With quarterback Rex Grossman struggling through the inevitable inconsistencies of all young quarterbacks in the NFL, and with the less-than-formidable receiving corps weakened by the rib injury to Bernard Berrian, it's obvious what the Bears need to do. Isn't it?
Here's a hint: Coach Lovie Smith has insisted since Day One that this is a running football team, yet the Bears rank 28th in average gain per carry at 3.4, nearly a full yard less than last year's 4.3. The Bears have yet to average more than 4.1 yards per carry in even one game this season.
They are a somewhat more respectable 19th in rushing yards per game (104.2). But where they're really disappointing has been in their ability to make big plays in the running game. On 246 rushing attempts, the Bears have just one run of 20 yards or longer all season. Only the Arizona Cardinals have none, and they've run the ball 36 fewer times than the Bears. The Bears' opponents have 5 runs of longer than 20 yards, even though they have the No. 7 rushing defense in the NFL.
That really doesn't sound like much of a running team. Sunday's loss to the Dolphins was a classic example of how the Bears' ground game has failed this season. They picked up a mediocre 103 yards and needed 28 carries to do it. On 20 attempts, starter Thomas Jones did not have a carry of longer than 11 yards. On his eight carries, Cedric Benson didn't break anything longer than 10 yards. It's not that the Bears aren't running the ball enough; they're just not doing a good enough job of it.
"At times we ran the ball well and at times we wished we'd have gotten more on first down to put us in better situations in second and third down," Grossman said.
Against the Dolphins, Jones' first 10 runs on first-down netted 27 yards, while Benson's five carries on first down picked up 22 yards.
"We can run the ball," Grossman said, "and we'll get better at that, too."
The Bears have been saying that all season, but it hasn't happened with any consistency.
"I thought we ran the ball pretty well at times," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said after the Dolphins game, "and we're going to run the ball. But we have to hold on to the ball. We have to protect the ball, and then we have to make plays when they're there."
That applies to the running game, too, and it means getting more than just what's there. It means breaking a tackle in the secondary or occasionally outrunning a linebacker. Fumbles haven't been a problem for Bears running backs; the absence of big plays has been.
Jones has 159 carries this year and only one of them gained more than 17 yards, a 29-yarder against the Seahawks. On 63 carries, Benson's longest run is 19 yards, and that's his only run of more than 11 yards.
It's clear the Bears need to get better at running the ball, and it might not be easy Sunday night against a Giants defense that is allowing 94.9 yards per game, eighth in the NFL. But the 6-2 NFC East leaders will be missing three Pro Bowl players in defensive ends Michael Strahan (foot) and Osi Umenyiora (hip), and linebacker LaVar Arrington, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury.
And if the Bears are serious about helping Grossman progress as a quarterback and talking some of the pressure off him, they'll find a way to fire up a running game that somehow found a way to finish No. 8 in rushing yards and No. 7 in average gain per rush last season with a rookie quarterback and the same offensive line. Life could also be made easier for that offensive line in pass protection if the Bears ran the ball more successfully. In two of the past three games — the 24-23 victory at Arizona and Sunday's loss to the Dolphins — the offensive line didn't do a very good job of keeping the rush out of Grossman's grill. When it was able to give Grossman time, in the 49ers game that was sandwiched between those two offensive debacles, he was practically flawless.
Coaches still don't seem to consider the ground game much of a cause for concern, and maybe it isn't as big a worry as the combined 12 turnovers that have been committed by other players in the Cardinals and Dolphins game.
"The running game I think is more of a concern on the outside than it is to us," Turner said. "We're running the ball, and we feel good about what we're doing in the run game."
They need to feel a lot better about it, and soon.
Strait played in 26 games in three years with the Jets who drafted him in the third round (76th overall) in 2004 out of Oklahoma. Strait started two of five games with the Jets this season, with eight tackles, before being released on Oct. 11.
The Bears had already lost Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown for the season with ligament damage in his left foot.
The goal seems simple enough — win two games in a row.
But for the Detroit Lions, it amounts to a major accomplishment, something that has happened only twice in the past 5.5 seasons.
And it makes wide receiver Roy Williams' idea seem even more outlandish.
"We're on our way up," Williams said. "We've just got to put two games together. We haven't done that in, I think, two or three years now.
"I say that we can win nine in a row and I really strongly believe that, as long as we do what we're supposed to do. But you can't get to nine without getting to two. That's our next step."
A nine-game winning streak for the 2-6 Lions? In all of their years in Detroit, they have had only one nine-game winning streak and that was in 1934, their first season after moving to Detroit from Portsmouth, Ohio.
And Williams was only slightly off with his estimate that it had been two or three years since the Lions had won two in a row. It was actually last year when they beat Chicago and Houston in the first two games of the season.
Should they beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, it would match their longest winning streak since owner William Clay Ford hired Matt Millen to run the team at the end of the 2000 season.
While his teammates talk about developing consistency and winning back-to-back games, Williams' focus is on running the table — winning the remaining eight games and perhaps making it to the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
"I think guys have always been confident," he said. "I think I'm just the one that's going to say it. I think they rely on me to say it so they won't get in trouble and let me be the guinea pig in this thing.
"But we're really high on ourselves, we know that we're a good football team. I know our record doesn't show it but we're a good football team. Like I say, if we want to get to where we want to be — in the playoffs — we have to win eight or nine in a row, and we can't get there without winning two in a row."
Playing against the 49ers, two in a row seems at least possible. The 49ers, at 3-5, are only one win better than the Lions and they too are in the process of establishing themselves. They are coming to Ford Field off a 9-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings but, before that game they had lost four of their previous five games.
Safety Terrence Holt says the Lions' 30-14 upset of Atlanta on Sunday gives them something from which they can work.
"Anytime you get a win you have confidence and being able to have guys back and come fresh off that bye and establish some things is always good," Holt said. "So I think we do have some confidence but we have to try to build that into momentum.
"When you string together some wins or string together some good back-to-back performances, then you can build momentum and sort of have confidence in some of the things you've done. But off one win? Yeah, we're confident, we're happy, we're happy with the performance but we know it's about consistency and stringing together some performances in this league, which is going to dictate how we're going to do from here on out."