Unless the Bears make a stronger commitment to the ground game and get a lot more efficient at running the football, it will be a long season, especially for quarterback Jay Cutler, who has already been sacked 23 times, even though he's missed one and a half games.
At this rate, Cutler won't make it through the season, and the Bears won't make it to the playoffs despite a 4-2 record and a watered-down NFC that doesn't seem to possess any dominant teams.
The Bears have lost two of their last three games, and there are striking similarities in the defeats. In their losses to the Giants and Seahawks, the Bears have allowed 16 sacks. They also ran the ball a total of just 30 times in those two games for a total of 120 yards.
Sunday against Seattle was a perfect example of abandoning the run game. The Bears trailed by just one point at the start of the second half, and they were down just 16-13 through the end of the third quarter. But offensive coordinator Mike Martz called just five running plays in the second half.
"There was an emphasis to run the ball," coach Lovie Smith said, convincing no one. "We tried to run the ball a little bit. "We couldn't do that. It's just not that simple. You look at what happened the week before (218 rushing yards against the Panthers) and you say, 'Well, you just do that every time.' It's a little more than that. We didn't get a lot done with the running game.
"Last week, we got something going early with the running game, which allows you to do it a little more. But after getting beat like that, we wish we had run it a little more and maybe we would have gotten a little bit more production from it."
Martz and Cutler are still capable of giving the Bears a potent passing attack, but not until opposing defenses at least respect the run game. After six weeks, the Bears are 26th in rushing attempts and rushing yards per game.
NOTES AND QUOTES
"We're going to have to, on a consistent basis, pick up [the blitz], get rid of the ball and hit our hot [reads] and make them pay for it," Cutler said. "We're getting big chunks [of yardage] and stuff. It's just not on a consistent basis. We get a big chunk, and then we'll miss something and then have a sack for 10. Defenses are probably going to be willing to trade punches like that all game." ...
Just a week after the Bears' pass rush, spearheaded by the defensive line, tormented Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen with five sacks on 27 drop-backs, Seahawks veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was able to fling 40 passes without being sacked once.
"It wasn't as good an effort," Smith said. "But we did some good things. We did get to him. There were a couple times when we should have had a sack, and we weren't able to because he got the ball out of his hands fairly quick because he's a pretty good player, too. But we're not pleased with where our rush is right now. We need to improve on that."
The Bears' pass rushers have been blanked in half of their six games, and their total of nine sacks is 25th in the league. Sack master Julius Peppers has been held to two sacks, as opponents have focused on keeping him away from the quarterback.
"What else can you do to him?" Smith said. "He gets double-teamed each week. He gets chipped. The tight end stays in. He's going to get that each week. So there's nothing new. He's going to have to deal with that. It's a part of life for him."
Israel Idonije leads the Bears with 3.5 sacks but missed an opportunity to add to his total vs. Seattle.
"We had opportunities to get to the quarterback," Idonije said. "Myself, I had one where I thought he was throwing the ball. I had him there in my hands, and rather than just continue and take him to the ground, I let up, and he held the ball and was able to check it down. You can't wait for a second chance. You've got to finish. We've got to do better this week." ...
Smith says he still has faith in his offensive linemen because of the Bears' record.
"We've won four games with this offensive line," Smith said. "You have to keep in mind, too, that we've worked different combinations. I'm excited about this week, hopefully of having the same combination start the game. Hopefully, all that will help."
Despite allowing five sacks and leading a ground game that produced just 61 yards on 14 carries, Smith said he hopes to have – from left tackle to right – Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams, Olin Kreutz, Edwin Williams and J'Marcus Webb together again vs. the Redskins at Soldier Field.
"Believe me, each week we haven't said, 'Hey, new week, let's try a different combination,' " Smith said. "Injuries have forced us to do it a little bit, but we're getting guys back healthy right now. Hopefully, we can go with this same line again this week. And just that in itself, the guys playing together a little bit more, will help."
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