Bears' Run Game Must Show Progress vs. Jets

The Chicago Bears have developed a well-deserved reputation as a pass-first offense under head coach Marc Trestman, and while that formula has worked to a degree in their first two games of the regular season, their offense still isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders.

That’s because their run game, headlined by Matt Forte, hasn’t been producing at the level necessary to take pressure off the passing game. In the first two weeks of the season, the Bears are averaging 3.8 yards per carry, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. They also have only attempted to run the ball 35 times in those two contests, and that is tied for the second-worst mark in the league.

Granted, the Bears weren’t exactly a run-heavy team last year, finishing 24th in the league in attempts, but they were a lot more successful in the limited carries that they did give Forte. They finished seventh in the league in yards per attempt in 2013, and they finished 16th in total rushing yards. Those numbers aren’t astounding, but they are enough to prevent the team from becoming too one-dimensional and to take some pressure off of their offensive line.

That offensive line is still going to be in for a challenge this week, as Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola get their second consecutive starts in place of Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson, respectively. They had to do a lot of work in pass protection last week, and while de la Puente is making a push to become the team’s full-time starter at center, Ola struggled somewhat as he tried to contend with an aggressive San Francisco 49’ers defensive line.

Unfortunately for Ola and the Bears, the task doesn’t get any easier this week. The New York Jets currently have the best rushing defense in the NFL, only allowing 105 yards on the ground through their first two games. They are also only allowing 2.8 yards per carry, and it’s their combination of skilled linebackers like Demario Davis and David Harris and a gifted nose tackle in Damon Harrison that is allowing their defense to thrive in the early going.

Despite that obstacle, the Bears have to get their run game going somehow. Putting all that extra pressure on Ola and Jordan Mills (who despite starting all 16 games last year saw his effectiveness against the pass rush decline week-by-week) to keep Jay Cutler upright isn’t fair to them, and so the team needs to rush the ball more to not only force the Jets to respect it and not drop their linebackers into coverage more frequently (which would have a detrimental impact on Forte and Martellus Bennett in the passing game), but also to keep their offensive linemen fresh and effective.

Getting fullback Tony Fiametta back should be a sizable boost to the team's prospects, however. Even though Dante Rosario occasionally will drop back in the formations to show a two-back set, Fiametta can not only run out of that formation, but his blocking ability and pass-catching skill make him a versatile weapon that teams have to account for when they're trying to apply pressure up the middle of the field against the run. 

This game is going to be a big test for the Bears’ offense, and will really show what they’re made of. Yes, they will be a pass-heavy team so long as Trestman is in charge, but if they can’t run the ball effectively, then it’s going to put extra pressure on just about every component of the offense, and in a tight NFC race, that could be the difference between a playoff run and booking tee times in early January. 

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