Chicago Bears running back Marion Barber practiced fully all week and is expected to make his 2011 debut with his new team this Sunday. It couldn't come at a better time.
The Bears' rushing attack has been pathetic the past two weeks, rushing for 73 total yards combined, forcing the offense to become one-dimensional. Predictably, the team lost both of those contests. After three weeks, Chicago's 54-yards rushing per game ranks dead last in the NFL.
If this team is going to be competitive, it needs to figure out how to gain yards on the ground. Not only does it hurt the offense, as defenses can send everyone and their mother at QB Jay Cutler without having to worry about the run, but it also negatively impacts the defense. The Bears' offense has converted just five of their last 24 third-downs. This futility gives the defense no time to rest, wearing them down late in games.
RB Marion Barber
Jiim O'Connor/US Presswire
Topping it all off is the fact RB Matt Forte is easily the team's biggest weapon, yet he's getting hit in the backfield consistently. He looks better than he has at any point in his career – good burst, speed, agility, quickness and elusiveness in the open field – yet he cannot find a hole through which to run. Check-down passes have been the only way to utilize his talents.
Yet all that could be remedied this week when the Bears take on the Carolina Panthers. Carolina has lost its two of its starting linebackers, Thomas Davis and Pro Bowler Jon Beason, and has a shaky defensive line that features rookies at the two tackles spots. The offensive line, which has played well during stretches this season, should have an easier time moving players around than they did against the stout front seven of Green Bay. With the way Forte is running, a crease here or there is all he needs.
This week also features the debut of Marion Barber, who has missed the entire season so far due to a calf injury. If Forte is the lightning, Barber is the thunder. His downhill, hard-nosed running style allows him to pick up yards after contact and wears down opposing defenses. He makes a perfect compliment to Forte, who should have no problem taking advantage of defenders in the fourth quarter after Barber's worked them over.
Barber is also an accomplished pass catcher and is solid in pass protection. He can take some of the burden off Forte's shoulders. And if the line isn't opening holes, Barber can create them on his own. He's a key component to this offense, without whom the ground game has struggled. His presence on the field alone should give the entire unit a boost.
The passing attack will be without its top possession receiver, Earl Bennett, for the second week in a row, and Roy Williams seems to be getting worse by the game, which means the run game has to show up this week. If the team fails to gain yards on the ground with Barber back in the lineup and against a weak Carolina defense, then things are even worse for Chicago's offense than they appear. A good game though could give the entire unit confidence heading into Detroit to face the revamped Lions next week.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
The Bears' rushing attack the past two weeks has been awful. Fortunately for the offense, the return of Marion Barber, and a weak Carolina front seven, could be just what the doctor ordered.
The return of Marion Barber, and a weak Carolina front seven, could be just what the doctor ordered.