Film Study: Negative runs continue to plague the Bears’ offense

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Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro tackles Bears running back Jordan Howard for a loss. (AP)

Thoughts and observations after watching the film of the Bears’ 20-12 loss to the Saints in Week 8:

Going backward

The Bears are a run-first team who go backward far too often. Negative runs continue to hinder the production of their offense.

Against the Saints, running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for seven runs that resulted in negative yardage. Howard and Benny Cunningham also had a run each for no gain.

This is a trend. The Bears had 14 runs for negative yardage or no gain in their overtime victory against the Ravens and lead the league with 55 such plays this season.

There are a number of reasons for the negative plays. Injuries on the offensive line continue to be problematic, the Bears’ play-calling tends to be predictable on first downs and opponents often load the box to stop Howard without fear of the Bears’ passing game.

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Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebacker Craig Robertson each had two tackles for loss Sunday.

According to advanced statistics on NFL.com, Howard has faced eight defenders in the box 46.9 percent of the time. It’s the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL.

The only full-time starter ahead of Howard is Jaguars bruising rookie Leonard Fournette, who has 596 yards and six touchdowns on 130 carries this season.

Cohen’s decision-making also is an issue. He said he’s learning to turn off his big-play mindset and take what’s available, but he also needs to be more patient and let holes develop.

In the last five games, Cohen has 30 carries for 71 yards. That’s an average of 2.37 yards per carry.

According to NFL.com’s advanced statistics, he leads all running backs in time spent behind the line of scrimmage.

No challenge?

Cornerback Kyle Fuller upended Saints running back Mark Ingram after an eight-yard gain on a screen play in the second quarter.

While in the air, Ingram lost control of the ball with his right hand but appeared to catch it briefly with his left, though it was extremely debatable.

When Ingram landed, he lost control of the ball again. Defensive lineman Mitch Unrein recovered the loose ball.

Asked about the play Monday, coach John Fox indicated that Ingram’s ability to regain control of the ball was enough to prevent a challenge.

‘‘It’s not like the catch [or] no-catch [rulings],’’ Fox said. ‘‘It’s a little bit different because you already have possession. It’s whether he regained possession the minute you touched the ground.’’

Playing a bunch

The Bears’ offense featured more bunch formations, which should continue to be a staple because of the team’s issues at receiver.

The formations help receivers gain separation through picks and rub routes. They also create confusion for defenses by putting an emphasis on communication.

Receiver Tre McBride’s 25- and 22-yard receptions against the Saints were examples of that. Both plays came on third down and featured McBride running underneath others’ routes.

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

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