Bernstein: Bad Run Game Costs Bears
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By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
A little help, guys?
Anybody involved in the Bears’ efforts to run the ball can wear this one.
38 yards rushing on 20 carries. One first down via the run, and too many second-and-longs that put the playcalling behind schedule and kneecapped any chance to sustain tempo. Glaringly, handoffs on critical plays were only spectacular in their failure.
Our usual quarterback fixation will continue, sure, as we wonder where groin injuries end and ankle pain begins, and what gave the Bears both the best chance to win this game and others to come. Jay Cutler gimped and flopped around while grabbing alternately at wounded body parts and doing that habitual spasmodic tic, but his arm was still needed to make some high-difficulty throws that kept the Bears viable. Folk hero Josh McCown was ready enough when finally called.
Matt Forte was not. 33 yards on 17 attempts, though he did rip off a long scamper for seven yards. Something looked weird all day with him, as he was unable to make the first defender miss and went down uncharacteristically easily on first contact. Even his vision and decision-making were off, with several holes missed on the kind of draw plays well conceived against the aggressive Lions front.
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The one time Forte appeared to matter for a good reason, Matt Slauson made a play-side hold so egregious he could have been flagged twice. Martellus Bennett had something less than his best day as an in-line blocker too.
Alshon Jeffery’s end-around stuff didn’t fool anybody. Not only is it on tape now, but the Bears have apparently decided to add backfield wrinkles that cause it to develop slower and let defenders get upfield. He did hit the corner once with some speed, but running it to the short side left him out of room to make the turn off the edge.
Fourth and one from the 27 with the game tied 7-7, and Marc Trestman called for a power formation and a Michael Bush dive. Bush minced into where the hole was supposed to be before the blocks could even be set, and three points went poof. That’s the 245-pound banger, too, ostensibly with help.
That second try for the tying, two-point conversion was too perfect. Allowed new life after a failed rollout pass ended with yet another idiotic penalty from a reckless Lions lineman, McCown surveys the defense, and checks to another Forte run. Roberto Garza blocks Nick Fairley with all the effectiveness of a driveway recycling bin, and Forte ends up in his familiar position of on the ground and behind the line of scrimmage. Ballgame.
They tried fake tosses and other misdirections, and the usual array of traps to either side of the formation. They couldn’t block any of it. While the pass protection held its own, such success in one-on-one physical battles in the rushing game was nonexistent.
The quarterbacks are in focus because they had to be, is the point.
Down-and-distance dictates what Trestman’s looking at on that laminated play-card that looks like a Waffle House menu, and he would have been just as well off ordering hash browns. All game the Bears lacked pace and rhythm, due to repeated failures to move the ball via any way other than Cutler hanging in long enough to chuck it toward a mostly-covered receiver, hoping whichever 6-plus-footer could make a contested catch.
Especially if Cutler misses any time with whatever his injury/re-injury actually is, there must be the multi-dimensional performance of games past. The whole idea this year was to get away from exactly this reliance on the throws Cutler was forced to make.
Nobody wants an anemic running game to conjure up Marc Martz.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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