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ARKUSH: Bears done if they can’t stop run

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Updated: December 12, 2013 10:23PM

Argue all you want about Jay Cutler or Josh McCown starting at quarterback this week or the rest of the season; it doesn’t matter.

Either is more than capable of executing Marc Trestman’s offense well enough to earn the Bears victories over the Browns, Eagles and Packers.

If we’ve learned anything about the NFL in recent years, it’s all about getting into the playoffs. Wild cards, even No. 6 seeds, are as likely or more likely to win Super Bowls these days as anybody else.

The problem is it’s going to take a small miracle for the Bears to make the playoffs, no matter who’s at quarterback.

The problem is the run defense.

The Bears are last against the run, allowing 157 yards per game.

The Patriots are 31st, allowing 135.8 yards.

That’s a problem. Dating to 1990, when the NFL went to the 12-team playoff format, of the 276 teams that have made the postseason, only one, the 2006 Colts, has finished last in the league in run defense.

When you can’t stop the run, you can’t control the clock. When you can’t control the clock, your opponent has more time on the field and a better chance to score. It’s a pretty simple formula.

So what can the Bears do? Over the next three months, I’m afraid not much.

Coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker have discussed the Bears’ run-defense woes at length, but in their positions, they cannot acknowledge the scary truth: The players they’re putting on the field just aren’t good enough to get it done.

Trestman and Tucker talk first about run fits. The basic explanation is each defensive player is assigned a gap, which he’s expected to occupy, and when all the gaps are clogged, there’s nowhere for runners to go. This is sometimes described as gap integrity.

A big part of the Bears’ problem is some of the players aren’t always sure about which gaps they’re supposed to be in. At other times, they get there but don’t stay or they’re beaten by blockers in their gaps.

Trestman and Tucker have said in recent weeks that the run fits have gotten much better. The players are in the right gaps more and more. But why are these players still learning which gaps they belong in?

It’s one thing to be able to beat blocks and make tackles in the gap, and another thing to know when the play has moved past your gap and be able to move with the runner and make a play.

Those are traits that come with experience, and it does take rookies and other young players some time, playing at the increased speed of the NFL, to get it down. Rarely do they become so proficient that you end up with a Lance Briggs or a Charles Tillman.

But the fact that some Bears are still learning which gaps to occupy is alarming. It suggests that some of these players will never get it down.

In fairness to general manager Phil Emery and Trestman, another offseason to add more players isn’t unreasonable.

But in the meantime, it leaves the Bears as a 276-to-1 shot, based on their run defense, to make the playoffs.

One piece of good news is that the only other team to defeat those odds, those ’06 Colts, won the Super Bowl. Of course, there’s bad news there, too. They beat the Bears to win those rings.

Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and

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