Matt Trowbridge: Bears keep winning, but run game not fixed yet
Chicago’s passing game somehow looked even uglier in victory than when the Bears were sacked 10 times in New York.
But look again. A quick look at the stats makes Sunday’s 23-6 victory over Carolina one of the Bears’ most beautiful wins in years. Consider:
The defense was great for the second week in a row, holding Carolina to 147 total yards.
Israel Idonije, in his first game replacing the waived Mark Anderson, had three sacks. Idonije, always a strong run defender, has four sacks in five games after having eight in his previous six seasons. This is the “Peppers Effect” Chicago planned on when it paid $91.5 for Julius Peppers.
Matt Forte ran for a career-high 166 yards. The Bears came into the game ranked No. 31 in the NFL in rushing and tripled their season average of 68.8 yards with 218 yards on the ground.
Todd Collins provided almost all of the ugliness, with four interceptions, 32 yards passing and a 6.2 passer rating. But that’s a positive, not a negative. Collins isn’t a first-round draft pick like Rex Grossman or Cade McNown. He probably won’t get a second chance, much less an umpteenth chance. His brutal play helps, because it means Caleb Hanie should pass him on the backup depth chart behind Jay Cutler.
There’s a lot of reasons to get excited about the Bears, as there should be for a surprising 4-1 team that looked dead during an 0-4 preseason.
But now it’s time to quibble, to not just count the wins but ask how the Bears have won and whether they can keep winning that way in the future.
The 218 yards rushing sound great, but they were merely good. And good against possibly the worst team in the NFL. In other words, not so good at all.
Forte ran 18 yards untouched for his first TD on a good play call by Mike Martz that was set up by Martz’s reputation as a pass-first coordinator.
Forte looked like Thomas Jones in his prime on his second TD, running into a wall, reversing field and cutting back across the grain for a 68-yard TD. That’s how Jones twice ran for more than 1,200 yards as a Bear. But it’s also why the Bears drafted Cedric Benson and traded Jones; because he got his yards in big cutback chunks but couldn’t be counted on to run between the tackles for first downs.
You throw to score in the NFL. You run to protect the lead you built by throwing. Or to pick up first downs to give you three more chances to pass.
Jones didn’t do that. Forte was great at it as a rookie. Not so great since. Not even on Sunday.
In Jones’ last game as a Bear, he ran for 112 yards on 15 carries in the Super Bowl. But the Bears finished with only three rushing first downs, were 3 for 10 on third-down conversions and lost because they had to rely on Rex Grossman in the fourth quarter.
Forte tied for the NFL lead in first downs as a rookie with 86.
This year, Chicago is dead last in third-down conversions, both by number (13) and by percent (21). That means in five games against one of the softest schedules in the league so far (Bears opponents are 8-16), Chicago has averaged 2.6 third-down conversions.
And it’s getting worse: 3 for 28 the last two weeks.
The Bears won’t play against former Notre Dame quarterbacks and rookie Carolina receivers every week. It’s going to take more than 3 for 15 on third downs (as they were against the Panthers) or 1 for 11 (Cowboys) to beat the Vikings, Patriots or Jets.
The Bears keep doing what they need to do to win now. But they’ll need to do something different in November.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.