In the days leading up to Sunday's matchup with the Green Bay Packers, Bears players and coaches answered question after question from reporters about the problems with the team's run game. There were doubts about its effectiveness, as Chicago entered the contest ranked last in the NFL in rushing, gaining just 64.0 yards per contest through three weeks. There were also concerns about the big-play viability of the attack, as no back on the team had a run of longer than 14 yards.
The talk about running the ball better wasn't only being done with microphones and TV cameras present. Behind closed doors, in the meeting rooms and on the practice field, the Bears were preaching a stronger rushing attack, knowing its value to the team's long-term offensive success.
The talk proved to be more than just lip service. In the 38-17 loss to the Packers, the Bears ran for 235 yards on 41 carries – the team's highest rushing total in a game since Sept. 25, 1988, when they gained 242 yards on the ground.
"That's how we should run the ball," said running back Matt Forte, who led the way with 122 yards on 23 carries. "The past two weeks have been rough, and then we come out and we worked on it a lot. There were some holes out there, our offensive line did a great job of opening the holes and blocking their front seven, so that I can get one-on-one with the linebackers and safeties and stuff. When they do that, I can continue to run hard and just get extra yards after contact."
The focus on running the ball was apparent right away. Forte had 11 carries in the first quarter alone, just one fewer than he had in the entire Week 2 game against San Francisco, including runs on three of the Bears' first four offensive plays from scrimmage. His ability to find lanes in the Packers defense opened things up for the rest of the Chicago offense, as quarterback Jay Cutler completed 75 percent of his throws and hit a six-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall in the opening quarter.
Chicago knew coming into the game that it would have a more successful chance to run the ball versus the Packers than it did the past two weeks against the stout run defenses of the 49ers and Jets, and wanted to make sure to take advantage of the opportunity. The Bears certainly did, as Forte had runs of 19 and 17 yards in the game, while Cutler chipped in with a 16-yard run of his own after a fumbled snap.
"(It's) huge to get (Forte) going," Cutler said. "He's positive about the run game, the offensive line is positive about the run game. It opens up some stuff for us in the passing game. We have to keep that going on throughout the season. We know there's going to be some games, some defenses, that it's not as easy to run the football. We know that, but whenever we get some shells and get some scores and such and we can run the football like that, it will be really good for us."
Right guard Kyle Long agreed, saying that a commitment to running the ball has to be more than just talk.
"It's a mindset. We got to run the ball, that's what we were telling each other all week, it's been a reoccurring theme," Long said. "We need to run the ball to set up this passing game, we have a prolific passing attack, but we can't get there and we can't get the looks we want unless we are grounding and pounding. So we need to continue to do that."
Forte added 49 receiving yards on the day, giving him 10,037 yards from scrimmage for his career. He said following the game it was a "great accomplishment" but that he didn't know he was close to reaching that impressive benchmark, as he doesn't track his personal stats. Forte added he was honored to join a prestigious group of players that includes former Bears running back Walter Payton with more than 10,000 yards in their career.
The running back also tied another Hall of Famer, Gayle Sayers, with 21st career game with 100 or more rushing yards, second-most in team history. Payton holds the Bears record with 77 career games over the century mark.
While the veteran back ran his way into the record books, a Bears rookie made his presence known as well. Ka'Deem Carey, the team's fourth-round pick in May, saw the most playing time of his young career, with 14 carries for 71 yards in the game. His presence allowed the offense to keep rolling while Forte rested. The two backs also played together at times in a formation that Carey thinks will be a larger part of the playbook moving forward.
"We got a great push up front all the time, and me and Matt were just hitting the holes, hitting the creases, falling forward and getting extra yards," Carey said. "We ran a bit with me and Matt in the backfield, the two-back set. We started to do more of that, makes the defense think a little bit more. I think that will be fun and definitely more explosive moving forward, like it was today."
The Bears talked the talked, then walked the walk when it came to an improved run game. Yet they still fell short on the scoreboard. With only one home game over the next six weeks, the rushing attack will look to build off Sunday's performance and keep being a major factor for the offense.
"We ran the ball as a team (against) Green Bay," Forte said. "To have a lot of yards and not have enough points to show for it is the main part that is frustrating to us."