Despite Defensive Hype, Offense is the Focus

Lost among all the glowing talk of the Bears' NFL-best defense and 8-3 record has been the anemic performance of the offense.

Now that the Bears are playoff contenders, currently with the No. 2 seed in the NFC, there is concern that they don't have enough offense to succeed at the next level.

Only once this season has the Bears defense permitted an opponent more than 285 total yards, which is outstanding, considering the league average is 318. But the Bears offense has accumulated more than 285 yards just three times; and over the past three weeks, Chicago has averaged just 245. Only once all season have the Bears passed for 150 yards. The offense entered Week 12 ranked 28th in total yards, and it won't move up after getting just 239 against the Bucs.

But, according to coach Lovie Smith, the bottom line is that the Bears offense has outscored its opponent seven weeks in a row.

"That's what you ask your offense to do each week," Smith said, "to score more points than theirs. It's as simple as that."

For the Bears offense, it's as simple as running the ball better than the other team. For 10 straight games, the Bears have rushed for more yards than their opponent. The ground game that was ranked No. 5 in the league after 11 weeks has grabbed the slack left by a passing game that is No. 30.

"We're a running football team," Smith said. "We're not going to pass and have a lot of (points). We'd like to break out, and we've been able to do that a couple games. But it's starting to get cold in Chicago; points are hard to come by."

They don't figure to come any easier in the next two weeks against the Packers, No. 10 in yards allowed, and the Steelers, No. 6.

The key concern for the Bears is whether they can continue to run the ball effectively against good defenses that know they can load up the line of scrimmage to stop the running game because the passing game isn't a threat. Thomas Jones has carried 50 times in the past two weeks but managed just 155 yards, an average of 3.1 yards per carry. In the Bears' first six games, Jones averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

The going is getting tougher, according to Jones.

"Teams know we are going to run the ball, and teams put guys around the ball to try to stop that," he said. "The majority of the teams in the NFL don't have (to face) nine guys in the box each week. We just don't see the typical defenses that any other NFL offense would see. Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James don't see nine guys in the box every week.

"Certain things are out of our control. You might block the play very well; you might make the right read, but there are still two guys standing there that are unaccounted for. In a situation like that, it is almost impossible to make something happen. You have to grind it out, grind it out, and that's what we've been doing."

The Bears will be forced to keep grinding away on the ground until they develop a passing game that opponents have to respect. Kyle Orton already has been the starting quarterback in eight victories, more than any Bears rookie quarterback in at least the last 50 years, and probably longer, although accurate records aren't available prior to 1955. While he has managed games with a minimum of mistakes, Orton hasn't shown that he could win a game, although he has made some big plays at crucial times.

But, with former starter Rex Grossman getting closer to full strength each week as he recovers from August's fractured ankle, Orton will need to make more big plays to silence talk of a quarterback change, if and when the winning streak ends.

For now, Smith isn't even discussing a possible switch.

"We're excited about Rex making progress, (but) he's not there yet," Smith said. "Hopefully he will get better to where he can move up on the depth chart, but right now we're not to that."

Grossman was the Bears' No. 3 quarterback against the Bucs, and he could move up a rung for Sunday's game against the Packers. But no further than that, as Smith was quick to point out.

"When I say move up on the depth chart, (I mean) possibly moving up to the backup position once he's completely healthy," the Bears coach said. "But again, Kyle Orton is our starting quarterback, and we like what he's been able to do.

"How many rookies can do what he's done?"

None who played for the Bears in at least the last half-century, but that might not be enough.

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