Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith loves to talk about his team "getting off the bus running." Yet this preseason, they've been getting off the bus walking, using a cane for support.
The team's rushing attack has been horrible, and that's being nice. The club averaged 1.7 yards per carry in the preseason opener, 3.7 ypc versus Washington and 3.5 ypc last week. That number last week is deceiving, as most of that production came in the second half. In the first half, Matt Forte was consistently hit in the backfield, rushing eight times for just four yards.
The Giant's defensive front is as good as it gets in the NFL, but that's still no excuse for your Pro Bowl running back to average 0.5 yards per rush. The blocking up front has been nonexistent, with guys either getting blown off the ball or completely missing their man.
"Where we continue to need to hone it up and get our timing down, figure out what we want to be, is in the run game," coordinator Mike Tice said. "We need to decide on what runs we really want to focus on this next week and get after those, clean those up and make some strides in our run game."
The Bears have allowed the most combined sacks in the NFL the past two seasons, so much of the onus during training camp and the preseason has been on pass protection.
"We focused so much on making sure we were able to protect our quarterbacks that we've taken some of that time in our individual periods and focused on the protection stuff," said Tice. "We just have to, in these next 10 days, spend more time honing some of those things."
Tackle Chris Williams said that has played a role in the lack of continuity up front.
"That could be part of it," said Williams. "There's so many moving part to any part of football. The running game, one guy's off, it's not a good run. We just have a lot of that."
Still, despite the poor performances on the ground, Tice isn't losing any sleep over the team's rushing attack.
"I'm not worried about it. We'll run the ball fine. We just have to pay more attention to it in our individual work," said Tice.
The first step would be to solidify the five starters and quit the constant rotations. Tice wanted to give Williams a shot at the left tackle spot but that never materialized. At left guard, Chris Spencer has struggled, which has led to Chilo Rachal taking some of his reps with the first team.
It makes sense to have your best five guys up front but after a full offseason of activities – rookie minicamp, OTAs, veteran minicamp – plus more than three weeks of training camp and three preseason games, should these positional battles still be ongoing? Has Tice not had enough time to evaluate these players and make a final decision?
Once that happens, the offensive line can relax and start learning to work as a group. As Williams points out, one missed block can destroy any given run play, and it's impossible to develop that type of cohesiveness if guys are constantly shuffling in and out.
"We actually had some mental errors in the run that were easy things [to fix]," said Tice. "When you call a play that's called ‘inside zone,' that means you're really not working to a man, you're working to a zone. We just have to make sure we're all working to the proper area."
Yet, to lose faith in Tice at this point seems like an overreaction to three meaningless games. Consider what he did last season.
In the second game of the year, he lost his best offensive lineman, and best run blocker, in Gabe Carimi. He inserted Frank "Turnstile" Omiyale on the right edge, with disastrous results. He then had to slide Lance Louis from right guard to right tackle, where he had never before played. Chris Spencer was placed at right guard, where he had no experience.
Then, after Chris Williams was finally starting to look good at left guard, he went down with a wrist injury. Edwin Williams, a mediocre run blocker, was inserted in his place.
And then the team's Pro Bowl running back went down for the season. A few weeks later, the team's main backup, Marion Barber, also was lost with injury.
Yet despite the team losing it's best two blockers, it's best two running backs, and being forced to mix and match up front, the group still rushed for 2,015 yards. It was the first time in 20 seasons a Bears rushing attack has topped the 2,000-yard mark.
Before coming to Chicago, Tice worked as the offensive assistant head coach in Jacksonville. During his four seasons with the club, the Jaguars finished 3rd, 2nd, 18th and 10th in the NFL in rushing.
When you consider what he has accomplished building rushing attacks in the NFL, I'm at a loss to find any good reason to lose faith in him now. Despite the weapons he has in the passing game, Tice wants to run the ball this year. If history is any indication, he'll figure out a way to make that happen.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.