“To me, the key is we have to achieve a better run-pass balance,” Emery said in early November. “When you have a better run-pass balance, you keep your opponents off balance and you have a chance to hit big-chunk plays like we’ve had them hit against us.”
It was a message head coach Marc Trestman appeared to receive. Matt Forte received 17 carries coming out of the bye in Week 10. He then received his heaviest two-game workload of the season, carrying the ball a combined 49 times in Week 11 and Week 12 combined.
Forte had 26 carries for 117 yards, his second highest single-game rushing total of the season, against a Minnesota Vikings defense that was ranked Top 10 in the NFL against the run.
Trestman showed no fear attacking the Vikings on the ground, although Emery’s desire for balance was still fresh in his mind.
In last week’s 34-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, Trestman did a 180, bailing on the run before the opening kickoff. At first, it appeared his plan would work, as Chicago jumped out to a 14-3 lead. Yet the wheels fell off after that, asTrestman ran Forte just five times total and just once in the second half, thus the lopsided defeat. As a result, Jay Cutler threw the ball 48 times.
“You can’t just sit back there and throw 50 passes a game and expect to win,” Forte said today. “Their front four were pinning their ears back. They didn’t have anything to do but pass rush. They’re not respecting the run and then if you play fake, they’re not going take the play fake because you haven’t been running the ball. It’s a big part of the play-action game, to keep the defense off of keying on exactly what to do.”
And that’s exactly what happened, as the Lions sacked Cutler three times in the second half.
“You want to have some balance,” Cutler said. “Numbers-wise it's not as balanced as you want it to be, if you're running the ball efficiently and giving the illusion that you're going to run the ball it definitely helps.”
Forte is on pace for a career high in touches and has already broke the single-season record for receptions by a running back (78 and counting) yet he’s surpassed 17 carries just four times this year. This has continually devolved the offense into a one-dimensional, easy-to-defend unit on game days.
“The plan against that team was to throw the quick screen passes and we saw a lot of success on tape, which we had early, and then move on to the run after we got going into the game,” said coordinator Aaron Kromer. “But then the game didn’t present itself the way we hoped at that point where we got down by two touchdowns and then we had to try to throw it to get back in it, we felt.”
But you were only down by 10 at the half and you ran the ball just once the final two quarters.
“Yeah, that’s a good point,” said Kromer. “And I think in the future, that will happen.”
Yet Kromer can’t say for sure that will happen, as he has almost no input into the play calling as the games are happening. That’s Marc Trestman’s job.
“The only thing I could say is we didn't run it enough,” Trestman said. “We would have liked to run it more. It didn't happen that way, and we've got to move forward to Dallas. We could have that discussion forever. We need to run the ball more than we did. The opportunity that we have against Dallas is to proceed forward and do a better job of putting balance in our attack, which opens up a lot of different things for us and has a residual effect on the defensive line as you move forward in the game."
Trestman discusses finding balance, yet he’s the one in charge of the pass-run ratio. Cutler does have power at the line of scrimmage to check out of runs, something he’s been wont to do this season, yet again, Trestman has given his quarterback that power.
“There were more [run plays called] than what showed on tape,” said Kromer.
Bailing on the run not only limits your offense and makes things easier for opposing defenses but it also shows zero confidence in your offensive line, another residual effect of running seven total times in a crucial NFC North contest.
“I trust our offensive line and those guys want to run the ball too. I know they were upset about the outcome of last week,” said Forte. “Just because you’re ranked in the top [of the NFL against the run] doesn’t mean you don’t try it. That would be like the defense, if we were ranked No. 1 them just laying down, ‘Well they’re ranked No. 1 so we’re just not going to play defense today.’ You have to make an effort to do that.”
At Halas Hall, there is a GM who wants to run more, a running back who wants to run more, a quarterback who wants to run more, an offensive line that wants to run more and an offensive coordinator who wants to run more. Unfortunately for the Bears, the person in charge of establishing the ground game finds bubble screens an acceptable substitute.
It’s a strategy you can pull off up north but not in the NFL. For the Bears’ sake, Trestman better have learned his lesson.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.