There's never been a better time for the Bears' underutilized running game to break out of the slow jog that it's been stuck in for most of the season.
Sunday in Toronto's Rogers Centre, Chicago will face the Buffalo Bills' NFL-worst run defense, which yielded a whopping 274 yards to the Chiefs in Week 8 while the Bears were enjoying their off weekend.
The Bills allow, on average, a staggering 188.7 rushing yards per game, 30 yards more than the next worst team, the Broncos. The Bears have the fifth-best run defense in the league, permitting just 89.3 yards per game.
But only the Cardinals and the Cowboys have run the ball less frequently this season than the Bears, who average just 22.3 running plays per game and have had fewer than 20 rushing attempts in five of their seven games and in all three of their losses, when they've averaged just 15 runs per game.
After he was drafted in the second round in 2008, Matt Forte was the Bears' workhorse running back in 2008 and 2009, carrying the ball 574 times for 2,167 yards. But he has just 80 carries this year for 311 yards. Chester Taylor, who was signed in the offseason as a complementary runner to Forte, has only 41 carries for 140 yards.
"We do need to get those guys involved more," coach Lovie Smith said after Monday's practice. "The more times they touch the football, the more likely something good will happen for the Bears."
This week, more than any other, it should be an easy decision for the Bears to establish a ground game that has been a formidable presence in just one game all season, the 23-6 victory over the Panthers. The Bears ran 42 times for 218 yards at Carolina, which was more than double their rushing production in any other game.
Running the ball more effectively and more frequently should also help diminish the sacks that have wreaked havoc with the Bears' passing game. The Bears have already been sacked 31 times, eight more than the next worst team, the Redskins.
"In order to pass it effectively and use the play-action pass, you need to run the ball," Forte said. "I think it's key. It's essential to our offense."
In recent weeks, the Bears have rarely used Forte and Taylor on the field together, but that could change this week.
"We've done it plenty of times before, [but] not in the last couple of weeks," Forte said. "It's not anything new to us. I don't see anything wrong with it."
Taylor is all for anything that gets him more involved in the offense.
"I can't do anything, except when my number is called," he said. "Of course I want the ball more, but I'm not going to complain about it."
NOTES AND QUOTES
"Every team is dangerous. Throw those records out the window," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We don't look at records. We look at players, and we look at plays. More importantly, we focus on ourselves. We don't worry about our opponent as much. We take care of business on our side of the ball."
The Bills have struggled on defense most of the season, allowing an NFL-worst 30 points per game, but they held the Chiefs to 13 points Sunday in five quarters.
"They changed up some things defensively this past week and really played well," Smith said of the Bills. "On the offensive side of the ball, they've moved the ball throwing it, and they have good running backs. It's a big challenge for us this week."
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris isn't happy with his performance this season, and he's not alone.
The three-time Pro Bowl player (2005-07) has just six tackles this season, no sacks and one quarterback pressure.
"I have to start playing better, and that's what I'm looking forward to," Harris said, "and I think it could benefit the team a lot. The team could benefit a lot from me. That's all I'm focused on.
"I just know myself. I haven't really produced this year. But last game I really was starting to feel better, was feeling great out there. So I look forward to just building on that, building on my strengths."
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