By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears (5-7) host the Cowboys (8-4) at Soldier Field on Thursday night. Here are a few thoughts.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rounding Out The Warmest Weekend Of The Winter
Twenty-two NFL teams average 100 yards or more rushing the ball this season. Only eight teams average more than 4.5 yards per carry. Only 11 teams have run for double-digit touchdowns.
The Bears aren’t among the teams with that sort of production running the ball in any of those categories. A year ago they were. Carries aren’t significantly down. Chicago averages 23.1 rushes per game in 2014, which ranks 26th. The Bears averaged 25.3 per game in 2013, which ranked 16th.
Matt Forte is one of only seven backs with more 200 carries this season, as he’s 87 behind league leader DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys. The Bears have the third-fewest first-down runs in the league with 139 yet gain 4.6 yards on those carries, which ranks in the top half of the league. Dallas is No. 1 at 5.3 yards on a league-best 224 carries.
Fifty percent of the Bears’ first-down rushing plays gain at least four yards, which is fourth-best in the league. While the ball is in the air more than ever, teams that run the ball enough to create effective play action and limit interceptions are winning. Teams are 60-19-2 with a running back or a quarterback rushing for 100-plus yards in a game, a .753 winning percentage, compared to a .592 percentage with a 300-yard passer. However, the Bears are 1-2 with a 100-yard back, one of only four teams in the league with a losing record in such a situation. Dallas is far and away the league leader, going 8-2.
Dante Rosario is developing into a solid lead blocker for the Bears. He likes contact and always has. A prep linebacker growing up in Beaverton, Ore., Rosario was recruited by the University of Oregon as a linebacker/athlete but quickly moved to fullback for the Ducks.
“Every team that I’ve been on since I’ve been in the NFL, I’ve always played that ‘F’ fullback role and now that we don’t have a true fullback here, I guess that it’s become pretty important for me to be able to take on that as my role, as part of my game as well as the tight end stuff,” Rosario said. “It gives our offense a little bit more versatility and lets teams know that we still have those plays in our arsenal, and we still have the two-tight package plays. It forces defenses to prepare even more for us, because we are able to do so many things out of our ’12’ personnel package.”
If the Bears are planning to run the ball more starting Thursday against the Cowboys, look for Rosario a few times on that fullback lead.
There is a lot to like about Christian Jones, the rookie linebacker out of Florida State who carries the nickname “cheese” for his ever present grin.READ MORE: MISSING: Khoshaba Dikyanos, 84, Last Seen In Lincoln Square
“It grew on me,” Jones said. “I’m now used to hearing it. It’s my name now.”
Jones says his old Seminole teammates are getting a kick out it, while they continue to roll through their own competition.
Florida State’s win streak is at 28 and counting.
“I was fortunate to be a part of the school’s first unbeaten season,” Jones said. “A lot of people were doubting them, a lot of people hating on the program, but I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished this season.”
As for Jones’ role Thursday night against the Cowboys, it’s all about stopping Murray.
“They do a lot of things to get you running sideways,” Jones said. “We’ve been focusing fundamentally just to stay stout, stay square, and use our hands to fall back because they want to get you running and just wipe you down.”
That’s how Murray gets all those seams. Dallas is gaining 5.4 yards per carry running left, 5.2 yards running right and less than three yards up the middle.
With a month of season left, Bears kicker Robbie Gould has averaged a field goal attempt per game. A quad injury suffered this week in practice knocked him out of Tuesday duty, and it’s a wait-and-see approach for Thursday against the Cowboys.
The only time Gould’s missed games due to injury was in 2012, when he missed the final three games of the season. In the first 12 games, he’s made nine field goals on 12 attempts and only one made in the last six games, which happened to tie Kevin Butler’s career franchise record.
Rookie punter Patrick O’Donnell kicked off in college, and he’ll handle kicking duties if Gould can’t play. He joked that his field goal range is 40 yards.MORE NEWS: Chicago Speed Cameras To Start Issuing $35 Tickets To Drivers Going 6 MPH Over The Limit On Monday
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.