After an abysmal Thursday night performance against rival Green Bay, the Chicago Bears offense must feed de facto starting running back Michael Bush in order to recover from the Packs' defensive attack.
The running game is usually the team's forte—or at least a source of reliability—with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte in the lineup. After an ankle injury last week, though, quarterback Jay Cutler can't count on his all-purpose back to carry the weight when he's not being well-protected.
What most don't realize about Bush is that he brings similar versatility to the Bears' backfield, and the move to acquire him this offseason is looking smarter by the day in light of Forte's most recent injury.
In just nine starts for Oakland last season, Bush ran for nearly 1,000 yards and also caught 37 balls out of the backfield. He also has the size to be an every down back and perform blitz pickup duties on linebackers.
Cutler was angry after being sacked seven times and throwing four interceptions at Lambeau Field, a venue where he has never had any success.
New offensive coordinator Mike Tice should have more regard for protecting his franchise quarterback, and the best way to do that is to give his unit a run-first identity. The offensive line is clearly still having major protection issues, as has been the case for the majority of Cutler's Chicago tenure.
However, the quick-trap plays and zone-stretch plays have worked well for Forte, and Bush has deceptive speed for his 245-pound frame. That size will also serve well in the red zone, where Bush punched two short runs in for six against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1.
If the Bears want to contend in the ultra-competitive NFC North, they must keep the ball out of Cutler's hands as much as possible.
Despite how good he looked against Indy with his old favorite receiver in Brandon Marshall by his side, the cannon-armed gunslinger simply makes too many poor decisions. To be fair, that's not all his fault. Last week, he had to force throws and try to make something happen near the end, and didn't have quite as horrible of a game as his numbers indicated.
His footwork has improved, but Cutler frequently gets sloppy with his mechanics, relying too heavily on his immense talent to deliver the ball from any position. Sometimes it works, but sometimes he winds up woefully off-target.
Two prime examples came on both the interceptions Packers defensive back Tramon Williams made on Thursday night. Near the end of the first half, Cutler got lazy and threw across his body over the middle of the field. There was space, and the Bears' QB thought he could sling it far enough to lead Earl Bennett, but Williams undercut the route and made the pick.
On the second pick, Cutler spotted Marshall in double coverage, but tried to launch it over both defenders without fully stepping into it. The result was a severe underthrow and an easy play for Green Bay's reemerging No. 1 corner. That led to the deciding touchdown shortly thereafter in what was just a two-score game to that point.
Minus Forte, the Bears can still do many of the same things in the running game with Bush, and they should utilize the durable back a lot more than they do their oft-injured starting stud.
That way, the pressure will be off Cutler to do too much, and the play action-passing game can open up big shots for both Marshall and playmaking rookie Alshon Jeffery.
In July, Bush expressed his displeasure at being the "battering ram" of the Bears' offense, pulling relief duty for Forte. He hinted at wanting a larger role in the offense (via the Chicago Tribune):
Give him a break, give me a break, complement each other. That's good.
According to a report from Vaughn McClure of the Tribune, the team plans to bring in Steve Slaton for a workout to add depth to the backfield.
If Bush has his way, though, don't expect Slaton to steal too many touches should Forte miss extended time. Bush will get his chance to prove his worth as more than just a short-yardage stallion, and the Bears will get their offense back on track by taking advantage of his underrated, multifaceted skill set.