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updated: 9/24/2012 9:35 PM

Bears' offense coming up short so far

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  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler scrambles Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.

      Bears quarterback Jay Cutler scrambles Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Maybe the return of Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte can give the Bears' offense the spark it has been missing since it got to pick on the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener, raising expectations with 41 points.

There's no guarantee Forte will be ready for the Cowboys, but the extra days' rest before the Monday Night showdown in Dallas could help.

Forte should at least be able to test his sprained ankle at practice this week.

"Eventually we'll get him back out there," coach Lovie Smith said. "But as far as when, I don't know that right now. I just know every day I see him doing a little bit more, and we have an extra day, so we're hopeful."

Without Forte against St. Louis, the Bears averaged a subpar 3.0 yards per carry, and that number was even more disappointing when just the running backs contributions are considered.

Michael Bush (55 yards on 18 carries), Kahlil Bell (20 yards on 10 carries) and Armando Allen (2 yards, 1 carry) combined to average just 2.7 yards per carry. The NFL average is 4.1.

Even with Forte for the first 1 games, the Bears have averaged just 3.5 yards per carry this season, 23rd in the NFL. Forte is averaging 4.8 yards, similar to his career-best 4.9 last season.

The Bears' shortcomings in the passing game have been well documented.

Jay Cutler's 58.6 passer rating is No. 31 of 32 quarterbacks with enough attempts to qualify. Only Miami Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill (58.3) is worse.

No one has thrown more than Cutler's 6 interceptions. Only the Cincinnati Bengals and the Rams, with 12, have allowed more sacks than the 11 the Bears have given up.

True, the Bears played well enough offensively to survive a mediocre Rams team, and Smith contends that that's good enough.

But he also acknowledges expectations are much greater. And they should be for a team that believes it has a franchise quarterback and the dominant pass catcher it has always lacked.

"Every time the offense goes out, we seem like some kind of way we expect to score 50 points and rush for 300 yards and pass for 500," Smith said. "That's not going to happen.

"There are some things we have to do better offensively, but we controlled the ball and we made some plays when we had to.

"You have some games where it's like that. You don't have as much production as you normally do, but you find a way to do some things."

As long as the Bears' defense can manhandle an opponent that is missing multiple key players on its offensive line, the Bears' offense can continue to underachieve.

But the schedule doesn't offer up any more opponents coming off 2-14 seasons as it did in two of the first three weeks.

The NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings were just 3-13 last season, but they've got the same 2-1 record as the Bears right now, and they just knocked off the San Francisco 49ers, the consensus best team in the NFC.

The Bears' offensive line switched out Chris Spencer in favor of Chilo Rachal against the Rams, but it was difficult to detect any improvement. Cutler was sacked twice by a team that had just 2 sacks in its first two games.

"There (were) some good things that we did," Smith said. "Overall there are some things we need to correct also. (The Rams) got a little bit of pressure from time to time, but I thought there was consistent play. The offensive line didn't hurt us or anything like that."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but maybe the line will improve as Rachal becomes more comfortable at left guard.

"(He's) just a tough guy, it starts with that," Smith said of Rachal. "Tough guys give you an edge a little bit. (He's a) tough guy in everything that he does. He's an aggressive guy that plays hard from start to finish. That's what we're expecting from Chilo."

That's what's expected from the Bears' offense, but it has fallen way short of those expectations so far.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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