Wednesday, September 23, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson ESPNChicago.com
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For a team that claims its offensive game is in fine shape all around, the Bears are awfully defensive about it.
Bears running back Matt Forte has no doubts about his ability to be a force to be reckoned with.
"Why would I doubt myself?" running back Matt Forte said.
The question was a gimme Wednesday: What's going on with a Chicago running game that has its featured back averaging 2.2 yards per game?
"I just like how you guys ask the same question 15 times," center Olin Kreutz said. "Does anyone ask how we won last week or how it's good to come back and win that game [against Pittsburgh]? No, it's just about the run game."
And it was just Olin being Olin. If he were really annoyed, he wouldn't have stopped to chat in the first place, surely knowing what was coming his way. Reminded that the victory and the comeback and all the accompanying good cheer were covered on Sunday and again on Monday, Kreutz smirked.
"Oh," he said, "I must have been sleeping."
Some might make the same accusation about the Bears' run game.
But then, that would be a tad unfair.
Sure, the Bears rank 31st in the league in rushing with 64.5 yards per game and the NFL average after Week 2 is 112.7. But the Bears aren't worried, and, for now anyway, we should all take a breath.
"We're going to be fine," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We only ran it 18 times last game. We didn't really give it a chance against the best team against the run the last several years. We have a good offensive line; we have good running backs. We'll be able to run the ball. We know it's something we've got to have and we want to have, and we're going to have balance."
As quarterback Jay Cutler said, "Whatever it takes to win. That's our philosophy."
Obviously, Cutler forgot to read the page in the playbook where it talks specifically about team philosophy.
"We're still a running football team," coach Lovie Smith said.
But just saying it does not necessarily make it so.
Still, this week in Seattle provides a good opportunity to reassure the masses and perhaps the Bears themselves. The Seahawks rank 26th in the league in rushing yards per game (166.5) and 32nd in yards per attempt (7.1) after being roughed up by San Francisco's Frank Gore, who ran for 206 yards last week.
Because it is their job to say black when we say white, the Bears quickly will remind us that Gore had carries of 79 and 80 yards. Also, that Seattle was without linebacker Leroy Hill and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, both of whom Turner expects to return on Sunday.
Even if they do play, however, it is not unreasonable to expect Forte and the run game to make a more forceful statement against the first 4-3 defense they will face this season -- even if that statement will have to rise above the din in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.
"It just takes one play to where you get a guy out of position and you break a long run," said Forte, who admits he has left some yards on the field in the first two games. "It just takes one move or one broken tackle."
With three "new" players on the offensive line -- Orlando Pace has socks older than Forte but technically is indeed new -- it is reasonable to expect that they are still jelling.
"Maybe they're just trying to get acclimated to the game speed together," Forte said. "That takes a little time, a lot of game reps to know how each other plays."
Even Kreutz will admit to that. Well, sort of.
"We know we have to improve the run game," he said. "We're not going to say we're just happy to win the game and we don't have to run the ball. I'm sure we're all frustrated. We're not blocking well enough, and hopefully it progresses. Football is not that hard."
Surely, Forte made it look easy last season, finishing seventh in the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie (1,238) while averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
"It's way too soon [to jump on Forte]," said tight end Kellen Davis, who did an admirable job of run blocking in place of injured Desmond Clark on Sunday. "Matt is going to get his yards. We're not worried about Matt at all."
It is instructive to note that the 2006 Super Bowl-bound Bears averaged 3.0, 2.6 and 2.4 yards per carry in their first three games and ended the season averaging 3.8.
"We're not sobbing or anything like that," guard Frank Omiyale said.
Not yet, anyway.