A nagging under-question in the aftermath of the Bears’ 24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, whether homer or doomsayer, is: Would the Bears have beaten a team that did not self-destruct on the field and on the sidelines?
Why this becomes even remotely relevant — the Bears after all did win the game — is because the only time the Bears have defeated the Green Bay Packers since the arrival of Jay Cutler was a 2010 game in which the Packers had 18 penalties walked off for 152 yards. And even then the Bears needed a Robbie Gould field goal with eight seconds left for the three-point win.
It’s not important to be an artistic success, however, only a success, and the Bears were successful. But it is not entirely an exercise in picking nit to highlight one area on each side of the football in which the Bears need to improve if they are to beat a good team that doesn’t commit multiple stupid penalties and waste timeouts.
Run the football
Matt Forte had no run longer than nine yards. The Bears were 1-4 last season in games when Forte did not have at least one run longer than 10 yards.
Forte was targeted on six passes and handed the football on 19 runs. The 25 touches were at the low end of the range of effectiveness. The Bears crushed the Minnesota Vikings 28-10 in the teams’ first game last year with 39 rushing attempts (Forte 14, Michael Bush 21), and were beaten 21-14 in Minneapolis when they ran their backs just 15 times.
The problem vs. the Bengals was that Forte and the offensive line were able to average only 2.5 yards on 11 carries midway through the third quarter when the Bears were falling behind 21-10.
“Matt touched the ball approximately 25 times and [that was] not the productivity we’d expect him to have,” coach Marc Trestman said. “There were no explosive plays. We’ve got to do a better job for Matt of running the football and we think we can.”
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Trestman’s optimism is grounded, because with the game on the line, the running game was not abandoned. To their credit, he and coordinator Aaron Kromer called Forte runs on four of the nine snaps on a crucial scoring drive at that point, ending with a one-yard Forte touchdown run. The offense ran the ball on three of the eight plays, not including an eight-yard Forte run negated by a holding call, on the game-winning drive.
And Jay Cutler and the coaches put the ball in backs’ hands on eight of the nine plays on the final possession before the final Bengals’ penalty and Cutler kneel-downs.
“All you need is two first downs [there],” said tight end Martellus Bennett. “And it’s hard to get ‘em because they know you’re running. They’re stacking in the box. We were able to have enough fight and enough character to do what we do.”