Sunday's breakout running attack can only help the Bears' passing game, which is engine that powers the offense and will continue to be, despite 218 rushing yards against the Carolina Panthers.
Still, knowing the run game is there when needed is a huge boost for the 4-1 Bears, who are tied for the best record in the NFL after pounding it on the ground 42 times in Sunday's 23-6 victory.
It's also a huge burden to any defense attempting to stop the Bears.
“Each week we look at what we think we need to do to win the game, coach Lovie Smith said. “Going into this one, we felt like we needed to run the ball more.
That's because starting quarterback Jay Cutler was sidelined with a concussion. He's expected back this week but there is no guarantee, and the Bears are not the same offense with backups Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie.
“I don't think we'll end up running the ball over 40 times each game, Smith said. “I don't think we're to that point.
“But (when) you get into a game and something's working, you stay with it. It's good for our team to see that if we have to run the football that many times, we can.
The Bears needed to run that frequently Sunday because Collins, who hadn't started a game in nearly three years, had trouble getting in sync. He completed 6 of 16 passes for 32 yards and was intercepted four times.
“Passing-game-wise we didn't get a whole lot done, Smith said. “But some days you have to rely on what's working, and the run was working.
No one worked more effectively than Matt Forte, whose career day as a ball carrier produced 166 yards, including touchdown runs of 68 and 18 yards.
Combined with the 151 receiving yards Forte produced in the season opener, he has accomplished something that Walter Payton and Gale Sayers never did: a 150-yard rushing game and a 150-yard receiving game in the same season.
“We've had a lot of great running backs here, Smith said, “and to be the only running back to ever have a 150-yard receiving and rushing game is pretty big.
That feat has been accomplished just four times in the NFL since 1970, the last time by Marshall Faulk in 1999.
Forte had plenty of help, and it's another encouraging sign for the Bears that his big day came behind an offensive line with two young players making their Bears debuts.
Right guard Edwin Williams has been with the team little more than a month, since he was signed to the practice squad after being cut by the Washington Redskins, where he played in four games last season.
Rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb, a seventh-round pick, started his first NFL game after getting playing time the previous two weeks.
The Bears' offensive line already was in a state of flux with left tackle Chris Williams sidelined since early in Game 2 with a hamstring injury, and right tackle Frank Omiyale moving into his spot. Veteran Kevin Shaffer started Games 3 and 4 at right tackle, but Webb showed enough promise to get a shot Sunday.
Developing an abundance of competent starters and creating an atmosphere of competition is a healthy situation. But the offensive line, more than any other unit, requires cohesion among all five players, and the Bears don't want to continue shuffling the deck for long.
“We would have liked to have had it down right away, Smith said. “You want to start the season with a group and stay with it. It just normally doesn't happen that way.
“But every time you play a different combination or you let a guy have an opportunity to play, he'll tell you a little bit about what we need to do with him, and that's happening.
“Chris Williams may be ready to go this week. That gives us another option. You want as many options as possible and let's decide which way to go.
Having the option to run or pass is just as crucial, especially for a team like the Bears, who came into Sunday's game with the No. 31 run game in the NFL.
“It's great for everyone's confidence, tight end Greg Olsen said, “to go into a game and say, ‘Hey, look what we've done in the passing game.' And then combine that with what we've done now in the running game.
“It's a lot easier (for the defense) to stop a one-dimensional team.
For now, no one can accuse the Bears of being that.
About 90 seconds into the fifth game of the season, the Bears tried something on their fourth play that they hadn’t bothered with through 222 opportunities in 2010.
After the first run produced nothing, the second would have had the same result but Matt Forte ran into a wall and then bounced it outside, making 14 yards from nothing.
short pass to Devin Hester got them to second-and-5 and then Mike Martz called the play of the game.
Todd Collins took the snap and the entire offensive line flowed right in classic misdirection. Collins hesitated a moment and then tossed left to Matt Forte, who had nothing between him and the end zone but the beautiful turf in Charlotte.
The Bears masked it perfectly, Panthers linebacker Jon Beason failed to contain outside, and Forte was gone for 18 yards.
Johnny Knox made an excellent downfield block and the Bears had a 7-0 lead, all they would need to defeat the hapless Panthers.
That play hasn’t surfaced this year because up until Jay Cutler’s concussion Martz didn’t think the Bears needed to run the football.
Now, they know they do and think they can, though a review of Sunday’s tape provided less evidence than the numbers would suggest.
On the Bears’ second possession, Forte took the first handoff and ran right, again into nothing but bodies and with no hole in sight.
Forte made a great play to stop and cut back left, in which the Panthers again lost containment, and Forte had 68 more yards and another touchdown before he saw a Carolina defender.
Nice running by Forte, terrible defense by the Panthers, and further proof that Carolina deserves every bit of its 0-5.
But that’s 100 yards on 3 carries that had nothing to do with blocking. Credit the line for pulling off the deception on a misdirection, but let’s not confuse that with space to run.
Forte had another carry early in the fourth quarter when he made yards out of nothing. Stopped at the line, he spun it around the left end for 5 yards.
So of his 22 carries for 166 yards, Forte had 4 carries for 105 yards that didn’t involve line blocking. There were also 12 carries for 16 yards, when there was nowhere to go.
However, if you’re looking for a bright spot, there were 6 Forte carries for 45 yards in which the line did create running room, which is probably more than the first 4 games combined.
So there’s that.
And of those 6 good blocks, 3 came in the fourth quarter when the Bears were trying to take time off the clock.
With the Bears up 11 in the fourth, 2 good blocks led to 9 yards on an 11-play, 7-minute drive that ended with a punt, essentially putting the game away as the Bears pinned the Panthers deep again.
Forte carried 7 times in the fourth for 25 yards. While not particularly impressive, it did help finish off the game by draining time off the clock.
There were some other good facets, like a nice block by the previously invisible Brandon Manumaleuna that led to a 14-yard gain on first down by Forte late in the second quarter after the Bears started on their 10, and wanted to get out of the half with a 17-3 lead.
And on the 68-yard TD, Earl Bennett stayed with his guy despite the play seemingly going the other way, and he sealed off nicely.
But all in all, it’s worth noting that Forte made some big plays on his own against a terrible team that’s 0-5 and 27th in the league against the run.
Seattle, on the other hand, is best in the NFC in rush defense, second only to Pittsburgh in the NFL, and the longest run against the Seahawks this season is 16 yards.
So with a line that can’t pass block and hasn’t proven it can run block, it brings us back to Cutler, who’s going to need some semblance of a running game when he returns to keep the defense off-balance.
If Cutler takes the hits Todd Collins took Sunday from a team ranked 26th in the league in sacks, he’ll be concussed again and out even longer.
The Seahawks are tied for eighth in the NFL in sacks, and knowing Cutler’s head is a bit soft now they’ll be coming after him early and often.
Martz has proved time and time again, and beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he doesn’t care who’s playing QB or what the situation dictates. He will throw it no matter how dumb or dangerous, and no one this side of Dick Vermeil is going to tell him otherwise.
So the Bears want you to celebrate the new-found running game, but the reality is the line blocking wasn’t good Sunday.
The truth is their return game is once again capable of changing the outcome, giving the offense a short field or allowing Brad Maynard to pin teams deep.
From there, the defense has been very good and continues to create turnovers.
But 4-1 or 1-4, we’ve seen the world without Jay Cutler and it’s not pretty, and if Martz doesn’t alter his thinking, we’re going to see it again.
So be it deception, misdirection or electrocution, Martz better find a way to run the ball successfully.