victory Sunday over the Carolina Panthers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. How important is it for this Bears team to emphasize its running game? ESPN Stats & Information produced some stunning numbers to answer that question. The Bears had nine possessions Sunday in which they ran at least one offensive play. On the four that resulted in a score, the Bears had an 84-16 run-pass ratio. On their non-scoring possessions, the Bears’ ratio was 38.5-61.5. It’s yet another example of how important it is for the Bears to establish the run -- and what happens when they can’t or don’t try.

  2. It might not make the Bears feel any better about it, but theirs isn’t the only respected defense to get gashed by the Panthers. They allowed quarterback Cam Newton 374 passing yards and the Panthers a total of 543 offensive yards, 40 yards short of the Bears franchise record. But Newton has thrown for more yards in his first four starts than any quarterback in NFL history. I’m not walking away from Week 4 in a panic over the Bears defense. But I do think the Bears are hoping veteran safety Chris Harris (hamstring) returns shortly. Fluctuation in the safety lineup has left the them looking a little disorganized in the back end. New safety Brandon Meriweather appeared to be at fault for leaving Steve Smith wide open on a 53-yard reception. Harris should be able to help settle that down.

  3. Every now and then, the Bears provide a clinic in the value of innovative and explosive special teams. Simply put, they wouldn’t have won Sunday without them. We all know that Devin Hester returned a punt 69 yards for one touchdown and set up another with a 73-yard kickoff return. But the final few minutes of the game would have looked a lot different had Julius Peppers not blocked Olindo Mare’s 34-yard field goal in the third quarter. Yes, Mare’s kick was low. But the Bears have too many games like this to consider it good fortune. Their special teams keeps opponents off balance like few, if any, others.

And here is one issue I still don’t get:

The Bears have either decided to place the franchise tag on tailback Matt Forte this offseason or they are costing themselves some money by delaying a contract extension. I’m not sure which one it is yet. But his value for this team has never been higher. Forte has 263 rushing yards on 41 attempts in the Bears’ two victories this season. He has 51 yards on 19 carries in their two losses. Obviously, additional factors were at play in those games. But it’s hard to dispute the significance of those numbers.