Fact or fiction? Jay Cutler had no running game last season in Denver.
Reading through comments left here over the last few days, it looks like the widely held opinion is that the Broncos were running in the slow lane in 2008, you know, when Cutler wasn't chucking it.
"Cutler had arguably the least effective running attack in the league."
"Cutler had NO running game."
"His running game was putrid."
"Denver had no running game. ..."
The Broncos' running game might have failed them in crunch time and you probably needed a program to sort out the backfield as a total of eight running backs were placed on injured reserve. But to say Denver had no running game would be fiction.
In fact, the Broncos had a much more successful rushing attack than the Bears did last season when Matt Forte rushed for a franchise rookie record 1,238 yards. Sure, it's easy to twist a lot of statistics any way you want, but these are pretty back and white.
Denver ranked 12th in the league rushing, finishing with 1,862 yards.
The Bears were 24th with 1,673 yards.
Denver was tied for second in the league averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
The Bears were tied for 26th in YPC at 3.9.
We documented here how poor the Bears were in short-yardage rushing situations last season. It includes a breakdown of the Broncos and they were more efficient.
Spin away. Just don't say Cutler didn't have a running game to work with last season. What he didn't have was a consistent running back to work with as injuries decimated the position. Forte had 72.8 percent of the Bears' carries. Here is how the Broncos broke down:
Michael Pittman 76 carries, 320 yards
Peyton Hillis 68 carries, 343 yards
Selvin Young 61 carries, 303 yards
Jay Cutler 57 carries, 200 yards
Tatum Bell 44 carries, 249 yards
Andre Hall 35 carries, 144 yards
P.J. Pope 17 carries, 130 yards
Ryan Torain 15 carries, 69 yards
Eddie Royal 11 carries, 109 yards
Brandon Marshall 2 carries, minus-4 yards
Tony Scheffler 1 carry, minus-1 yard
Cutler's 57 carries would have ranked him second on the Bears. His 200 yards would have ranked him second, 91 yards ahead of Kevin Jones. Subtract out Cutler's rushing figures along with those of receivers Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler, and Denver running backs had a YPC of 4.93. Bears running backs had a YPC of 3.88, a difference of more than a yard per carry. The Broncos had a running game, you just didn't know who was carrying the ball from week-to-week.
Most expect Cutler will be a great aid to Forte and the Bears' running game. Forte was seventh in the league in rushing last season but the team didn't do much else on the ground. The plan--we'll see when it's executed--is to lighten his workload some this season and get Jones more involved. With Cutler, opponents will be less likely to attack them with a wave of eight-man fronts. The Bears should have a potent play-action passing game. Cutler is expected to help the offense all the way around, and his ability to pick up yardage on his own when the pocket collapses is valuable.
Expecting Cutler to make the running backs a yard better per carry might be unrealistic. The Broncos were using a system that was proven over time. Mike Shanahan was able to plug in backs and go in Denver for more than a decade. The Bears have re-tooled their offensive line with an eye toward getting bigger. It all works together and for the Bears to compete in the NFC like some believe they will, they're going to have to generate better production on the ground.
For what it's worth, here is how the Bears broke down running the ball:
Matt Forte 316 carries, 1,238 yards
Kevin Jones 34 carries, 109 yards
Kyle Orton 24 carries, 49 yards
Adrian Peterson 20 carries, 100 yards
Garrett Wolfe 15 carries, 69 yards
Jason McKie 11 carries, 26 yards
Devin Hester 6 carries, 61 yards
Rashied Davis 3 carries, 14 yards
Rex Grossman 3 carries, 4 yards
Marty Booker 1 carry, 3 yards
Jason Davis 1 carry, 0 yards