Bears

Look for Bears return to two-back basics under Fox, Gase

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Look for Bears return to two-back basics under Fox, Gase

The 2012 Bears spent a lot of money securing the latest in a succession of understudies to running back Matt Forte. They gave Michael Bush $7 million guaranteed as part of a four-year, $14 million contract. Bush carried 112 times and scored five rushing touchdowns — as many as Forte — for the 10-6 Bears.

The following year Bush was marginalized, with 63 carries and just three touchdowns.

Last year, after cutting Bush, the Bears used a fourth-round draft choice on a running back, Ka’Deem Carey, and used him even less than Bush’s low point: 36 carries.

Meaning: After 100-carry seasons by backups like Bush, Marion Barber, Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson, even Cedric Benson, No.-2 running backs carried a combined 99 times in two seasons under the Marc Trestman/Aaron Kromer offense.

[MORE: Bears GM Ryan Pace continues quest for experience in staff hires]

The Bears this year invested another fourth-round pick in a running back: Jeremy Langford from Michigan State. One surprise in the 2015 season will be if Langford is not handed the football more than Bush and Carey combined.

While the chief focus has been on defense and the Bears’ switch to a 3-4 under coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio, Fox and GM Ryan Pace would not have identified running back as a need area unless there was a plan to make extensive use of the position, and involving more than just Matt Forte.

It is simply Fox’s way.

“We’ve always been believers in kind of a 1-2 punch and rolling guys through there whether it’s the d-line; a wave of those guys to stay fresh,” Fox said. “I’ve always had the approach the same thing with running backs.”

He has indeed. In each of his four Denver Broncos seasons, Fox had two backs with at least 100 carries, with Ronnie Hillman’s 106 last season the fewest. And Hillman got those while playing just eight games, followed by C.J. Anderson (179 carries) after Hillman was injured. Add to that more than 50 carries each by Montee Ball and Juwann Thompson. Not since the days of Jim Harbaugh (1993) have the Bears had more than three players with 50 or more rushing attempts.

[RELATED: John Fox, Vic Fangio not seeing 'disaster' in Bears defense]

Fox’s commitment to backfield diversity has been to such a degree that the Carolina Panthers used No. 1 picks on running backs twice in three years — DeAngelo Williams in 2006, Jonathan Stewart in 2008 — and this on top of having DeShaun Foster from the 2002 second round, a 200-carry back from 2005-07.

Under Fox, Stewart (221 rushes for 1,133 yards) and Williams (216-1,117) became just the sixth duo of running backs in NFL history to both gain 1,000 yards in the same season (2009).

The Forte Factor

Forte is entering the final year of his contract, coming off a year that included an NFL-record 102 pass receptions to go with 1,038 rushing yards, the fifth time in his seven seasons with 1,000 yards (and 900-plus the other two).

Forte’s excellence is a “problem:” Why give the ball to a second-tier back when you have one of the NFL elites standing there?

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“This is an unusual situation just because Matt has been in such great shape and has been so dynamic as far as staying on the field,” said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “We’ve just got to see how it plays out.”

One reason the Broncos made such use of multiple backs lay in injuries to Ball and Hillman, which required turning to Anderson, who was voted to the Pro Bowl despite starting just the second half of the season and wearing down for the final two games after four straight 20-carry games.

“C.J. would hate me for saying this, but he got tired and was a little chubby sometimes,” Gase said. “I mean, he got worn down quick and then we had to rotate backs in last year. Matt’s an unusual situation in that position because he’s able to play every play, or has.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the blame in the Bears loss to Miami?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the blame in the Bears loss to Miami?

David Haugh, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel. The Bears lose a rough one in Miami as Matt Nagy goes conservative at the end zone. Does the rookie coach deserve all of the blame? Dave Wannstedt joins the guys to discuss.

Plus the guys discuss the Cubs’ newest hitting coach/scapegoat, Brandon Saad’s upcoming healthy scratch and Bobby Portis betting on himself this season. 

Listen here or in the embedded player below!

Akiem Hicks makes Pro Football Focus Team of the Week after strong game against Dolphins

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Akiem Hicks makes Pro Football Focus Team of the Week after strong game against Dolphins

The Bears defense was not its usual self in their overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The pass rush was minimal and tackling looked optional, and Brock Osweiler threw for almost 400 yards.

There was plenty of blame to go around, but a few individual defenders had success while their teammates struggled.

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks made the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week for Week 6 with a 92.2 overall grade.

He recorded seven tackles that resulted in a defensive “stop,” the most of any defensive lineman according to PFF.

Chicago’s next highest-graded player was cornerback Kyle Fuller (78.2), who intercepted Osweiler twice but also missed two tackles.

Offensively, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel led the way with a 76.9 mark. PFF credited four of his five catches coming against Dolphins cornerback Torry McTyer in coverage.

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Khalil Mack had the lowest-graded game of his career (47.8), while linebacker Danny Trevathan (29.9) and safety Adrian Amos Jr. (47.5) each had their second-worst games.

Some of the Bears’ best players were at their worst in Miami. They’re going to need to get their act together for the New England Patriots on Sunday.