by Adam Simpson
“We’re a running team; we get off the bus running. It’s what we do and it’s what we’ll continue to do in the future. We are a running team.” As any Bears fan who follows the team and listens to comments made by the coaching staff will tell you this is one of Lovie Smith’s top two used phrases in his tenure (I’ll leave the other one out and feel free to throw it into the comments section; everyone knows it) in Chicago. The identity of the Chicago Bears has always been two things, and in this order: defense and running the ball.
Take some time and list the iconic Bears players in your head and I would wager anything from dollars to doughnuts that the vast majority are either defensive players, Gale Sayers or Walter Payton. There is no doubt that the Bears still put an emphasis on defense (read my stats article on the Bears drafting of defensive players) but it appears as though they have abandoned any attempts at rushing the ball this year and is one of the many, many reasons why the Bears season has unfolded the way it has. This year, the Bears have gotten off the bus gun-slinging.
In 2009 the Bears have rushed a surprising 174 times fewer than they have passed. At times Bears fans have called for the team to pass more in order to become a balanced team as opposed to solely being a running team. This year, however, the Bears have skewed their run/pass ratio so far that the Bears have become a passing team.
The team that gets off the bus running is a league worst at rushing attempts with only 232 attempts at running the ball for the year. Not last in the NFC mind you but last in the NFL as a whole. The Jets lead the league with 389 attempts and the undefeated Saints, who also boast a prolific passing offense, have rushed 350 times this year.
That same team gets off the bus and runs to the tune of being a league worst in total yards, racking up a paltry 932 yards for the season. The league leader is the Tennessee Titans who have accumulated nearly double the Bears yardage for the season with an impressive 1,847 yards this season. Ignoring the Titans and the MVP season Chris Johnson is having Thomas Jones (whom the Bears traded away) and the Jets are second in the league with 1,774 yards.
Considering the Bears are at the very bottom of the NFL in rushing attempts and total yards it should be no shock that the Bears also are an NFL worst in yards/game, chiming in with an average of 85.1 yards/game. Tennessee again leads the league in this category with a staggering 167.9 yards/game and the undefeated Saints are fifth in this category amassing 150.5 yards/game.
On the flip side the Bears are seventh in the league in passing attempts with 406 attempts this season. If someone would have said to me two years ago that the Bears would be seventh in the league in passing attempts I probably would have responded by saying “wow that sucks that there are only seven teams in the league now.” I find it just unimaginable that the Bears would be attempting to air the ball out this much.
I understand that now the Bears have Jay Cutler and that changes things for the franchise as a whole. However, landing a franchise quarterback does not mean that the Bears, or any team for that matter, need to abandon the run for the newly minted passing game. New Orleans, in comparison, only has attempted to pass 343 times, 24th in the NFL. The Saints have rushed 7 times fewer than they have passed, almost a perfect balance between the two.
A fair argument might be to say that the Saints have this balance because they pass often at the beginning of the game and then rush to end the game. This isn’t entirely true, but is a good point and brings up this: in the Bears two wins this season of ten plus points (Detroit and Cleveland) the Bears continued to pass into the 4th quarter, a time when most teams with the lead count on the running game to bleed the clock.
Based on these numbers I think it is challenging to argue that the Bears haven’t abandoned the running game. Forte may not be having a good year and is worrying many a Bears fans and fantasy owners a like but, one virtue of the running game is that it wears down a defense throughout the course of a game. If the Bears could commit to establishing the run then maybe Forte can find some more holes in a tired defense and improve his 3.3 yards/carry and start running more like the Forte of 2008.
In 2006, the year of the Bears Superbowl run, with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson the Bears rushed for an NFL fifth best 503 attempts. With Rex (yes that Rex) Grossman the Bears attempted to pass 514 times. In other words, the year the Bears were actually good they had the balance that the Saints have this year and earned them a trip to Miami. Eleven games into the 2009 season the Bears have passed nearly as much as they did in 2006 and have rushed almost half as less as they did in their Superbowl season, with only eleven games played this year so far.
Another reason Chicago might want to start to run the ball is that they are behind only the Detroit Lions and their rookie quarterback/Culpepper in interceptions thrown. You read that correctly; the Bears new offensive game plan has lead to more interceptions thrown than even Jake (yes that Jake) Delhomme of the Carolina Panthers.
Stats aren’t everything, but they sure are telling and the stats are telling this guy that the Bears are a passing team now and are also 4-11, probably because of it.
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