Sunday's breakout running attack can only help the Bears' passing game, which is the engine that powers the offense and will continue to be, despite 218 rushing yards against the Panthers.
Still, knowing the run game is there when needed is a huge boost for the 4-1 Bears, who are tied for the best record in the NFL after pounding it on the ground 42 times in Sunday's 23-6 victory. It's also a huge burden to any defense attempting to stop the Bears.
"Each week, we look at what we think we need to do to win the football game," coach Lovie Smith said. "Going into this one, we felt like we needed to run the ball more."
That's because starting quarterback Jay Cutler was sidelined with a concussion. He's expected back this week, but there is no guarantee and the Bears are not the same offense with backups Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie as they are with Cutler.
"I don't think we'll end up running the ball over 40 times each game," Smith said. "I don't think we're to that point. But [when] you get into a game and something's working, you stay with it. It's good for our team to see that, if we have to run the football that many times, we can."
The Bears needed to run that frequently against the Panthers because Collins, who hadn't started a game in nearly three years, had trouble getting in sync. He completed 6 of 16 passes for 32 yards and was intercepted four times.
"Passing game-wise, we didn't get a whole lot done," Smith said. "But some days you have to rely on what's working, and the run was working [Sunday]."
No one worked more effectively than Matt Forte, whose career day as a ball carrier produced 166 yards, including touchdown runs of 18 and 68 yards.
Combined with the 151 receiving yards Forte produced in the season opener, he has accomplished something that Walter Payton and Gale Sayers never did: a 150-yard rushing game and a 150-yard receiving game in the same season.
"We've had a lot of great running backs here," Smith said, "and to be the only running back to ever have a 150-yard receiving and rushing game is pretty big."
That feat has been accomplished just four times since 1970, the last time by Marshall Faulk in 1999.
Forte had plenty of help, and it's another encouraging sign for the Bears that his big day came behind an offensive line with two young players making their Bears debuts. Right guard Edwin Williams has been with the team little more than a month, since he was signed to the practice squad after being cut by the Redskins, where he played in four games last season. Rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb, a seventh-round pick, started his first NFL game after getting playing time the previous two weeks.
The Bears' offensive line was already in a state of flux with left tackle Chris Williams sidelined since early in Week 2 with a hamstring injury and right tackle Frank Omiyale moving into his spot. Veteran Kevin Shaffer started Games 3 and 4 at right tackle, but Webb showed enough promise to get a shot Sunday.
Developing an abundance of competent starters and creating an atmosphere of competition is a healthy situation. But the offensive line, more than any other unit, requires cohesion among all five players, and the Bears don't want to continue shuffling the deck for long.
"We would have liked to have had it down right away," Smith said. "You want to start the season with a group and stay with it. It just normally doesn't happen that way. But every time you play a different combination or you let a guy have an opportunity to play, he'll tell you a little bit about what we need to do with him, and that's happening.
"Chris Williams may be ready to go this week. That gives us another option. You want as many options as possible and let's decide which way to go."
Having the option to run or pass is just as crucial, especially for a team like the Bears, who came into the game with the No. 31 run game in the NFL.
"It's great for everyone's confidence," tight end Greg Olsen said, "to go into a game and say, 'Hey, look what we've done in the passing game.' And then combine that with what we've done now in the running game. It's a lot easier to stop a one-dimensional team."
NOTES AND QUOTES
Webb started his first NFL game at right tackle in place of nine-year veteran Shaffer, who had started the two previous games after Omiyale moved over to left tackle following the hamstring injury to Chris Williams.
At right guard, free agent Edwin Williams, who was signed to the practice squad Sept. 5 and promoted to the 53-man roster on Sept. 27, started at right guard in place of Lance Louis. Louis missed practice time during the week with a knee injury that sidelined him in the second half of the Giants game last week.
"I started out slow to be honest," Williams said, "and that's actually when we were doing pretty well. But after a while, I got settled down and felt a little more comfortable being with the guys and the tempo of the game. My initial objective was just no stupid mental mistakes, no penalties, no holdings, and that's what I wanted to accomplish first.
"As I get more comfortable, I think I can be a lot more aggressive. I didn't feel as physical as I sometimes practice, and that just comes with being out there more and being more involved. So hopefully I can keep building on it."
There is sure to be more juggling in the future with Chris Williams expected back in the next week or two, which means Omiyale probably goes back to right tackle. ...
The Bears came into Sunday's game ranked 31st in rushing yards, but they piled up 218 yards on the Panthers, who were 17th in rushing yards but only managed 85 yards on the ground.
"That was definitely old school," Smith said. "Bears ball right there for sure, where you ran the football, played great defense, got some turnovers and special teams contributed. We know how to win games that way, and it was good to see that we can still do that. I'm not saying we're getting off the bus running the ball or anything. I'm just going to stay away from those comments, but today we needed to and we were able to." ...
There was no update on Cutler's recovery from the Week 4 concussion that kept him out on Sunday, but Smith is hopeful.
"We'll continue to evaluate Jay," the coach said. "Hopefully Jay will be able to go this week."
Olsen, Cutler's best friend on the team, shed some light on the situation.
"He's feeling good," Olsen said. "I'm sure he feels good about [playing this week]." ...
The Bears are now 0 for 9 on plays from the opponent's 1-yard line after they failed twice more Sunday with a run by Chester Taylor and an interception by Collins.
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