Hoge’s Tweetbag: Is The Bears’ Running Game Good Enough?
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By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) Tuesday is your day to ask questions about the Bears, and this week’s Tweetbag is full of good questions on a number of angles.
Let’s get right to them:
@AdamHoge Is rookie DT Zach Minter gonna see the field as 3rd DT Sunday or will the Bears bring in a free agent?—
Mike Flannery (@MikeFlannery_) September 24, 2013
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears bring in some outside help, but I’m not sold that will definitely happen. Minter made this team for a reason and while I’m sure the undrafted free agent needs to develop more, teams with playoff aspirations don’t stash guys deep on their 53-man roster — they stash them on their practice squad.
To answer your question though, yes I expect Minter to be active Sunday. Even if they brought a free agent in, it would be doubtful he’d be ready to go by Sunday. And in reality, Minter doesn’t need to be relied on too heavily. Nate Collins is capable of playing starter’s reps and Mel Tucker can also rotate Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton inside more. In doing do, rookie defensive end Cornelius Washington could see the field too. He’s been active in all three games, but has yet to play a down.
@AdamHoge with Peanut hurt and Burleson injured what is the best way for the bears attack megatron?—
travis wills (@WillsTravis) September 24, 2013
Dan Pompei asked me a very interesting question on the 670 The Score pregame show Sunday about the Bears possibly resting Charles Tillman against the Steelers because they need him more against the Lions. Now, Tillman is not the kind of player who is going to sit out if he thinks he’s capable of being on the field and I imagine the coaching staff had to eventually lay down the law with him to get him to rest in the fourth quarter Sunday.
But it’s a valid point. The Bears need Tillman against Calvin Johnson and if he’s not 100 percent — and quite frankly, I doubt he will be — it’s a much tougher matchup. Tim Jennings is just too small to go on Johnson, but with Burleson out, it could allow the Bears to bring more help to Johnson’s side and possibly play a little two-man on him. By bringing the safety over, however, you’re also limiting your ability to blitz. So the question is, did the Bears blitz as much as they did against the Steelers because they had to or because they saw a weakness and exploited it?
Either way, the Burleson injury definitely helps the Bears, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Calvin Johnson won’t have a big day anyway.
@AdamHoge After all the praise during training camp for the DL, what has been the biggest reason for their less than stellar sack totals?—
Max Logan (@MaxLogan) September 24, 2013
The Bears’ defensive line only has two sacks in three games, but the linebackers had three Sunday in Pittsburgh, and as I wrote about in my Week 3 Rewind, the defensive line had something to do with that.
That said, there’s no question the defensive line needs to step up their play. I think the unit was hurt by preseason injuries to Julius Peppers and Henry Melton and the cohesion between the front four on the field was rusty in the first two games. They played much better against the Steelers despite not accounting for any sacks and they need to continue that trend going forward.
The loss of Henry Melton is a blow, but it also gives Nate Collins a chance to play more and it’s possible that ends up being the missing link. The three-technique is the anchor of the Cover-2. It all starts there and for whatever reason, Melton was not playing effective enough before he went down.
@AdamHoge Is the running game good enough to run down the clock while leading in the 4th quarter?—
Joe Larocca (@jnlarocca) September 24, 2013
This is a valid question. The Bears are only averaging 105 rushing yards per game, which ranks just 17th in the NFL. Matt Forte may have averaged 5.4 yards per carry Sunday, but 55 of his 87 yards came on one run. He only had 32 yards on his other 15 carries. Meanwhile, Michael Bush played more but had just nine yards on eight carries, which is awful. The run-blocking has not been good enough so far this season, but it’s been overlooked because this West Coast offense doesn’t necessarily rely on the running game.
But what happens when the Bears have a late lead and just need to run the clock out? I can tell you this: the running game wasn’t good enough late against the Steelers. On seven fourth quarter rushes Sunday, Matt Forte and Michael Bush combined for just seven yards, all of which came on three straight Bush runs when the Bears went three-and-out on their final drive. On the game-sealing touchdown drive, Forte had zero yards on four carries. That’s why Cutler had to bail the offense out which three huge third-and-long conversions, including the touchdown to Earl Bennett.
In fairness, the Bears did run the last 6:38 off the clock against the Bengals when they had a three point lead, but even on that drive they only averaged two yards per carry. They were aided by the Bengals not having any timeouts left and Ray Maualuga committing a stupid unnecessary roughness penalty after a third down stop with 1:15 left in the game.
So is the running game good enough? It definitely needs to get better.
@AdamHoge What is the new staff's plan to ensure rookies on the OL will be able to handle full season NFL grind after starting from day 1?—
Shaun Nelson (@shaunnelson1) September 24, 2013
That starts Day 1 of rookie mini-camp with strength and conditioning coach Jim Arthur. NFL teams know what it takes, it’s just a matter of making sure the rookies are on board and willing to put in the work. So far, there’s nothing to suggest that Jordan Mills and Kyle Long are anything other than grinders who give 100 percent every rep. And to be able to do that, they’re working just as hard off the field to make sure they stay healthy.
That’s not to say it won’t be a test. Long only started five games last year, but remember, he went to Oregon where you don’t see the field if you’re not in elite shape. Will he and Mills be able to stay healthy for a full NFL season though? Injuries can always happen, but I know those two are putting in all the work necessary to control everything that is in their power.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.