For the past month, Bears coach Lovie Smith has repeated his desire for a productive running game to pace the offense and to allow the defense to rest.
Smith should get his wish today.
If the Bears cannot run the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3), it’s tough to say whether any opponent will allow them to run for big yards. The Jaguars have the third-worst run defense in the NFL, which is a weakness that the Bears (3-1) plan to exploit in their bid to maintain at least a share of first place in the NFC North.
That could mean a big day for Matt Forte, who has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game this season and has been hindered for the past couple of weeks by a sprained right ankle. Forte is listed as probable to play today despite being limited in practice this week.
Meanwhile, fellow running back Michael Bush managed only 29 yards on 10 carries last week against Dallas and has averaged 3.3 yards a carry this season. He also is looking for a productive game against the Jaguars, who have allowed 150.3 rushing yards a game.
Although impressive statistics were nice, Smith said, the Bears’ success in the running game would be measured by more than a number. They have averaged 101 rushing yards a game this season, which is No. 16 out of 32 teams in the NFL.
“First off, it’s just commitment,” Smith said. “We have to do our part to keep the amount of carries up there. And from there, we just want to be productive.
“In an ideal world, shoot, we’d like to have about 10 yards a carry. That’s pretty hard to do, though, isn’t it? It’s pretty hard to say [how to measure success]. If we needed this 3rd-and-1 and we run the football, we want to have success with that. If it’s first down, we want to get ourselves in a favorable second-down position.”
Smith is an old-school, defensive-minded coach whose offensive philosophy is based on having a strong running game as a foundation and an effective passing game as a supporting feature. That run-first mentality rarely jived with former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who built his record-setting offenses in St. Louis by passing first and running second.
Much more harmony exists between Smith and first-year offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
Tice played 14 years in the NFL as a blocking tight end who cleared paths for running backs. He echoed Smith’s preference for a game plan that featured consistent running plays.
Entering today, Tice has called for 118 runs and 117 pass attempts for a nearly perfect split.
“We’re still, in my opinion, not running the ball well, not running on first down,” Tice said. “We’re going to continue to run it. We’re going to continue to try and find the personality that we’re going to have as a run team. I think that it shouldn’t take that long, but it is. Football wise, that’s the most important thing right now that we can focus on.”
As with most aspects of football, success starts on the line of scrimmage.
Bears guard Chilo Rachal replaced Chris Spencer in the starting lineup after Week 2 in part because of his bulldog approach as a run blocker. Rachal said he and his teammates heard their coaches’ mantra about running the ball, and they agreed with the approach.
Run blocking typically comes down to strength and discipline. A little nastiness also helps.
“We’re the least respected position, so we always have an attitude,” Rachal said. “We all want to succeed, and we all have to have those big rushing games.”
Today’s would be a good start.