Bears-Redskins preview: Chicago looks to run more effeciently

Matt Trowbridge

The Bears want to run more.

But it’s not up to just them. You can’t run if there’s no room to run. The defensive line rush that has sacked Jay Cutler 15 times in the last six quarters can also overwhelm runners.

“If we’re going to be blitzed as much as we’re getting blitzed, it’s going to be hard for (the offensive line) to pick up guys on the move and find gaps,” Cutler said. “It’s really difficult for an offensive line.”

It’s just as difficult for a running back. Matt Forte has averaged less than 3 yards a carry in five of Chicago’s six games.

And tough on a quarterback. Cutler missed the Carolina win with a concussion after taking a record nine first-half sacks against the Giants.

The Bears, who have actually thrown 57 fewer passes than their opponents, didn’t throw 39 passes vs. 14 runs in last week’s loss to Seattle because they wanted to. They did it because Forte averaged 1.4 yards per carry.

Chicago (4-2) ran on seven of its 13 plays in the first quarter before offensive coordinator Mike Martz gave up on the run.

“It’s a matter of survival,” Martz said. “You are just trying to do the best you can to move the ball until you are hitting on all cylinders in both phases of the game.

“If you are not good in one area, then it’s going to skew things, particularly during the course of a game. That’s just the way it is. And we’re struggling to get ourselves to where we can be balanced.”

Today is the perfect day to rediscover that offensive balance. Washington’s last-ranked defense (420 yards a game) is No. 31 vs. the pass and No. 26 against the run.

If the Bears can improve on third down, after going 0-for-12 last week and 3-for-40 in their last three games, they should be able to run AND pass against the Redskins (3-3).

“One would be an improvement,” Cutler said with a laugh. “So it can’t be that hard.”

It is that important.

“That’s the key to football,” Cutler said. “Red zone, third downs and turnovers. If you are converting third downs and you are keeping drives alive, you are holding onto the ball and keeping your defense off the field.”

Chicago’s defense should have the upper hand against a Washington team that has been held to 16 points or fewer four times.

“We can score more points,” Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb said on a conference call. “In due time we will.”

Only if the Bears give them time. Chicago is No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed per pass (6.0) and tied for No. 3 in yards allowed per rush (3.5), but only 13th in total defense. That’s because the offense keeps putting the defense back on the field.

That’s why the Bears want to run. And that’s why they have to convert third downs.

“When you are converting on third down, you are more apt to run the ball,” Martz said. “When you are struggling on third downs, you feel like you have to make something happen on first and second down.”

The Bears aren’t so much battling the Redskins today as they are battling their own failures on third down. Winning that battle is the key to today’s game, and beyond.

“It’s very critical to turn that around,” right guard Edwin Williams said. “We need to correct that right now.”

“We’ve identified our problems,” Cutler said. “We’re not hiding from them. We’re not trying to mask that we have.”

Admitting your problems isn’t fixing them. The Bears have to do that on the field.

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or

Bears keys to the game

- Contain Ryan Torain. The former 2008 fifth-round draft pick of Denver has 210 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the last three weeks after taking over for the injured Clinton Portis. “Torain has really caught our attention,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s a big running back who runs with power.”

- Keep Cutler upright. Chicago’s 27 sacks are seven more than any other team in the NFL.

- Be at least average on third down. The Bears (17.6) are the only NFL team converting less than 26 percent of their third-down tries.

- Take the ball away twice. The Bears lead the NFL in takeaways since Lovie Smith became coach in 2004 with 214 and have 14 in six games this year. But they had zero in last week’s upset loss to Seattle.

Prediction: Bears 17, Redskins 16.