Bears staying patient with ground game

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
2:43
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Chicago Bears balk at making excuses for
lack of production in the rushing attack through the first three games
of the preseason.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Joe Camporeale/US PresswireThe Bears' struggles to run the ball in the preseason are fairly typical.

The truth, though, is the Bears aren’t unlike other clubs around the league in that category because it takes time -- not to mention
countless reps at practice and in live action -- to sufficiently
synchronize all the moving parts involved with producing an explosive
ground game.

“It happens every year. I don’t know how to explain it, but it takes time,” center Roberto Garza said.

So as much as the team wants big runs to start popping off ASAP, it knows there’s a chance the ground game won’t hit full stride for a while, given the symbiotic dynamics involved, which include precise timing, the club’s scheme in a given week, and recognition of how the opponent is defending.

The Bears averaged 3.5 yards per attempt Friday in a 20-17 victory over the New York Giants, with 24 of Matt Forte’s team-high 39 yards coming on one carry. Through three preseason games, the Bears rank 31st in rushing, with an average of 59 yards per game, but sit at 17th in total attempts (70).

So while exhibition numbers aren’t exactly telling, a look at the 2011 regular season reveals quite a bit. The Bears rushed for 88 yards or fewer in 2011 through the first three games. So it’s no coincidence the team started 1-2.

In Week 4, the Bears exploded for 224 yards on the ground, and followed that with five consecutive outings of 100 yards or more, before gaining 92 yards in Week 10 against the Chargers. The result: six victories over the next seven games, en route to a 7-3 record.

“We have to get the running game going,” quarterback Jay Cutler said Friday night. “We are not going to be a successful offense if we can’t
run the ball.”

Certainly, that’s true. But the yards likely won’t come immediately.

“We are still trying to figure that out,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Some nights you have to give (the defense) credit. (The Giants)
have a good front four and front seven, and played excellent defense
today. You just have to stay committed to the run, which we will do.
Some days you won’t be able to rush for over 100 yards or 200 yards.”

That’s because so much goes into being able to do so, Forte said.

“It’s just a matter of recognizing defensive fronts. First of all, you’ve got to recognize what defense they’re in. Then, the second part is you’ve got to call (out) the right linebacker who we’re working to,” he said. “So sometimes, they may roll the safety down. Then there might be a dude free. So a lot of study has to go into it beforehand. Then (it’s about) recognizing the defenses.”

Offensive tackle Chris Williams pointed to a combination of offenses and defenses hiding their hands in the preseason to reveal as little as possible to future opponents, and the extensive substituting involved on both sides as contributors to the club’s recent history of getting off to slow starts with the rushing attack.

“I don’t know, that’s weird, you know?” Williams said. “I guess there’s a fine balance because you don’t want to show everything. You want to try to straight base it. You know guys are rolling through (in and out of the lineup). One guy will miss this, one guy will miss that. You might miss an adjustment, and it’s just hard to get that rhythm. Then we end up in second-and-10 a lot, and now you’re kind of behind the eight ball. So I don’t know why it takes so long. But when the season starts, we’ll be rolling in the run, I know it.”

Garza feels the same way, and actually laughed while nodding in agreement once the topic was brought up regarding slow starts with the ground games of not only the Bears, but other teams around the league.

“It’s something that takes time, and we’re working hard trying to get
that timing down with each other,” Garza said. “We expect it to be
there; to get Matt going, to get Michael Bush going. It’s a big part of our game plan and we need to keep working on it. We’ve got another week of training camp practices. Then we’ve got to get ready for Indy. It counts against Indy. So we’ve definitely got to be ready to get
that running game going.”

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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