Record is same as in 2010, but Bears feel they’re on rise with back-to-back wins
By Sean Jensen email@example.com October 26, 2011 9:56PM
Running back Matt Forte has a league-high 1,091 yards from scrimmage, and he’s third in rushing with 672 yards. | Streeter Lecka~Getty Images
Updated: November 28, 2011 10:20AM
After a short practice Thursday, many Bears will flock to O’Hare with flights booked for destinations all over the country.
Rookie Chris Conte is headed to California, where, among other things, he’ll watch California play UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Chris Williams is headed to Nashville, Tenn. Sam Hurd is headed to Texas, where he needs to get his license renewed.
And running back Matt Forte hasn’t picked a place, although he does plan to leave town.
“Mentally, we want to get away from football,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We want them to get away, spend some time with their family, enjoy college games and just kind of enjoy life, getting ready for this next push.”
What a difference a year makes.
In 2010, the Bears were also 4-3. But after opening the season with division victories over the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions and a road win against the Dallas Cowboys, the Bears lost three of the next four, including home games to the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, who won a combined 13 games. This year, after a rough start, the Bears have won consecutive games heading into their bye.
“It’s similar but also different,’’ Forte said. ‘‘We started strong in the first game, then stumbled after that, then finished strong. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Forte is a big part of that with a league-high 1,091 yards from scrimmage. He’s also third in the NFL with 672 rushing yards, averaging a healthy 5.4 yards per carry.
“I feel good,” Forte said. “These last few games, we’ve really been establishing the run first, then getting the passing game going.
“It seems we’re better that way when we do that.”
Taking a break
While the players get some rest, the coaches will reflect on the previous seven games.
“See if there’s anything we want to tinker with or change to help us get better,” offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. “It comes at a perfect time for us.
“We’ll just look at things. Couple of things we had in practice we wanted to look at. Each team has a different personality and takes you in a different direction, really.”
They will study their weaknesses, such as their third-down conversion rate. The Bears are 28th in the NFL, converting only 26 of 87 third downs (29.9 percent).
“There’s reasons for that,” Martz said of the third-down issues. “We’ll look hard at that. I think some of the things, the consistency [after] not having the same guys on the offensive line has really paid off, as you can see. That’s always a big issue. Getting guys settled in and having some consistency makes such a huge difference.
“We’re getting guys healthy, too. That helps us.”
There were some funks, but quarterback Jay Cutler said the key for the offense is to keep improving.
“Take a look at what we’ve done the first seven games — what we’re good at, what we’re not good at — and get a good game plan for going forward,” he said.
“We’re playing better and better. So we’ve just got to build on that and get better and get ready for this final push.”
After surviving the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field, the Bears’ defense was ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed.
The defense has moved up to 24th.
“Guys just weren’t jelling,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “In this scheme, it takes all 11 guys working as one unit. Guys not in gaps. Not running to the ball. Missing a tackle.
“Something small, but small things lead to big things. Now guys are dialed in, and you can see the results.”
But three explosive teams are on the horizon: the Philadelphia Eagles with quarterback Michael Vick, who leads the league’s third-best offense; the Detroit Lions (13th) and the San Diego Chargers (eighth).
The Bears are getting healthier, though, and they’re looking forward to the upcoming four-day break.
“Feel good about our football team,” Smith said.
“We like the position we’re in and have a long way to go. There’s a lot we can still improve on, which we will, and hopefully we can make a run.”
Contributing: Mark Potash