LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte said he is just about 100 percent, that his sprained right ankle is feeling better.
That's certainly good news for the NFC North leaders.
They sit atop the division at 4-1 and rank 10th in the league in rushing despite some uneven performances. Forte is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and newcomer Michael Bush has been solid backing him up, particularly in short yardage situations, but the Bears realize there's room for improvement.
Having their star running back healthy should help.
"I was pretty much back to almost 100 the last game we played against the Jaguars," said Forte, who ran for a season-high 107 yards in a lopsided win over Jacksonville two weeks ago. "But having off some days is always good for any injuries."
Maybe the run game will really kick into a higher gear, as it has in recent years around the off week. The Bears just had theirs, and with Detroit (2-3) visiting on Monday night, now would be a good time.
"Play actions don't work when you can't run the ball," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "And typically throughout the league, if you look at it, the big shots come off of play action. Because you're not getting that really quick pass rush. When you go play action, you have to make them stop and re-start and when you do that, then can get some shots down the field."
The Bears came in with soaring expectations after a busy offseason.
They reunited Jay Cutler with his favorite target in Denver and landed the elite receiver they'd been lacking when new general manager Phil Emery acquired Brandon Marshall from Miami. They added Bush and backup quarterback Jason Campbell, giving them the depth to withstand the sort of injuries that derailed Chicago after a promising start last season. And with Tice promoted from offensive line coach to coordinator, they believed the system was a better fit than what they were running under Mike Martz.
Even so, they've had some ups and downs.
Cutler took a beating in the second game against Green Bay, when he was sacked seven times in an ugly loss, but the protection has been better in recent weeks. And the Bears have been getting more from their offense lately, too.
"I think since I've been here, we've been learning new offenses pretty much each year and trying to grow with it, so it takes time for those things," Cutler said. "It's not like you can just wake up one day and learn a new offense and it's just going to click. It doesn't work. It takes some time for everyone to get a feel for what we're doing and know their assignments and experience things, and maybe they've got to mess a couple things up before they really get it right."
They haven't been terrible. They just haven't really hit their stride.
This would be a good week to do it, considering the pressure Cutler could be facing. The Lions boast a tough front with Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams, and it sure would help if the run game got going.
Even though he's averaging 4.7 yards per attempt this season after making his first Pro Bowl last year, Forte hadn't run for more than 80 yards until he broke out against Jacksonville. He missed a game against St. Louis because of that ankle injury.
Bush, averaging 3.6 yards per run, has come through in the clutch. He's converted five of seven attempts on third down with 2 yards to go or less, but the Bears still see room for improvement in the run game, whether it's execution, the opponent or play-calling.
"I think we're getting better, and that's really what I look at," Tice said. "I do know it's hard to run the ball against some of the solid looks ... They're not going to give you the explosive runs. We had a number of those games early in the season. I think there was a guy that was calling plays in Green Bay that didn't call the run enough. I think that was part of the problem. Hopefully, he's not showing up this week. There's a lot to it. But what I like is the improvement."
Notes: Tice said he wants to get Devin Hester more involved on offense, particularly with Alshon Jeffery ruled out because of his hand injury ... Besides Jeffery, Hester (quad), LB Blake Costanzo (thumb) and P Adam Podlesh (personal reasons) did not practice on Thursday.
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