NFC North: Matt Forte

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler admitted the discussions in the locker room at halftime Sunday of the team’s 21-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became a little heated with the team down 10-0 and the offense struggling.

Cutler
Over the first two quarters, the Bears gained just three first downs and generated 68 yards of offense. By comparison, Tampa Bay racked up 211 yards in the first half and 11 first downs.

“We were challenged, offensively,” Cutler said. “Defensively, they were playing really good football. They just had to sustain that. Offensively, Marc [Trestman] challenged us. The players, we challenged each other. We knew if we continued down this road, we were going to lose this game. We didn’t want that to happen.”

Asked to elaborate on how the team was challenged, Cutler said, “Verbally, we questioned guys. Made sure everyone was in this for the right reasons. Made sure when we left that locker room, everyone’s mind was right on what we wanted to accomplish.”

The Bears obviously responded well to the halftime challenges.

The offense marched 58 yards on six plays in the team’s first possession of the second half, with Cutler finding Alshon Jeffery for a 2-yard touchdown to cap the drive and put the club’s first points on the board.

Still, the Bears finished with a season-low 204 yards on offense and converted on just 25 percent of third downs. Matt Forte scored a pair of touchdowns late off turnovers forced by the defense to lift the Bears.

“To me, it was very easy,” Trestman said of his first-half assessment of the team. “Dropped balls, penalties, tipped balls, all of that. As I said to the guys at halftime, there was no one guy. We passed it around to everybody. You can’t be efficient playing football that way, especially when you are dropping footballs and you have penalties. When we get over that, we’ll move the ball effectively and efficiently, but we have to get over that. And we did.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears punched the 21-day clock to bring back Marquess Wilson on Wednesday, putting him through a practice for the first time since August, when the second-year receiver suffered a fractured clavicle at training camp.

Wilson
Bears coach Marc Trestman said Monday it’s unlikely Wilson -- who is coming off short-term injured reserve -- will play Sunday when the team faces the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Asked again about Wilson on Wednesday, Trestman said, “I can’t say that today.”

“His 21-day clock will start today, and it’ll be day to day with him to see how he progresses,” the coach added. “It’ll be up to trainers and doctors to assess him on a daily basis.”

Wilson became eligible to return to practice back in Week 7, but once a player on short-term injured reserve hits the field, the club has 21 days to activate him or shut him down for the remainder of the season.

“It felt good getting back in the swing of things, getting around the guys and actually practicing a little,” Wilson said. “I feel my wind was pretty good for the most part, and [I’m] just looking to improve each day I’m out there.”

Wilson spent several minutes after Wednesday’s workout catching passes from backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen. After Wilson finished catching balls, he spent time running extra sprints to improve his cardiovascular conditioning.

Wilson came into the season with high expectations after catching two passes last season as a rookie. Trestman, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall spoke highly of Wilson’s prospects for 2014 throughout the offseason and at training camp. But the fractured clavicle derailed any plans for featuring Wilson more prominently in the offense.

With Wilson out of the picture, the team has utilized Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan in the slot, and the duo has combined for 92 yards on 12 receptions and one touchdown. Wilson developed a rapport with Cutler during the offseason, but it’s unclear what impact he’ll have in the slot as the team hasn’t thrown much to the inside receivers in the first eight games.

During Wilson’s time away, the most he could do was simply learn the game.

“Basically, I got to watch football in a whole different perspective, and really understand coverages, defenses and everything, and simple routes, different ways you can run a route, or getting off press coverage or messing with the DB,” Wilson explained.

Asked whether he could provide a spark for Chicago’s inconsistent offense, Wilson said, “I hope so.”

“We’re still a great offense. We still have special weapons on that side of the ball. We have all the confidence in the world to pull it back together,” Wilson said. “You’ve got everything you need with Brandon [Marshall], Alshon [Jeffery], Marty [Martellus Bennett] and Matt [Forte]. It wouldn’t hurt to have another person. You’ve got Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan. Those two are fully capable of coming through and making plays when needed. You just have a lot of offensive weapons on this team that are just waiting to have their turn.”
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Fresh off a 51-23 throttling at the hands of the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery conducted a dual press conference at Halas Hall, where they expressed disappointment over the team’s inconsistent performances through the first half of the season, while stressing the need to remain unified.

“We’re a 3-5 football team, and that’s what our record states,” Emery said. “The NFL’s about winning games, and we deserve the criticism we have and should have from that record. I’m extremely disappointed in where we’re at as a football team right now, and that disappointment starts with being extremely disappointed for our fans. They, like us, held high optimism for the start of our season and where we would be at that midpoint, and we’ve let them down in that regard. We understand and share their frustrations and clearly understand our failures at this point.”

But what will the Bears do to turn things around for the second half? Trestman believes a long, hard critical self-evaluation is in order.

“We’ve got a chance to look back and really take a systematic look at the issues that we’ve had and come up with some bona fide solutions at this present time because that’s the best we can do,” he said. “We weren’t able to get it done the way we wanted to get it done over the first eight weeks of the season. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no consistency there. There’s moments of very good play, of solid play across the board, and there’s moments of very, very poor play, like we’ve seen over the last couple weeks.”

Midseason MVP: Running back Matt Forte is certainly worthy, given his consistency over the first eight games (1,052 all-purpose yards). But defensive end Willie Young receives the nod here. A reserve behind high-priced free-agent acquisitions Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, Young outperformed his counterparts at the position through the first half of the season and is tied for eighth in the NFL with a team-high seven sacks. Young ranks third on the team in tackles (32), a testament to his high-motor style which allows the fifth-year veteran to make plays from sideline to sideline on a consistent basis.

Biggest disappointment: After a surprisingly productive 2013 campaign which seemed to quiet many doubters, quarterback Jay Cutler received a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million and the high expectations that accompany such an investment. Cutler produced respectable numbers (67.2 completion percentage, 95.8 passer rating) through the first half of the season, but continues to display his penchant for making game-changing mistakes. Cutler turned the ball over on multiple occasions in each of the team’s five losses, leading to 44 points by opponents despite the expectation he would finally soar in Year 2 playing in Trestman’s offense. The staff and front office continue to show unwavering support for Cutler. If Emery is second-guessing the team’s investment in Cutler, he certainly hasn’t shown it.

Best moment: Uncertainty permeated the atmosphere in the 90 minutes prior to the Week 2 opening of Levi’s Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers with questions regarding the availability of receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as both were questionable due to ankle and hamstring injuries. After putting the receivers through strenuous pregame workouts, the Bears made the late decision to start Jeffery and Marshall. The move paid huge dividends as Marshall caught three touchdown passes to lead the Bears -- who trailed 20-7 going into the fourth quarter -- to a 28-20 upset of the 49ers. Rookie Kyle Fuller helped in Chicago outscoring the 49ers 21-0 in the final 15 minutes as he picked off a pair of passes to provide the Bears' offense with short fields.

Worst moment: Marshall’s impassioned speech -- which could be heard by reporters outside the locker room prior to team officials opening the doors -- and scathing postgame comments following Chicago’s 27-14 loss at home to the Miami Dolphins caused mixed reactions among the team. Marshall called the team’s performances and 3-4 record at the time “unacceptable.” And while some players agreed with the receiver’s comments, others reacted indifferently. Ultimately, Marshall’s locker room speech and comments could have galvanized the Bears, but appear to have done more harm than good considering the beatdown the club took the following game at New England.

Key to the second half: Offensively, the problems run deep as Cutler needs to significantly reduce the turnovers while the staff needs to help out as much as possible on the play-calling end. Trestman talked about the offense’s need to strike a better balance with the pass/run ratio, which obviously would expose Cutler to fewer chances to commit turnovers, while keeping teams guessing. In the passing game, the Bears need to incorporate more weapons instead of relying so heavily on Marshall and Jeffery. Given Martellus Bennett's skill set, there’s no doubt the Bears could use him similar to the way the Patriots attacked the club’s defense with Rob Gronkowski. Defensively, the Bears need to find a way to maintain a level of consistency despite utilizing inexperienced players due to injuries. Injuries were a legitimate excuse for the defense last year, but won’t fly any more given all the depth the team obtained in the offseason, not to mention its stated goal prior to the season of developing every defender on the roster, regardless of stature.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Linebacker Shea McClellin returned to practice Wednesday after being inactive the past four games due to a hand injury along with starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee and ankle) and linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who missed last week’s contest due to a back injury.

In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice, along with safety Chris Conte (shoulder), running back Matt Forte (coach’s decision), right tackle Jordan Mills (foot), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (coach’s decision) and linebacker D.J. Williams (neck).

The Bears held out Briggs and Williams from the club’s win last week over the Atlanta Falcons, and Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn’t anticipate Briggs will practice Thursday.

Mills, meanwhile, is hobbled with by the same left foot that forced him the miss the entire preseason after undergoing surgery in the offseason to repair a fractured metatarsal. In the win over the Falcons, Mills was flagged for three pre-snap penalties, and struggled in pass protection.

“We gave him some time off today,” Trestman said. “He was at practice, did some limited things. But we kept him out. We’ll see where he is tomorrow.”

Bushrod and Bostic participated in a limited capacity. Bushrod has missed the last two games after suffering ankle and knee injuries during practice leading into the club’s Oct. 5 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Bostic missed the club’s last outing at Atlanta as the Bears’ entire starting linebacking corps was forced to miss due to injuries.

Other limited participants included safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerback Sherrick McManis.

Second-year receiver Marquess Wilson (fractured clavicle) is eligible to return to practice this week after being placed on short-term injured reserve on Sept. 2, but he didn’t participate in Wednesday’s workout at Halas Hall. Trestman said the Bears plan to bring along the No. 3 receiver slowly. Wilson will be eligible to return in Week 10 when the Bears face the Green Bay Packers.

“There’s a whole plan involved to when he can start to work, when we want him to start work,” Trestman said. “That will all take place, really get started in the next two to three weeks in terms of his protocol so to speak [for getting] back into the swing of things. He’s obviously getting a lot of work with the trainers and working out with [strength and conditioning coordinator] Mike [Clark] and so forth. But it’s all part of the timing issue of when he can come back as much as anything.”
ATLANTA -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Chicago Bears' 27-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

Bennett
During breaks in the action on Sunday, the video boards at the Georgia Dome featured actor Samuel L. Jackson delivering messages trying to pump up Falcons fans.

In a near-empty Chicago locker room after the game, tight end Martellus Bennett suggested the team should maybe enlist actor Vince Vaughn to do something similar for Bears fans.

“I like Samuel L.,” Bennett said. “Some people say we look alike. I look like a young Samuel L. That’s pretty cool. We need to get somebody to do one for the Bears. Probably Vince Vaughn. Vince Vaughn would be funny. He’d be good. But Samuel L. has that voice. I need him to do a voice in one of my cartoons for free.”

Forte explains TD: Matt Forte scored a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 80 yards on 17 attempts. Forte explained that his 9-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter came on a play that featured a run-pass option, with quarterback Jay Cutler opting to call the run. Smart move by Cutler because the play seemed to catch the Falcons off guard.

Jones emotional: Rookie linebacker Christian Jones made his first NFL start against the Falcons and called the situation “emotional,” as it made him think back to how it felt to go undrafted after a highly productive college career at Florida State.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jay Cutler stuffed a hand in one pocket at the podium and readied for the storm of questions about to rain down in the visitors’ locker room at Bank of America Field in the aftermath of the Chicago Bears giving one away.

Leading 24-21 in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Chicago watched its advantage disintegrate as a result of committing turnovers on back-to-back possessions over a span of 1 minute, 39 seconds. Carolina converted those turnovers into 10 points en route to a 31-24 triumph. The giveaways serve as a small snapshot for what appear to be larger issues for Chicago’s supposedly vaunted offense, which has been outscored 34-3 in the second half of its past two outings -- both losses.

“Pretty frustrating,” Cutler said. “There were many opportunities for us to close this out offensively. We put our defense in a bad spot. I thought they played really well given the circumstances and some of the field position we put them in. Offensively, a lot of that is on me. We’ve just got to play better.”

Chicago stormed to a 21-7 lead with 10:51 left in the second quarter when Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery for a 25-yard touchdown, and at that point it looked as though the Bears might run away with the game.

Then halftime hit, which for the Bears these past two weeks is akin to disaster.

The Bears ripped Carolina for 235 yards in the first half, but managed just 112 yards in the second half with two turnovers and a third-down conversion rate of 16.7 percent. Going into Sunday, the Bears had turned over the ball only once in the fourth quarter through the first four outings, yet managed to do that on back-to-back possessions to throw away this contest.

“I think that we’ve struggled at times, and that’s the thing we’ve got to focus on. We’ve had a lot of very consistent moments, and then we’ve gone inconsistent,” coach Marc Trestman said. “We have the last two weeks, certainly in the second half. So it’s something that we’ve got to continue to work on and get better at. We still haven’t put four quarters together. We’ve put some good quarters together, but we haven’t put four quarters together yet.”

Cutler has led nine second-half drives over the past two weeks with three drives ending with interceptions. One drive concluded with a turnover on downs, while three more ended with punts. Two other drives finished with fumbles, including Matt Forte’s with 4:29 left to play which set up Cam Newton’s game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen.

Forte said the offense needs to develop “a mindset” that will help it to finish games, and admitted “we’ve got to stop” turning over the ball.

“It’s not like we’re out there being careless with the football,” he said. “Sometimes balls get tipped and guys make good plays out there. They get paid to play football, too. In my case, especially in a crucial situation like that, I can’t let go of the ball.”

You can’t throw interceptions, either. Forte’s fumble came after Cutler was intercepted by Thomas DeCoud on an attempt down the middle of the field intended for Santonio Holmes.

Cutler said the ball “just got away from me,” adding that “high and over the middle of the field is never good. It happened twice today.”

For Chicago to reverse what’s becoming a disturbing trend of futility in the second halves of games, that needs to stop, and the team needs to find a way to adjust offensively to the opponent’s halftime adjustments.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Before getting into thick of the Chicago Bears' next matchup at the Carolina Panthers, let's first take a look at the team's first-quarter report card after a 2-2 start:

Quarterback

Jay Cutler has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's shown more discipline and better command of the offense, but costly turnovers have been an issue. If Cutler maintains his current level of efficiency, he'll set a career high in passer rating for the second consecutive season. Cutler currently ranks third in completions (102), ninth in yards (1,006) and is tied for second in touchdowns, and his passer rating is currently 94.7. Grade: B

Running back

Matt Forte finally broke through for his first 100-yard rushing performance against the Green Bay Packers and is currently tied for eighth in rushing yards (258), first in receptions at his position (24) and third in yards from scrimmage (452). Rookie Ka'Deem Carey is becoming more of a factor in the offense as well, and the Bears have employed formations that feature both backs in the game at the same time. Both backs average at least 4 yards per attempt. Grade: B+

Offensive line

Injuries in the season opener to center Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson gave cause for concern, but their replacements Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola have performed well. The group has given up eight sacks through the first four games. According to Pro Football Focus, every offensive lineman graded positively in run blocking against the Packers. Grade: B-

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
David Banks/Getty ImagesThe offseason work tight end Martellus Bennett put in is paying off for the Bears.
Tight end

Martellus Bennett ranks second in catches (29th) among tight ends, fourth in yards (295) and is tied for second in touchdown receptions (four). Bennett put in the work during the offseason to prepare for a more significant role, and he appears to have developed a strong rapport with Cutler. Bennett has scored a touchdown in all but one game, while averaging 7.25 receptions. Grade: A

Receiver

Injuries have led to slow starts for Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, who have combined for 36 receptions and six touchdowns through four games. But the duo is gradually getting back to full speed. The club's complementary targets such as Santonio Holmes and Josh Morgan haven't received many opportunities to showcase their talent, but they're plenty capable. Grade: B-

Defensive line

The Bears revamped the defensive line in the offseason with the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young in addition to drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. But the group certainly hasn't met expectations as the Bears rank 20th against the run while contributing just eight sacks (linebacker Shea McClellin is responsible for a sack as well). For the Bears to gain any level of consistency on defense with the style they play, the defensive line needs to step up its game, shut down the run and pressure the quarterback. Grade: D

Cornerback

The Bears are tied for fourth in the league in takeaways (eight), and rookie Kyle Fuller deserves credit for his team-high- three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Fuller became the only NFL player in the past 20 years with three interceptions and two forced fumbles in the first three games of the season. Obviously, Charles Tillman's season-ending triceps injury hurts the position. But the Bears are in decent shape with Fuller and Tim Jennings. The Bears need better play from the nickel corner spot. Grade: B-

Safety

Chris Conte gave up 46 yards on two catches and a touchdown against the Packers and missed a couple of tackles but for the most part has performed well (two interceptions). Ryan Mundy has been a solid run defender, and provided one of the team's takeaways with his pick-six Sept. 22 against the New York Jets. Overall, the safeties still need to play a little better. But they've been much more consistent than they were in 2013. Grade: C+

Linebacker

Shea McClellin entered the season as the starter on the strong side but has been on the shelf recently with a broken hand. Perhaps that's somewhat of a blessing in disguise as it has enabled the Bears to upgrade the overall athleticism of the starting lineup by replacing McClellin with Jonathan Bostic. The group lacks consistency in terms of gap integrity and pass coverage but is tracking positively. Grade: C-

Coaching

Coach Marc Trestman caught heat for the club's clock management in the second quarter to Green Bay, and you have to admit the Bears committed a few unnecessary penalties in the defeat, not to mention the thrown challenge flag that resulted in a lost timeout. Trestman deserves credit for suspending Bennett during training camp, because the move resulted in a positive change for the tight end. And you can't deny this Bears team did manage to pull together back-to-back road wins against strong opponents. Grade: C+

Overall

The consecutive road wins at San Francisco and New York followed by the stinker at home against Green Bay point to a lack of consistency in every facet of the game, and while injuries at key positions have been an issue, Chicago's situation plays out every week all over the league. So there are no excuses here. Ultimately, the Bears will be in decent shape in the second half of the season if they can finish the second quarter headed into the bye with a record of .500 or better.
Last week, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers told fans to relax after his team’s 1-2 start, but Chicago’s Jay Cutler stutter stepped that approach and opted for reality on the heels of the Bears' falling to 2-2 Sunday after a 38-17 loss to the Packers.

“I’m not gonna tell them anything,” Cutler said Monday during the “Jay Cutler Show” on ESPN 100. “We’ve got to win games at home. Green Bay, a divisional opponent … we’ve just got to play better. There is a lot of football left. [Rodgers] does have a point. It’s a long season. We’ve had a rough stretch.”

[+] EnlargeCutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler dropped to 1-9 against the Packers, but his season numbers are promising.
After back-to-back victories on the road at San Francisco and against the New York Jets, the Bears returned to Soldier Field on Sunday for the first time since the opener. The Bears sprinted out of the gate and marched 80 yards on 15 plays to start the game, only to sputter down the stretch as a result of two turnovers, shoddy play in the secondary and a pass rush that barely made Rodgers flinch as he tossed four touchdown passes.

Starting with a matchup Sunday at Carolina, the Bears play three of the next four on the road before their Nov. 2 bye. Cutler offered no assurances the club would bounce back. The club’s three upcoming road opponents (Carolina, Atlanta and New England) currently hold a combined record of 6-5.

“We’ve had a rough stretch,” Cutler said. “We’re gonna go through a pretty rough stretch, like you guys were talking about earlier, the next four games. So we’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

The Bears rolled up 496 yards of offense and converted 64 percent of third downs. But a couple of Cutler interceptions, combined with the defense's allowing Rodgers to throw for 302 yards and a passer rating of 151.2, doomed Chicago’s prospects. In 28 pass attempts, Rodgers suffered only one sack, and Bears coach Marc Trestman said Monday that the club blitzed very little in the loss.

Asked whether he remained confident about future meetings with the Packers, Cutler said, “Yeah, you saw the stats. I think we’ve got a really good bead on them now, with Trest[man] and this group. So hopefully we can start improving on that.”

Cutler finished with a passer rating of 82.5 and two touchdown passes to go with the interceptions. Matt Forte was one of the club’s few bright spots on offense. He rushed for 122 yards on 23 attempts.

Despite the shaky outing against the Packers, Cutler has completed 65.8 percent of his throws for 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 94.7, which is promising, considering he entered the season with a career passer rating of 84.6.

Cutler owns a 1-9 record against the Packers, and he’s 41-22 against the rest of the NFL. In games against Chicago’s division rival, Cutler has completed 55.6 percent of his throws with a touchdown-to-interception differential of minus-8. Against the rest of the NFL, Cutler’s completion percentage rises to 61.1 and his touchdown-to-interception ratio to plus-41.

Does the record against the Packers bother Cutler?

"Obviously, you want it to be better," Cutler said. "But there’s not much I can do about it."

In evaluating his own play after the first month of the season, Cutler said, “You’d like to cut down some of those turnovers. A couple of them are pretty stupid. The last one was unfortunate. You clean some of that up, and I’d be happy.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte insists statistics aren’t important but admits to feeling “frustrated” about the team’s inability thus far to run the ball effectively.

Forte
Forte
After averaging 4.8 yards per attempt on an 82-yard day in the season opener against Buffalo, Forte has rushed for a total of 54 yards the last two games with an average of 2.2 yards per carry.

“It is frustrating during the game,” Forte said. “It’s not that we’re not calling runs. We are calling run plays. But sometimes, the defenses are set up so that the run play we call is not going to work against that defense. Each week we’re continuing to work on it, and we’ve got to get everybody on the same page up front. Some guys that are stepping in for injured players, we have to get everybody on the right page where we’re blocking the right looks so if they change the personnel or change to a different defensive front, we know how to block that as well.”

Starting center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson suffered high ankle sprains in Week 1 and haven’t played since. Veteran Brian de la Puente and rookie Michael Ola have filled in at those spots, somewhat throwing off the chemistry and precise timing between the offensive line and Forte.

Forte said the fill-ins along the offensive line haven’t affected play-calling.

“It’s just sometimes we might have blocked it wrong or didn’t block somebody or whatever the problem was,” Forte said. “There is a little bit of a learning curve when we’re so used to having Slauson and Garza in there, and those five [offensive linemen] solidify that line. There is a little bit of a learning curve, but that’s with every team in the league. Everybody has injuries, and everybody has to step up. We have to figure that out and make it work.”

It’s certainly possible, especially facing a 30th-ranked Packers rush defense on Sunday that is allowing an average of 156.3 rushing yards per game.

“Last year when we played them, [Clay] Matthews didn’t play and that makes a big difference when he’s in the game,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “They’re at full strength now. So we need to bring our 'A' game to gain yards and have Matt Forte gain yards. We need to continue to work a balanced attack and give him opportunities.”

Bears coach Marc Trestman downplayed the significance of de la Puente and Ola stepping into the starting lineup. After all, de la Puente came into the season having started 44 games with the New Orleans Saints, who run a system very similar to Chicago’s. Ola, meanwhile, is a rookie.

But the truth is that each of Chicago’s first three opponents -- Buffalo, San Francisco and the New York Jets -- currently rank in the top 10 in the NFL in rush defense.

“Everybody’s gonna have an opinion on that,” Trestman explained. “We’ve had two very difficult weeks against two extremely strong fronts. That doesn’t mean we’re making excuses for it. We recognize we’ve got to get better. We had a reasonable start in Game 1. We’ve been bogged down the last couple weeks. We’re cognizant of that. We’re making it a point of emphasis. But we think we’ve got to work through the next few games and try to get a sense for where we really are with things. I can tell you we’re working at it.

“The fact of the matter is Brian de la Puente has played a lot of football. Michael Ola hasn’t, but I don’t think having two new guys in there has taken away from our ability to run the football. I think it goes a lot deeper than that.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A black briefcase lying in front of him at the podium, Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long took a businesslike approach Monday in assessing the team's dismal performance in the run game during the club's triumph over the San Francisco 49ers.

"I was embarrassed," Long said.

Bears coach Marc Trestman worded his thoughts a tad more delicately, but the fact remains the offense -- after averaging 4.8 yards per rushing attempt in the season opener -- took a major step backward running the ball against the 49ers.

Obviously several factors played into the performance, most significantly, a 17-point deficit in the second quarter, which put the team into passing mode. Still, when Chicago ran against the 49ers, it averaged just 2.7 yards per attempt, with Matt Forte finishing with 21 yards on 12 attempts.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
AP Photo/Tony Avelar)The Bears struggled to run the ball against the 49ers, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
Jay Cutler led the way with 25 yards rushing, with all of that coming on one scramble.

"Very poor in our run game performance," Trestman said. "We're gonna throw that away, and try to work off where we got started in the Buffalo game, and try to continue progress and get better there. [San Francisco is a] very difficult defense to run against. But nonetheless, the tape has certainly shown us we have some work to do. It got our guys' attention, which is a good thing."

The club's rushing aspirations become more difficult Monday night on the road when the Bears face the New York Jets, which boast the league's to run defense. Jets opponents averaged 2.8 yards per attempt and 52.5 yards per game on the ground. New York's defense is one of just seven units in the NFL which still hasn't given up a rushing touchdown.

The longest run surrendered by the Jets this season was 12 yards.

"We need to run the ball," Long said. "I know we got the win on the road, and it was big. I'm sure everybody else in our room will echo that. So will Matt. You need to run the ball in the National Football League, and we'll be better at that."

Chicago certainly needs to be Monday night to prevent New York from making it one dimensional, which in turn would allow the Jets to pin back their ears and come after quarterback Jay Cutler. If the Bears can string together success on the ground against the Jets, the playbook opens up and allows them to attack with all the weapons at their disposal as opposed to relying solely on Jay Cutler and the receivers to make the offense go.

Long attributed the offense's problems running the ball to simply "techniques, different looks." But ultimately, Long said there's no excuse for Chicago's inability to run the ball effectively.

"You run the ball. You grab the guy in front of him. You move him, and the running back has an opening," Long said. "It's hard to break that down any simpler than that. [The Jets] pose another challenge for us. When you can break through walls like those, you become stronger as a unit. I feel like it's an opportunity for us. It's a mountain. We've got to climb it, and we've got to put our flag in the top of it. We're gonna figure out a way to run the ball against the Jets."

Balancing out the run-pass ration might help (83 passes to 35 runs so far this season), as well as bringing back fullback Tony Fiammetta. Fiammetta missed the opener due to a hamstring injury. Then the team -- reeling from injuries along the offensive line and receiver -- cut the fullback last week as it adjusted the roster to compensate. The Bears brought Fiammetta back on Monday, and Trestman is hopeful he can help spark the rushing attack as Forte's lead blocker.

"He certainly could [help]," Trestman said. "Tony Fiammetta is an excellent player, and we haven't had a chance to utilize him because of the hamstring injury. Very, very good as a lead back. I know Matt likes running with Tony leading the way."

The Film Don't Lie: Bears

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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A weekly look at what the Chicago Bears must fix:

The run-pass ratio remains lopsided for Chicago (35 runs to 83 passes), and although the club faces the league’s top run defense next Monday night in the New York Jets, the Bears need to achieve some balance in that area.

Consider the Bears' run-pass ratio in their 28-20 win over the 49ers in the context that the Bears played catch-up most of the night. But Chicago needs to run the ball into the teeth of New York’s run-stuffing unit to keep it from dictating the flow. If the Jets can make the Bears one-dimensional, they can pin back their ears and come after Jay Cutler.

Matt Forte averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the Bears' opening game against Buffalo. Make him more of a focal part of the offense to get him into the flow of the game while opening up play-action and bootlegs for Cutler to make things happen on the move.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte improved his standing from a year ago in our #NFLRank project, moving from No. 48 to No. 29 in the latest edition, in which ESPN ranks the top 100 players in the league on both sides of the ball.

Forte
Forte
The latest rankings grouped players between Nos. 30 through 21. Receiver Alshon Jeffery was one of 23 players on offense to make his debut in the 2014 #NFLRank project, checking in at No. 31

Forte finished last season ranked third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,933 yards) on the way to being named to his second Pro Bowl. Forte rushed for 1,339 yards, carrying the ball on 71.5 percent of the team’s rushes, which ranked as highest in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Since 2008, Forte ranks third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (9,585), behind Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson.

Forte ranked one spot ahead of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and one slot behind Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

None of Chicago’s defenders made Wednesday’s offering in the #NFLRank project.

Bears Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
4:35
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Safety Adrian Wilson seems to be gaining a level of comfort in Chicago’s scheme, which in turn has resulted in the veteran playing somewhat faster. But don’t be fooled by Wilson’s seemingly average workout pace as some within the organization believe he’s “practicing like a veteran,” meaning he’s expending as little energy as possible just to make it through camp and into the preseason games. For Wilson, the exhibition games are where he’ll make his mark, and that’s when people within the organization expect the safety to go full bore. Considering he’s currently in a backup role, expect Wilson to receive significant snaps late into the games against mostly backups, and he’ll need to play well -- nearly dominate -- before the staff feels comfortable enough to put him into the mix for one of the starting jobs. The coaching staff hopes Wilson pans out because if he does, it gives the Bears an intimidating force on the back end they haven’t had in several years.
  • The Bears pumped in the music as usual for the individual portions of practice, but when the team simulated some live situations, staffers piped in crowd noise through the public address system. The extra noise didn’t seem to affect execution on either side of the ball.
  • Strangely, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte seemed to drop more passes in one day Thursday than they had throughout all of training camp. Jeffery and Forte each dropped two passes with the former making up for it by hauling in a long ball late in practice between two defenders. Chris Williams, a candidate to become the club’s primary punt returner and a backup receiver, muffed a punt and also dropped a pass.
  • Despite Marshall's drop, he made perhaps the catch of the day in a goal-line drill. With Demontre Hurst draped all over him, Marshall made a spinning one-handed grab for a touchdown. Marshall receives points for difficulty on this one as he caught the touchdown with his left hand.
  • Just before the start of practice, the Bears announced they signed offensive lineman Graham Pocic to a one-year contract and waived receiver Terrence Tolliver with an injury settlement. Pocic signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Illinois.
  • Non-participants at practice Thursday included safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder) along with guards Kyle Long and Eben Britton (hamstring). Long has been cleared to return to practice, but won’t be back in pads until the club’s night workout Saturday at Soldier Field. Britton wasn’t on the field with teammates as he spent all of the practice rehabilitating inside with athletic trainers.
  • Jermon Bushrod, Stephen Paea, Austen Lane, and Jordan Mills were the stars of one-on-one drills featuring offensive linemen against defensive linemen. Paea made the most impressive move of the day, using a swim move to blow past Roberto Garza in just one step.
  • The Bears practice again Friday at 9 a.m. CST.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 15
Preseason power ranking: 13

Biggest surprise: The Chicago Bears' offensive line didn't exactly set the world on fire, but for the first time in recent memory the group wasn't the weak link of the team. The Bears revamped the offensive line by adding four new starters: Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson. The group's efforts, combined with a more quick-hitting passing game, resulted in just 19 sacks for QB Jay Cutler, his lowest total since 11 with Denver in 2008. The offensive line in 2013 displayed more consistency than any at other time in Cutler's time in Chicago, but the group struggled at inopportune times and often was aided by Cutler and Josh McCown getting rid of the ball quickly. Still, this year's group laid a foundation it can build on.

Biggest disappointment: New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will unfairly take criticism for the defense's failures in 2013. Coming off a 2012 campaign in which the defense ranked No. 5 overall and in the top 10 against the run and the pass, the unit in 2013 surrendered the most rushing yards (2,583) and points (478) in franchise history. Injuries played a major role. They cost the team a combined 72 missed games, 43 among starters alone. In recent history, the defense was the one facet that Chicago could always count on. But that wasn't the case in 2013. What's most surprising is how quickly the defense's decline came after being the team's backbone for so many years.

Biggest need: The defense is badly in need of a total makeover, and the bulk of that work should be done on the defensive line. It's safe to say now that former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to expectations and franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton is overrated. The Bears also have to decide whether to move forward with Julius Peppers, who is expensive and starting to show his age (will be 33 on Jan. 18), while finding a way to bring back Corey Wootton. The back end needs help, too. The deals for cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are up, as is the contract for safety Major Wright. The Bears also need to bring in competition to push underperforming safety Chris Conte.

Team MVP: Running back Matt Forte quietly put together his best season as a pro, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,933) and career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches, 594 yards). Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have made flashier plays, but make no mistake: Forte is what makes the offense go. Cutler called Forte the best all-around back in the league, and he definitely made a strong case for it in 2013. A true three-down back, Forte threatened defenses as a runner and a receiver. On passing downs, Forte was also key in the team's protection schemes.


All-NFC North: Chicago Bears

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
10:00
AM ET
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


The Chicago Bears placed three offensive players on ESPN.com's All-NFC North team in Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, with one notable exception in Brandon Marshall.

Meanwhile, cornerback Tim Jennings served as the lone representative from Chicago’s struggling defense.

For the record, we nominated both Jeffery and Marshall since they are the NFL’s top receiving duo. They combined for 2,716 yards -- the highest for a receiving pair in franchise history. Despite his pedigree as a four-time Pro Bowler and the fact he’s caught 90-plus balls in two consecutive seasons, Marshall fell victim to the numbers game as Detroit’s Calvin Johnson earned the spot on the all-division team opposite Jeffery. Marshall recorded his fifth 100-reception season, tying him for the most in NFL history.

Interestingly, Jeffery, Marshall and Forte are just the seventh trio of teammates in NFL history to feature one 1,200-yard rusher and two 1,200-yard receivers in a season.

In his second season, Jeffery posted 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns on 89 receptions. Both Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler have campaigned pretty hard for Jeffery to be named to his first Pro Bowl. It’s almost certain that Marshall will make the Pro Bowl despite the snub on this NFC North team.

Having hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fourth time in his career, Forte has also broken Chicago’s single-season record for catches by a running back (70), a mark he previously set as a rookie.

Bennett, meanwhile, set career highs in receptions (65) and receiving yards (759), while tying a career high in receiving touchdowns (5).

With the way the Bears have performed on defense, Jennings is definitely the only player deserving of All-NFC North mention. His 12 interceptions since 2012 rank second in the NFL only to Seattle’s Richard Sherman (16). Jennings is also one of six players in 2013 to return multiple interceptions for touchdowns, and his three interception returns for TDs since 2012 are tied for second-most in the league over that span.

One of the most notable absences on the all-division team is Bears return man Devin Hester, who tied Deion Sanders' NFL record for return touchdowns with an 81-yard punt return score in Week 7 at Washington. Hester's 2013 campaign has been decent, but Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings put together a better season than arguably the best returner in NFL history.

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