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Better Balance a Bears Goal

An extreme running attack has brought success to some NFL teams in the recent past but the Bears seem to lack what's required.

Teams in the NFL don't win the way the Bears have.

Or do they?

Their 281 yards rushing in Sunday's win over Houston and 180 yards against Green Bay in a Week 2 defeat seem aberrations, yet there are instances of teams winning despite taking it back a few eras to 1970s style with ground-based attacks.

"We're doing a really good job of moving the line of scrimmage in the running game right now," Bears coach Matt Eberflus said. "So we're certainly pleased with that."

The Bears are second in rushing in the league after three weeks thanks to Khalil Herbert's 157-yard Week 3 and David Montgomery's 122-yard Week 2. However, it's safe to say they lack what they need to pull off a ground-and-pound style long term.

"I mean, it's fun when it's working," Bears tight end Cole Kmet said. "So when we're able to move ends down the field and establish and move the line of scrimmage it's a lot of fun.

"When you see guys get in the end zone that way I'm all for it. So whatever we've got to do to win, you know I'm all for this run game and how it's been working for us."

The effect is ball control and possession time. If achieved properly and without penalties or turnovers, it can be devastating.

"Well, I'll flip it," Bears defensive end Robert Quinn said. "If that was happening to us (on defense), it's kind of demoralizing. If they can constantly pick up, 3, 4 or 5 yards by simply running it, it can get frustrating.

"So if our offense can run the ball all game long, pick up 4 or 5 yards a pop, it may not look flashly—the deep, bomb passes and all the stuff like that—but it's efficient. They're scoring points and giving us (the defense) time to rest. So there's nothing to complain about." If it's so good, then why don't other teams do it. The idea seems simple enough.

Other Teams Go Ground-and-Pound

The 49ers dominated with running, defense and an efficient passing game when they made the Super Bowl in the 2019 season. They finished second in rushing. However, while they ran for 2,305 yards, they also passed for 3,792 yards

There are other recent examples of teams playing it along the lines of the 1970s teams and building success around the ground game.

Last year the Philadelphia Eagles were rebuilding under Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. They still won nine times and made the playoffs by becoming the best running team in the league. They ranked No. 2 in rushing attempts.

The Eagles won seven out of nine games in their run to the playoffs and tore up opponents with 184.8 yards rushing over the last 11 games. Five times in a six-game stretch at that point in the season the Eagles had 155 yards passing or less.

It took quarterback Jalen Hurts rushing for 784 yards to push up their rushing totals but the Bears definitely can imitate this to some extent with Justin Fields.

Last year Matt Eberflus' Colts team decided to put it on the shoulders of running back Jonathan Taylor and loaded him up with carries. They ran for 173.7 yards a game over their last nine and averaged only 170 yards passing then. And they wound up missing the playoffs when they ran for only 122 and 94 yards the last two games, suffering defeats at the hands of the Raiders and Jaguars.

The Baltimore Ravens were the ultimate example with running quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Until they decided to go to Jackson as starter in the final seven games, they were running for just 92.6 yards a game. They put Jackson in and most of their yardage came on the ground. 

The Ravens ran for 229 yards a game over the last seven and passed for only 156.7 yards then, but got into the playoffs.

Prerequisites

There are requirements and drawbacks to this.

1. They probably wouldn't be developing Fields as a passer if he's throwing 15 times a game like he as done so far.

2. A team really needs to have a great offensive line and run-blocking scheme to pull it off and in the case of the Bears this is anything but certain. Sure, they had big games the last two weeks but in Week 1 they struggled to gain 2.7 yards a carry and rushed for 99 yards.

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The reason they ran so well the last two games hasn't necessarily been due to their great offensive line blocking.

It's been good but what they've really done well is taken advantage of defenses playing their ends in a way to sell out and protect against bootleg passes or runs off the edge.

"You saw the way that their defensive ends just run up the field last week," Getsy said after the Packers game. "That was their plan, that they weren't going to let (Fields) get outside of the pocket."

It happened again last week with the Texans. They even had safety Jalen Pitre blitz off the edge once for a sack to keep the Bears from running bootleg passes.

It's not fear of the Bears passing well but of the bootleg style passes and/or quarterback runs.

The Bears offensive line is simply not there yet.

They are shuffling the right guards in and out. They could replace center Sam Mustipher with Lucas Patrick or keep Patrick at guard and keep Teven Jenkins on the bench.

The consistency of execution hasn't been there to achieve the kind of blocking necessary for a dominant running attack.

3. To pile up prodigious rushing figures could require quarterback rushing yards like Jackson and Hurts had. The quarterback must carry the ball a lot and it always leaves your passer open to being hit. 

Do the Bears want Fields at risk so often?

"We think he's really smart in the open field, knows when to slide and get down," Eberflus said. "Obviously, he's taken a couple hits that were flagged. But he's really good at that. He's got great instincts that way."

Plenty of quarterbacks have good instincts. Dak Prescott has good instincts and he's not playing now.

It's dangerous.

"You always worry when he's running the ball but he's a tough dude and he's a big guy," Kmet said. "So he handles it well. He's a strong dude but yeah you're always a little worried when he's running that football."

Fields has averaged nine carries a game this year so far with 27 runs for 95 total yards, so he hasn't been overly effective as a runner, averaging 3.5 yards a carry.

4. Those teams who pulled off the ground approach all had complementary passing. The Eagles finished 25th in passing and Jalen Hurts had an 87.2 passer rating. When the Ravens ran so well, Jackson averaged 7.1 yards per pass and had an 84.5 passer rating. Those weren't great numbers but acceptable with so many rushing yards added. Last year the Colts had 27 TD passes and only seven interceptions from Carson Wentz.

The Bears haven't had anything close to that with Fields' 50 passer rating. They are dead last at passing and haven't been efficient with it at all.

"I mean, when you run the ball like we are, you gotta make these opportunities happen in the pass game as well," he said. "When we're able to run like this, it should present opportunities in the pass game.

"We just gotta take those opportunities when they're there. Obviously, if you're running the ball, you're running the ball, and it works well."

It's called balancing the attack, and it's something the Bears have not yet been close to achieving.

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