NFL

Ground and pound; With Cutler out and Smith playing coy, look for Bears to turn to running game

FOX Sports Mark Potash, The Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Sun Times
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The aftermath of the Bears' 17-3 loss last Sunday to the New York Giants was a perfect illustration of how a football team's perspective differs from our own.

We saw 10 sacks.

They saw one loss.

So while the pass-protection debacle was as bad as it looked and confirmed a whole lot of things about the Bears we don't like -- basically, their failure to evaluate, draft and develop offensive linemen or even put the right guy in the right place -- the Bears are refusing to panic. They never do, even when they should.

We're demanding answers. They're ignoring questions.

Coach Lovie Smith is, at least. He was in rare form last week when he was asked how crucial it is for the offensive line to show up today against the Carolina Panthers, considering backup Todd Collins isn't as mobile as Jay Cutler.

''They've been showing up each week,'' Smith said, ''and they'll show up again this week with Todd and the rest of the group.''

Thanks, Coach. Sorry to bother you with a question about your offensive line a week after one of the worst displays of pass protection in the history of the NFL.

Maybe we should remind him that while he sees one loss, we see two quarterbacks knocked out of the game, including Cutler, the franchise. You can lose more than one game and make the playoffs. But I'm pretty sure you can't lose even one Cutler and make them.

MARTZ HAS BEEN HERE BEFORE

That's a problem. But they're working on it.

''We just had a bad game,'' guard Lance Louis said. ''We missed some things that easily could be corrected.''

Like?

''Like technique, feet,'' Louis said. ''That's a big part, feet not being right. You miss a step or two, and you get beat.

''You can get them corrected. But things happen. This is the NFL. It happens.''

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz isn't panicking, either. But he has a little more credibility because he has cleaned up his own mess before.

When Martz was the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions in 2008, Jon Kitna was sacked nine times by the Philadelphia Eagles in a 56-21 loss that pretty much took the starch out of a 2-0 start.

It was a familiar refrain.

''They got us on a scheme where they really got us,'' Martz said after that game. ''There were some things that just happened. We've addressed all of that. We'll fix it and move on.''

The next week, the Lions played the Bears, who had 10 sacks in their first three games. Brian Urlacher had three, Tommie Harris two and Mark Anderson two to give him 15? in his first 22 NFL games.

Martz knew he needed to run the ball, but it looked like a bad move against the Bears. The Bears already had shut down LaDainian Tomlinson (17 carries, 25 yards) and Larry Johnson (16 carries, 55 yards). And they were vulnerable through the air without injured cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher. So it looked as though Martz was in a pickle: His best chance to win was through the air, but it might get his quarterback killed.

IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN

So what happened? Martz took his 29th-ranked running game and went right at the Bears. Kevin Jones and Tatum Bell netted only 40 yards on 15 carries, but the wear-and-tear on the Bears' defense paid off.

The Lions, who had 97 yards in the first half (3.2 per play), amassed 213 in the second half (8.5 per play) and won 37-27. Kitna was sacked six times but was 11-for-12 for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the second half to finish with a 137.3 passer rating.

(That same day, the Eagles, who had sacked Kitna nine times the week before, were paid back by the Giants, who sacked Donovan McNabb 12 times in a 16-3 victory. That tied the record for most sacks in an NFL game. No team had come close to that mark until the Giants batted Cutler around like a rag doll last Sunday.)

So even with the 31st-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, there's a good chance Martz will throw caution to the wind today and run more than he has this season.

''We will run the ball a little bit,'' Smith said. ''But you've got to do a little more than just run.''

When Smith downplays his cherished running game, you know it's going to happen.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

Bears OT Kevin Shaffer vs Panthers DE Charles Johnson

ON THE GROUND

After all the hoopla about the potential of Mike Martz's offense, it has come down to this after four games: The Bears desperately need to establish a running game, especially with a backup quarterback starting and suspect pass protection. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor are averaging 50 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry. The Bears are 31st in rushing yards per game. The Panthers are 19th in rushing yards allowed per game (113.5) but fifth in average yards allowed per rush (3.3). The Saints' Chris Ivory, a rookie free agent, gained 67 yards on 12 carries against the Panthers. So there is opportunity. All you have to do is block.

KEY MATCHUP

Shaffer took a beating, just like everybody else on the line, last week against the Giants. Johnson, who took lessons from Julius Peppers for three seasons, isn't the same threat -- he shouldn't be, at least -- but he leads the Panthers with two sacks and six quarterback pressures.

IN THE AIR

Todd Collins is starting for the first time since 2007 with the Redskins and has started three games since 1997. He was 4-for-11 for 36 yards and a pick against the Giants (an 8.1 rating) before leaving with a neck stinger. The last time a backup quarterback started in Martz's offense, Shaun Hill threw 40 times and had a 60.1 rating for the 49ers against the Cardinals in 2008. The last time Collins started, he was 8-for-25 and had a 56.4 rating. The Panthers, though, don't have a big pass rush (only four sacks). Forte had 12 catches for 188 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games but only four catches for 21 yards in the last two.

WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL

Bears DE Julius Peppers vs Panthers OT Geoff Schwartz

ON THE GROUND

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were the most productive pair of running backs in the NFL last season. They averaged 158 yards and 5.5 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns in the Panthers' final 12 games. One or the other usually gets you, a trait that began against the Bears in 2008. They stopped Williams in the first half (10 carries, 28 yards), but Stewart gained 76 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns in the second half of his second NFL game in a 20-17 victory. Williams ran for a 39-yard touchdown last week against the Saints. The Bears dropped to sixth in run defense after allowing 189 yards against the Giants.

KEY MATCHUP

Peppers, who played for the Panthers from 2002 to 2009, is most familiar with former Pro Bowler Jordan Gross, whom he practiced against for seven years. But his likely target today will be Schwartz, who has been solid in four starts in place of injured Jeff Otah.

IN THE AIR

After a shaky opening start against the Bengals, rookie Jimmy Clausen was less shaky last week against the Saints (11-for-21 for 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions) in a 16-14 loss on the road. He'll have the home crowd behind him today, but he won't have receiver Steve Smith, who is out with an ankle injury suffered against the Saints. That leaves Clausen with rookies Brandon LaFell, David Gettis and heretofore disappointing Armanti Edwards as primary targets. The Bears will try to rattle Clausen, but they can't overdo it. The Panthers sent Stewart out of the backfield last week, and Clausen hit him for a 55-yard touchdown.

X-FACTOR

What will Martz do with Collins at quarterback? Martz was a genius against the Cowboys but crapped out against the Giants. Now he faces another daunting challenge: a team with an ineffective running game, a porous offensive line and 38-year-old quarterback who has started three games in the last 13 years. Both teams sense an opportunity. But who will take advantage of whom?

SPECIAL TEAMS

With quarterback Jay Cutler out, the Bears will be looking for more than just field position from their special teams. The return game was unimpressive against the Giants, but it always has potential with Danieal Manning/Johnny Knox (24.8 yards per kickoff return) and Devin Hester (10.1 yards/punt return). The Panthers, though, are second in kickoff-return average (16.9) and 13th in punt-return average (7.1). Punter Brad Maynard's net (32.1) is a career low and 30th in the NFL.

OFFENSE

Rush Pass Total

Bears 68.8 220.5 289.3

NFL rank 31st 17th 25th

Rush Pass Total

Panthers 103.2 155.0 258.2

NFL rank 17th 28th 30th

DEFENSE

Rush Pass Total

Bears 77.0 255.2 332.2

NFL rank 6th 27th 17th

Rush Pass Total

Panthers 113.5 220.8 334.3

NFL rank 19th 16th 18th

turnovers

take give +/-

Bears 11 8 +3

NFL rank 2nd 19th 6th

take give +/-

Panthers 8 13 -5

NFL rank 13th 1st 29th

THE BEARS

Record: 3-1 Coach: Lovie Smith

Offensive starters

No. Player Pos. Inj.

10 Todd Collins QB

13 Johnny Knox WR

22 Matt Forte RB

23 Devin Hester WR

57 Olin Kreutz C

60 Lance Louis RG

63 Roberto Garza LG

68 Frank Omiyale LT

78 Kevin Shaffer RT

82 Greg Olsen TE

88 Desmond Clark TE

defensive starters

33 Charles Tillman RCB

35 Zackary Bowman LCB

38 Danieal Manning SS

46 Chris Harris FS

54 Brian Urlacher MLB

55 Lance Briggs WLB

59 Pisa Tinoisamoa SLB

71 Israel Idonije LDE

75 Matt Toeaina DT

90 Julius Peppers RDE

95 Anthony Adams NT

Special teams/reserves

4 Brad Maynard P

6 Jay Cutler QB out

9 Robbie Gould K

12 Caleb Hanie QB

19 Devin Aromashodu WR

20 Craig Steltz S

21 Corey Graham CB

25 Garrett Wolfe RB

26 Tim Jennings CB

27 Major Wright S out

29 Chester Taylor RB

30 D.J. Moore CB

31 Joshua Moore CB

32 Kahlil Bell RB

36 Josh Bullocks S

52 Brian Iwuh LB

53 Nick Roach LB

58 Rod Wilson LB

62 Johan Asiata G

65 Patrick Mannelly LS

69 Henry Melton DE

73 J'Marcus Webb T

74 Chris Williams T out

80 Earl Bennett WR

81 Rashied Davis WR

86 Brandon Manumaleuna TE

87 Kellen Davis TE

91 Tommie Harris DT

94 Charles Grant DE

98 Corey Wootton DE

99 Marcus Harrison DT

THE PANTHERS

Record: 0-4 Coach: Jon Fox

Offensive starters

No. Player Pos. Inj.

2 Jimmy Clausen QB

11 Brandon LaFell WR

12 David Gettis WR

34 DeAngelo Williams RB P

42 Tony Fiammetta FB

47 Jeff King TE

67 Ryan Kalil C

69 Jordan Gross T

70 Travelle Wharton G

73 Mackenzy Bernadeau G

74 Geoff Schwartz T

defensive starters

20 Chris Gamble CB

29 Jordan Pugh S

30 Charles Godfrey S

31 Richard Marshall CB

50 James Anderson LB

52 Jon Beason LB

55 Dan Connor LB

61 Derek Landri DT

95 Charles Johnson DE

96 Tyler Brayton DE

99 Ed Johnson DT

Special teams/reserves

3 Matt Moore QB

4 John Kasay K

7 Jason Baker P

8 Rhys Lloyd K

10 Armanti Edwards WR

16 Tony Pike QB

22 Tyrell Sutton RB

23 Sherrod Martin S out

25 Marcus Hudson S

27 C.J. Wilson CB

28 Jonathan Stewart RB

33 Mike Goodson RB

36 Robert McClain CB

41 Captain Munnerlyn CB P

44 J.J. Jansen LS

53 Jamar Williams LB out

57 Jordan Senn LB

59 Nic Harris LB

63 Chris Morris C

65 Garry Williams T

68 Andre Neblett DT

76 Greg Hardy DE

78 Tim Duckworth G

79 Jeff Otah T out

82 Gary Barnidge TE

87 David Clowney WR

88 Dante Rosario TE

89 Steve Smith WR out

91 Everette Brown DE

92 Eric Norwood DE/LB

98 Nick Hayden DT

Players on injury report in bold: P (probable), Q (questionable), D (doubtful)

LEADERS

Passing C-A Yds. TD-INT

Cutler 68-102 912 6-3

Rushing Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Forte 50 134 2.7 0

Taylor 19 66 3.5 0

Receiving Rec. Yds. Avg. TD

Forte 16 209 13.1 3

Olsen 15 179 11.9 2

Passing C-A Yds. TD-INT

Clausen 34-69 393 1-2

Rushing Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Williams 56 266 4.8 1

Stewart 28 89 3.2 1

Receiving Rec. Yds. Avg. TD

Smith 13 174 13.4 2

Goodson 9 111 12.3 0

THE PICKS

Rick Morrissey

16-7

Season: 1-3

Rick Telander

12-10

Season: 3-1

Sean Jensen

20-13

Season: 3-1

Neil Hayes

16-10

Season: 3-1

Mike Mulligan

19-12

Season: 1-3

Mark Potash

20-13

Season: 1-3

OTHER TV GAMES

Chiefs at Colts

Noon, Ch. 2 - Colts by 7

Chiefs are the lone undefeated team in the NFL, but they are running straight into reality against a Colts team eager to atone for a stinging loss to the Jaguars last week. Potash's pick: Colts 33-7.

Titans at Cowboys

3:15 p.m., Ch. 2 - Cowboys by 7

The Cowboys are 5-0 ATS after their bye in the last five seasons, but after beating the Texans for their first victory, a rest was the last thing they needed. Potash's pick: Cowboys 27-23.

Eagles at 49ers

7:20 p.m., Ch. 5 - 49ers by 3

The snake-bitten 49ers are reeling after yet another tough loss last week -- 16-14 to the Falcons -- dropped them to 0-4. But this is where Mike Singletary does his best work. Potash's pick: 49ers 19-13.

Vikings at Jets

7:30 Mon., ESPN - Line: Jets by 4

Randy Moss never leaves on a good note, but he usually arrives with a bang. His first game back with the Vikings on national TV -- and a chance to make Brett Favre a hero again -- is too much of an opportunity for him to pass up. Potash's pick: Vikings 27-10.

Tagged: Bears, Cowboys, Lions, Vikings, Giants, Jets, Panthers, Texans, Brian Urlacher, Brad Maynard, Jon Kitna, Todd Collins, Brandon Manumaleuna, Steve Smith Sr., John Kasay, Charles Grant, Julius Peppers, Kevin Shaffer, Chester Taylor, Lance Briggs, Jordan Gross, Charles Tillman, Tommie Harris, Chris Gamble, Kevin Jones, Nathan Vasher, Rod Wilson, Chris Harris, Jay Cutler, DeAngelo Williams, Danieal Manning, Devin Hester, Tim Jennings, Jeff King, Mark Anderson, Marcus Hudson, Chris Morris, Devin Aromashodu, Jamar Williams, Brian Iwuh, David Clowney, Matt Toeaina, Steve Smith, Charles Johnson, Jon Beason, Greg Olsen, Ed Johnson, Matt Moore, Nick Roach, Jonathan Stewart, Chris Williams, Jeff Otah, Matt Forte, Geoff Schwartz, Nick Hayden, Charles Godfrey, Dan Connor, Marcus Harrison, Jordan Senn, Lance Louis, Mike Goodson, D.J. Moore, Johnny Knox, Nic Harris, Garry Williams, Jimmy Clausen, David Gettis, Brandon LaFell, Joshua Moore, Armanti Edwards, Jordan Pugh

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