Good time for Bears to generate running game
It would make things easier for QB Campbell, and 49ers defense has been vulnerable lately
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
7:07 p.m. CST, November 18, 2012
The vaunted 49ers run defense has not been the same in recent weeks, and that could bode well for the Bears, who will be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler.
The quickest way to make backup quarterback Jason Campbell feel comfortable is to pick up some early first downs running the ball with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, a goal the Bears have had for several games in a row with mixed results.
The 49ers had allowed just one opposing running back to top 100 yards in a span of 45 regular-season games before a recent stretch that began last month. In the last four games, the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw, the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch and Rams' Steven Jackson have gone over 100 vs. the 49ers. The 49ers (6-2-1) have a win, a loss and a tie in those games.
A trend alone isn't going to make anything easier against the 49ers defense, which ranks sixth in the NFL, allowing 95.3 rushing yards per game. Some clubs have flat-out abandoned the run versus the 49ers like the Cardinals, who rushed just nine times for 7 yards in a Week 8 meeting. With Cutler sidelined, the 49ers may be tempted to load up against the run more with eight defenders in the box.
"We have a game this week that we have to win," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "It's not the time now for even me, a Brian Billick stat guy, to be staring at stats or a lack of stats. What we have to do is win football games any way we can. We have to get the run game going. We have to take some pressure off of Jason, and it all starts with that. It's going to be tough sledding, though. These guys are pretty doggone good."
The Bears' 115 rushing yards last week in the 13-6 loss to the Texans were propped up by 37 yards from Cutler on three carries. Forte gained only 39 yards on 16 rushes and Bush added 34 yards on three plays. Forte has had more than 16 carries only twice, a function of his sprained ankle early in the season, the addition of Bush and expansion of the offense with wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
"We didn't really commit to the run last week," Forte said. "We've got to do that this week. It's not really about carries. It's the efficiency of the running game. It's even more important so (Campbell) can get comfortable back there. We can take the pressure off of him a little bit with the running game and get that going."
Forte is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, just 0.2 off his career best from last season, and he's on pace for 1,028 yards. But the running game isn't where the Bears want it to be and has been inconsistent.
Bush has helped in short-yardage situations and he has three rushing touchdowns but none since Week 3. He has carried 80 times for 297 yards, averaging 3.7 per carry.
"Keep in mind he is doing all of the dirty work, the short yardage and stuff like that," running backs coach Tim Spencer said. "So his yards per carry and things he does is going to look dirty and ugly a lot. I have no problem with the way Mike has been playing. He is solid."
If the Bears can establish the running game and maintain it for a few weeks, it would go a long way toward easing some of the pressure on the offense. Inconsistencies have not frustrated Forte to this point, though.
"We're 7-2 right now," he said. "We've got a long way to go."