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


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.”

Controversial calls played a large part in the Detroit Lions NFC North loss on Monday night


Controversial calls played a large part in the Detroit Lions NFC North loss on Monday night

The Green Bay Packers managed to pull off a dramatic comeback victory on Monday night, defeating the Detroit Lions 23-22 on a last-second field goal from Mason Crosby. But after the game, it wasn't Aaron Rodgers usual clutch ways that people were talking about, it was the officiating crew, who had two controversial hands to the face penalty calls against the Lions that all but killed any momentum they had going. 

As you can see in the clip above, both hands to the face calls seemed questionable at best, and downright ludicrous at worst. What makes the calls so tough is the timing. The first hands to the face penalty on Lions DE Trey Flowers came after he sacked Rodgers on third-and-10 and the penalty both took away the sack and provided the Pack with an automatic first down. Later in the drive, Rodgers dropped in a great 35-yard touchdown pass to bring Green Bay within two points 

The second questionable hands to the face call came on third-and-4 and it was the most costly call of the game. The Packers received another automatic first down and ran down the clock—Detroit was out of timeouts—to set up the eventual game-winning, walk-off field goal from Crosby. 

And it didn't take long for many people, everyone from former NFL greats to NFL reporters, to chime in on social media with their thoughts on the officiating that seemingly cost Detroit a crucial win. 

With the Green Bay win, the Lions moved to last-place in the NFC North, while the Bears now sit 2.5 games back of first place heading into their Week 7 matchup against the New Orleans Saints.

NFC North Standings: Bears 2.5 games behind Packers entering Week 7

NFC North Standings: Bears 2.5 games behind Packers entering Week 7

The Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers pulled off another incredible (or maybe controversial) victory over the Detroit Lions in Monday night's NFC North slugfest, 23-22, to advance to 5-1 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

It was the worst possible outcome for the Chicago Bears, who could've used a little help from the Lions to keep pace with Green Bay entering Week 7.

Instead, the Bears (3-2) are now 2.5 games behind the Packers ahead of their showdown with the New Orleans Saints Sunday at Soldier Field.

It could be worse for Chicago. Detroit's loss drops their record to 2-2-1 on the season and moves them into the division's cellar. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings had arguably their strongest showing of the season in their 38-20 victory over the Eagles and improved to 4-2 on the year. Their four wins slot them ahead of the Bears for second place in the North even though Chicago currently owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Here are the NFC North standings heading into Week 7:

1) Packers (5-1)
2) Vikings (4-2)
3) Bears (3-2)
4) Lions (2-2-1)