Chicago Bears' running game sputtering

Where, oh where, has the Chicago Bears' running game gone?

Through their first 10 games, the Bears rushed for more than 100 yards seven times, including three games in which they rushed for more than 200 yards. With an average of 131.8 rushing yards per game, the Bears ranked No. 5 in the NFL.

But in three of the last four games - all losses - the Bears rushed for fewer than 65 yards. Sunday they managed 62 yards on 19 attempts (3.3-yard average) and a week earlier the Bears totaled 6 yards on 14 rushes.

After Week 11, Jordan Howard was third in the NFL with 841 rushing yards and was averaging 4.4 yards per carry. In the past two games, he has a total of 44 yards on 20 carries for a 2.2-yard average.

The potential loss of right guard Kyle Long (left shoulder) for the remainder of the season, doesn't bode well for any improvement.

Certainly having the ball for just 36 plays Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers was a factor in the inability to establish a ground game. A week earlier wasn't much better, when they ran just 49 plays. Trailing 24-0 at halftime, the Bears had to abandon the ground game in the 31-3 loss to the Eagles at Philadelphia.

"We haven't executed," coach John Fox said. "And it's not an excuse, but it's a very continuity-oriented position. Pretty much, the whole is probably better than the sum of the parts, just the way they practice, both in run and pass. So when you (lose a player), it can cause a little bit of a problem."

The Bears played most of Sunday's game without Long, whose left shoulder has bothered him off and on since last season. Veteran journeyman Tom Compton stepped in for Long in the second quarter.

Long contemplated off-season shoulder surgery to repair the labrum (shoulder cartilage) but decided to try to rehab without it, partly because he also required surgery on his ankle. Long also missed the Week 10 game against the Green Bay Packers with a finger injury on his left hand.

It's possible his injury could force the Bears to shut the three-time Pro Bowl pick down for the remainder of the season.

"I think that's a possibility," Fox said. "I don't want to say yes, and I don't want to say no at this point. We're still evaluating that."

If surgery is indicated, having surgery now rather than waiting until after the season would help Long get back to 100 percent for the 2018 season. Not having him in the lineup hurts the offense, but playing a seriously diminished Long doesn't help him or the team.

The injury to Long is no excuse for the Bears, though. Washington placed three offensive linemen on injured reserve during a six-day period in November, and it continues to be a much more competitive team than the Bears, who have lost five straight.

The inability of the Bears' defense to get off the field the past two weeks is the bigger problem. On Sunday the 49ers converted 10 of 18 third downs to pile up a whopping 38:47-21:13 edge in time of possession.

"We just didn't have the ball much," Fox said. "That was part of the issue. It's hard to get into a rhythm when you're not getting that many opportunities."

It was almost as bad a week earlier, when the Eagles possessed the ball for 37:08 to the Bears' 22:52.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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