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Chicago Bears pass on running game

Sep. 24, 2010
 
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) is tackled by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) during their game at Soldier Field in Chicago on Dec. 13, 2009. The Bears attempted only 17 rushes in the game.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) is tackled by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) during their game at Soldier Field in Chicago on Dec. 13, 2009. The Bears attempted only 17 rushes in the game. / File/AP

RUN DOWN

The 10 seasons in which the Bears averaged fewer than 27 rushing attempts per game.

Avg. Year Record
23.3 2009 7-9
23.9 2002 4-12
24.8 1999 6-10
25.2 1970 6-8
25.4 1964 5-9
26.1 1971 6-8
26.1 2000 5-11
26.4 2007 7-9
26.7 1992 5-11
26.9 2004 5-11

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The Chicago Bears have five running backs enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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They wonít be adding to that total any time soon if they continue to run as infrequently as they did last year.

The organization that gave rise to Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, George McAfee, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton sank to a level unthinkable during the playing days of those luminaries. The Bears ran the ball 373 times in 2009 for a franchise-low average of just 23.3 attempts per game.

Payton himself had more carries (381) as a 10-year veteran in 1984.

The image of Chicago as a running team, if such a perception still exists, took another hit during Lovie Smithís sixth year as coach. Only the Colts, Cardinals and 49ers turned to the ground less often than the Bears.

It is one reason Smithís club finished last in the NFC with 1,492 rushing yards.

Defense and a running game that was the fifth busiest (503 attempts) carried the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006. Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson combined for 453 rushes.

In the years since, Chicago has not been so industrious. In 2007, the team ran 423 times and plunged to 30th in rushing yards. Matt Forte arrived in 2008 and even though he carried 316 times and generated 1,238 yards, the Bearsí commitment to the run (434 rushes) scarcely increased.

Then, a year ago, Jay Cutler blew into town. With the strong-armed quarterback launching a team-record 566 throws, Chicago invested further in the forward pass.

While filling the air with footballs, the Bears ran fewer than 18 times in five outings to tie the Arizona Cardinals for the most such games. Chicago was 1-4 in those efforts.

In the five previous years, the Bears carried fewer than 18 times on just four occasions combined.

Last year Chicago had two home games with 35 or more rushes ó the Bears beat Cleveland 30-6 and edged the Rams 17-9 while piling up 37 and 38 attempts, respectively.

The teamís biggest road workout occurred in the opener at Lambeau Field. Forte (25 carries) was the major player in a 31-attempt, 86-yard affair that Chicago lost 21-15.

Green Bay tightened up in the rematch, permitting just 59 yards on 17 tries in the Packersí 21-14 win at Soldier Field in December.

With offensive coordinator Mike Martz on board, the running game is on a path similar to last year. Forte and his backfield mates got 31 opportunities in the opener against the Lions and 19 a week later in Dallas.

Packers statistics  |   Other NFL statistics  |  Standings  |  Matchups/Odds

Old-school pundits might argue that de-emphasizing the run is folly. Thatís not necessarily true, especially for a club featuring a quarterback at the top of his game.

Twenty-one teams in the last three years have averaged fewer than 25 carries in a season. Twelve had losing records and three finished at .500.

But a half dozen came out winners. Not only that, but all six made the playoffs.

The 2009 Colts (14-2) and 2008 Colts (12-4) were piloted by Peyton Manning. The 2009 Cardinals (10-6) and 2008 Cardinals (9-7) were guided by Kurt Warner.

The Colts of 2009 and the Cardinals of 2008 reached the Super Bowl.

As for the 2009 Eagles (11-5) and 2007 Packers (13-3), they had Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre at the helm. In all six instances, the quarterback in question finished among the top 12 in passer rating.

Perhaps Smith and Martz have this figured out. They have the NFLís leading passer in Cutler (121.2 passer rating). They have proven receivers in Forte, tight end Greg Olsen and wideout Devin Hester, a trio that has led the team in receiving in each of the last two years.

Why crack helmets for meager gains of two, three and four yards when a quarterback can swallow up so much more real estate with one flick of a hot hand?

Regular-season series

♦ Overall: Chicago leads 90-82-6

♦ At Soldier Field: Packers lead 19-18

Starting quarterbacks

♦ Packers: Aaron Rodgers (19-15 overall; 3-1 vs. Chicago)

♦ Bears: Jay Cutler (26-29; 0-3 vs. Green Bay)

Once a Bear, now a Packer

There are no former Bears on the Packersí roster.

Once a Packer, now a Bear

Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who is on injured reserve, was selected by Green Bay in the fifth round of the 2003 draft.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of ďGreen Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,Ē a statistical history of the Packers. E-mail him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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