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Chicago Bears ground game running on empty

November 25, 2018

The Bears’ run game has never been very good this year, even when it ranked third in the league after eight weeks, because QB Mitch Trubisky’s 296 yards (on just 37 carries) skewed the statistic in their favor.

Since then, the ground game has been abysmal, and it hit rock bottom in Thursday’s 23-16 victory over the Lions. The Bears rushed 15 times for 38 yards and a 2.5-yard average, all season lows.

Over the last four games, the Bears have averaged just 2.8 yards per rush (the league average is 4.2) but ironically they’ve won every game, stretching their winning streak to five and propelling them to the top of the NFC North with an 8-3 record. Nagy has acknowledged several times already this year that the running game is functioning at a substandard level, and with some down time before they travel to play the Giants next Sunday, he vowed to delve deeper into the issue.

“Stating the obvious, and I’ve been saying this all year, we’ve got to figure out how to get better at the run game,” Nagy said. “But I’ll say this, going into (Thursday) against that defense and what they do, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. So sometimes that’s how it goes. And that’s OK. That’s how we felt as a coaching staff and where we were going to be. And that’s a credit to Detroit. They’ve got a good rush defense.”

The Lions are only 20th in rushing yards allowed and 23rd in average gain per rush allowed, but they have shown significant improvement since trading for run-stuffing DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison on Oct. 25.

Meanwhile, the Bears have dropped from No. 3 to No. 13 in rushing yards since Week Eight, when they ran for 179 yards on 34 carries in their 24-10 victory over the Jets that started the current winning streak. They’ve plummeted to 21st in average gain per run.

“But now we have this little bit of a break,” Nagy said. “So it’s a nice little time for myself and the staff to reflect: ‘OK, how do we give ourselves the best opportunities to run the ball better?’ ”

But do the Bears even need to run the ball? In their only three losses this season, they’ve rushed for more than 130 yards and averaged at least 5.1 yards per attempt. So what good did it do? Is too much being made of the Bears’ stalled running game in an NFL that is increasingly a passing league?

“I don’t think too much is being made of it,” Nagy said. “You have to be able to run the football inevitably. You can’t be one-dimensional. It’s just like on defense. You’ve got to be able to stop the run (and the pass). So for me, running the ball is important.”

But not just for the sake of running it, Nagy said. Or to satisfy critics, or especially to please fantasy football owners who spent a high draft pick on RB Jordan Howard, who managed just 13 yards on seven carries vs. the Lions. Howard’s averaging just 3.3 yards per carry (536 yards on 162 carries), by far the worst of his three seasons, but he does have five touchdowns.

“I’m not going to run the ball just to say (I did) and make people happy,” Nagy said. “That’s not what I do. We’re going to do whatever we think (creates) the best matchup, and whatever works for that week. If it’s running the ball 50 times, and that’s the way we’re going to win, I’ll run the ball 50 times. If it’s running the ball five times and that’s how we’re going to win, I’ll run the ball five times.

“The biggest thing right now is you get into all this fantasy stuff that everybody’s doing, and I think their emotions get a little bit tied up into that. I just want to win games. That’s all I really care about.”

Maybe next Sunday the Bears will get the ground game rolling. The Giants are 25th in rushing yards allowed, and they gave up 151 yards on 30 carries (5.1-yard average) to the Bucs in Week 11.

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