The Bears proved Sunday they can run the ball a lot, pounding it on the ground a season-high 39 times in their win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Now they need to prove they can run it a lot better if they hope to have any postseason success.
Yeah, I’m assuming they make the playoffs because, at 8-3, it would take a cataclysmic collapse not to make it. The situation on the offensive line doesn’t yet fall into that category, but it’s getting close.
The attrition along the O-line is all the more reason the focus of the offense has to be the run game. Even mediocre linemen can run block; it’s what they consider the fun part of their job.
Gabe Carimi’s struggles in pass protection led to his removal from the starting right tackle spot, but he is still a positive force in the run game. Even before he was pressed into duty at right guard against the Vikings, Carimi contributed as an extra blocker/super-size tight end in short-yardage situations. He helped the Bears convert on 12 of 20 third-down and fourth-down opportunities.
Since there’s a good chance Carimi will have to remain at guard, a position he had never played before Sunday, the Bears must play to his strength and the strength of the O-line as a whole — that’s running the ball.
But to get to the postseason and to have any chance for success once they get there, the Bears have to run the ball better than they did Sunday, when it took 39 attempts to produce 113 yards.
Coach Lovie Smith expressed delight at the first number while ignoring the second.
“The first thing you have to look at is the commitment to the run,” Smith said. “Thirty-nine rushes — that right there, to me, was the story of the day.”
The Bears won’t win another game this season averaging 2.9 yards per carry.
The only way running the ball for a 2.9-yard average works is if your quarterback completes 15 of his first 17 passes, as Jay Cutler did.
And if your defense recovers a fumble at the opponents’ 34-yard line early in the first quarter, as Charles Tillman did, setting up a touchdown.
And if someone intercepts a pass and returns it 35 yards in the second quarter, as Chris Conte did, leaving your offense to go just 13 yards for another touchdown and a 25-3 lead before halftime.
You get the picture.
The Bears could afford to average more than a yard less than the league average of 4.2 on their running plays, as long as they held a 22-point lead against a mediocre offense.
They can’t count on that every week, or any week.
But Smith was right to be encouraged by some of what the Bears did on the ground in Sunday’s contest.
They converted 4 of 6 third-down runs, and when they came up a yard short on one of the misses, a third-and-2, Michael Bush picked it up on fourth-and-1. The only other third-down run they failed to convert was a third-and-13, when Bush ran for 8 yards.
With starter Matt Forte questionable this week, Bush must become the bell cow, and he’s capable of that.
Bush, however, needs to realize he’s not Barry Sanders and stop dancing once he gets to the second level. The Bears don’t need him to go 80 yards. They do need him and Forte to cobble together a couple of 10-yard-plus runs, though, and that’s something that neither player has done recently.
Forte has not had a run of longer than 8 yards in his last 54 carries. Bush has had 1 run of longer than 9 yards (a 20-yarder vs. the Texans) in his last 44 carries.
With a patchwork offensive line that cannot protect the quarterback, the run game must be more productive.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.