April 18, 2014
The Bears probably would have beaten the Detroit Lions last week if Josh McCown had started in place of Jay Cutler. But despite coach Marc Trestman’s odd handling of the quarterback situation, the biggest surprise of all last week was the sudden disappearance of the Bears’ running game.
A Bears team that had averaged 132.5 rushing yards in nine games against Jim Schwartz’s defense since 2009 — 101 yards or more in every game, including 131 in Week 4 this season at Ford Field — suddenly was stymied. Matt Forte rushed for 33 yards on 17 carries (1.9 yards per carry) as the Lions held the Bears to 38 yards on 20 carries for the game. The Bears got manhandled.
The quarterback decision was huge, but when a team is beaten at the line of scrimmage that completely, it’s a bigger cause for concern. The Bears’ improved offensive line has kept them afloat. If that breaks down, their demise in an injury-riddled season is all but certain.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said the line did well in pass protection relative to other teams the Lions have faced. But not in the running game.
‘‘I’ll take full [blame] for that,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘I have to help them with scheme and technique. We felt like it was what we’d worked on. But we didn’t do a very good job with that.’’
For what it’s worth, Kromer handled questions about the subpar running game a lot better this week than he did the last time the running game was under siege after a Week 5 loss to the New Orleans Saints, when Forte fumbled on the first play and was held to 55 yards on 12 carries. This time, Kromer gave the Lions credit but also took the blame.
‘‘They’re a very good defensive line. And they have quick linebackers,’’ he said. ‘‘And we anticipated that. I could have helped them with more technique. They have a good line. And we have to be able to block them.’’
There was one other factor that can’t be ignored, and to his credit, Kromer did not: the possibility the Lions were better because they were fresher. The Lions were coming off an extra week’s rest after the bye, while the Bears were on a short week after having played the Green Bay Packers on the road Monday night. The Bears used a similar advantage off their own bye the previous week and played one of their best games at Lambeau Field in years. Funny how it works like that.
So while it’s possible Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham outfoxed the Bears, it’s also possible the Lions were quicker because they were rested.
‘‘Absolutely,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘And that’s something you have to deal with in the NFL — that one week you play on Thursday, the next week you play on Sunday and Monday, and you have to deal with the different amount of days of rest in between. We tried to do a good job with resting the linemen on Friday before that game [last week]. But they just couldn’t quite get it back.’’
Whatever the source of the Bears’ sudden difficulty in the run game, their response against the Baltimore Ravens and their 10th-ranked rushing defense (fifth in yards per attempt) will be worth watching Sunday. Kromer said the coaches made an ‘‘added effort’’ to emphasize fundamentals and techniques, from footwork to hand placement, from the installation of running plays in the meeting rooms to the execution of those plays on the practice field.
Will it make a difference? At this point of a season at a crossroads, it will have to.