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How Effectively Can The Bears Run The Ball?

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Lost in the shuffle of the Bears trading for Brandon Marshall and drafting Alshon Jeffery and Evan Rodriguez is the signing of Michael Bush and the apparent inability to get Matt Forte to pick up a pen. While the Bears now have at the minimum a complete receiving corp and at the most a top-3 set of weapons in the NFC, the Bears now have the best tandem of running backs in the NFC North (assuming Forte signs either his tender or agrees to a long term deal).

So while that question will be answered hopefully by training camp, another question comes to the distribution of the ball on offense. The discussion has centered so far on the production of the passing game with the new weapons the Bears have acquired, but for now, let's turn that discussion to Lovie's favorite quote and getting off the bus running.

Let's have a little fun with numbers based on last year's total plays and points distribution, knowing full well that Mike Tice might have something different up his sleeve - and we really don't know what his plans will be until we see the distribution of plays in the preseason and regular season.

Out of the 978 offensive plays the Bears ran last season, let's be generous and assume that he'll be able to pass somewhat effectively, and let's go with a 55/45 pass/run split of plays. That 45% leads to approximately 440 run plays - which is actually less than the 456 run plays the Bears ran last season. Forte had 203 of those, but he was injured for the final four games of the year and left in the middle of the Chiefs game. Taking out his 5 attempts against Kansas City, he averaged 18 rushing attempts per game. The same pace would yield 288 rushing attempts for Forte, which would be the most he's had since 2008, when he had 316 carries.

So let's bookmark approximately 288 carries for Forte - that leaves 152 for the remaining backs, which we'll approximate about 80% of those to Bush, or 121 carries. That amount of carries puts him right at his mark for 2009 (123 carries), when he averaged 4.8 yards per carry yet only had three touchdowns.

These carry numbers, when combined with their career yards per carry, yields approximately the following:

Forte: 288 carries, 1,210 yards
Bush: 121 carries, 508 yards

Between the pair of Forte and Bush, maintaining their career YPA and using what approximates into a 65%/28% split of carries (the remaining 7% to Kahlil Bell or other combination of third-string running backs and quarterback scrambles), the Bears could project to pick up over 1700 yards on the ground. On the surface, last year that would have equated to only about 21st in rushing, between Seattle and the New York Jets. But, of the teams that had 1700 yards rushing or more (so 20 teams), two passed for more than 5000 yards (New England and New Orleans) and only seven passed for more than 4000 yards (add Dallas, Atlanta, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia). Of the eleven with less than 1700 rushing yards, three had over four thousand passing yards - all over 4700 passing yards, actually (New York Giants, Detroit and Green Bay).

So if that remaining seven percent of carries can give the Bears even an extra 100 yards, that puts them directly in the same stat vein as last year's Cowboys, Falcons and Chargers. In fact, of this group, the Bears last year had the same yards per attempt as the Cowboys and higher than the Chargers and Falcons. And last year's Giants, the Super Bowl champs, only ran for 1427 yards last season

Now, again, we don't know exactly the distribution of carries or even the distribution of plays, but what this exercise serves to show, I hope, is the statistical distribution the Bears can hope to achieve, especially when healthy. Of course, skew the carry numbers, overall number of plays, and pass plays as you see fit. For instance, the Bears ran the third fewest offensive plays in the league last season, a full thirty plays below the league average. and a full 139 below the Saints, who led the league.

What kinds of numbers are you hoping for out of the running game this year? Play around with the numbers and give us your potential totals for the running game.