Bears Downplaying Stalled Run Game

The Chicago Bears have one of the best running and receiving backs around in Matt Forte, but he has been a disappointment so far averaging just over 2.2 yards per carry. What can be done to get better balance offensively? Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at Scout.com.

INSIDE SLANT
For a Bears offense anxious to get the running game going, the Seahawks' defense could be its treadmill Sunday at Seattle's Qwest Field.

The Seahawks' defense has allowed 333 rushing yards and a whopping, worst-in-the-league 7.1 yards per rush. Last week the 49ers' Frank Gore picked up 207 yards on 16 carries, including runs of 80 and 79 yards, as the Seahawks were gouged for 256 yards on the ground.

After two weeks, the Bears' run game is No. 31 in yards (129) and in average gain per play (2.6 yards). Matt Forte, the focal point of the ground attack, has struggled for 84 yards on 38 carries, an average of 2.2 yards per try, with a long run of just 10 yards.

Forte rarely experienced such a lack of production last season as a rookie, when he rushed for 1,238 yards and accounted for an NFL-best 36 percent of his team's yards from scrimmage. He has no doubts he can be just as productive this season.

"Why would I doubt myself?" Forte said. "I would never doubt myself in anything that I do because, if you believe in yourself, that's part of being able to do it.

"It's somewhat frustrating, but you can't get frustrated. Then you start looking for holes to run through, and you miss a cut here and then you miss out on some yards. We knew going into the [Steelers] game it was going to be like that."

The Bears weren't able to establish the run game last week (43 yards on 18 carries, 2.4-yard average), but that's to be expected against a Steelers defense that was the NFL's best last season.

"They're going to be tough against the run," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "It's going to be hard to go into a game against them and say you're running game is going to win the ballgame for you because they're going to stop the run. [We're] not going to really put a lot of stock in that. We won the ballgame."

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner is confident that when the Bears have an opportunity to run, they'll be able to take advantage of it.

"We're going to be fine," Turner said. "Last game we didn't really give it a chance, going against the best team against the run in the past several years.

"We've got a good offensive line and good running backs. We'll be able to run the ball. We know it's something we've got to have, that we want to have and we're going to have balance. Some games you're going to have to throw a little bit more to win. Some games you're going to have to run a little bit more to win. Last game, we threw it a little bit more."

No one in the Bears' locker room is stressed out over the fitful pace of the ground game, but it is an area in need of improvement.


C Olin Kreutz
AP Images: Charlie Neibergall

"You always want to get the running game going," center Olin Kreutz said. "It's a work in progress, so we're working on it."

After being embarrassed by the 49ers last week in a 23-10 loss, the Seahawks are undoubtedly working overtime to plug the holes in their run defense.

"Anytime you give up 200 yards worth of rushing," Forte said, "they're going to be working to stop that."

But it remains to be seen how much the Seahawks' run defense can improve in one week with outside linebacker Leroy Hill out for another month with a groin injury. In addition middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring) and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (calf) did not practice Wednesday and will probably be questionable for Sunday.

NEWS AND NOTES
Rookie wide receiver Johnny Knox was in awe when he saw the size of the crowds the Bears draw – at training camp in Bourbonnais.

His reaction to the several thousand fans he saw at Olivet Nazarene University?

"I was terrified," the slender speedster said. "I've never seen that. Everybody was laughing at me because I was saying I saw more people at our training camp than we saw during a home game."

Coming from NCAA Division-II Abilene Christian, Knox didn't have a lot of experience playing in front of big crowds. But he's been anything but a star-struck youngster so far, as he proved Sunday with six catches for 70 yards, including a game-tying 7-yard TD catch in the victory over the Steelers.

"We put No. 13 (Knox) in there, and he's been turning out great," Cutler said. "He's in the right spots, and he's making some adjustments on the move. He's just out there using his ability, and I told him, 'Congratulations, you're no longer a rookie, you're out there playing with the rest of us. You did some good things for us.'"

Despite stepping up from a small stage to the big time, Knox never doubted the ability that helped him catch 118 passes for 2,227 yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons at Abilene Christian. Having 4.34 speed hasn't hurt either.

"I always thought I could play at this level," he said. "I just try to be confident in everything I do. The veterans taught me just to stay confident, to stay calm. That's been helping me out a lot."

Bears coaches felt confident in Knox's ability early on, and he's repaid that faith with eight catches already for a team-high 152 yards and 19.0 yards per catch.

"He's been very impressive from the first day he got here," Turner said. "A lot of times young guys come in, and it takes them a while to learn to play fast. He did it from Day 1. He hasn't gotten big eyes or anything else. He just goes out and plays and plays with confidence." ...

Devin Hester was replaced by Danieal Manning as the starting kickoff returner last year after his average dropped under 22.0 yards.

Hester also slumped as a punt returner in '08, averaging just 6.2 yards, less than half his average in his first two seasons. He's off to a slow start this season, averaging 7.3 yards on his first four attempts, but he won't be losing that job soon.

"He'll continue to be our punt returner," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a great punt returner. I'm pleased with everything he's done."

Manning led the NFL with a 29.7-yard average after taking over for Hester last season, and he handled kickoffs in the season opener. But last week, when Manning returned to free safety, he was spelled on kickoffs by Knox, who averaged 20.5 yards on two tries and will probably be the deep man again this week.

"We have a lot of options," Smith said, "but Johnny did a good job last week. We'll just let it play out through the week and then a little closer to game time we'll make those decisions." ...

After catching 92 passes for 904 yards last season and 202 passes for 2,224 yards and 21 touchdowns in the previous two seasons with the Bengals, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was the most attractive wide receiver in last offseason's class of free agents.

But the wide receiver-needy Bears didn't show much interest in him.

"Ah, man, the Bears ain't hollered at me," Houshmandzadeh said. "I didn't hear from Chicago. Jerry Angelo probably didn't think I could play, so I'm going to show him Sunday."

Regardless of who's covering him Sunday, the 6-1, 199-pound Houshmandzadeh, who turns 32 Saturday, likes his chances.

"Look, I'm going to be realistic with you guys," he said. "I feel like I'm going to get open every play, every time. But those guys get paid, too. I just have to be realistic with it. I'm going to win 95 percent of the time, and they can get the other five."

QUOTE TO NOTE
"If you can only run the ball in this league, you're not going to be able to win. To win, you've got to score points. To score points, you've got to be able to make plays in the passing game. You've got to have that balance, and we're going to work awfully hard to have it." – Offensive coordinator Ron Turner.


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