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Ground and pound: To win in 2017, Bears lean on old-school rush attack

Jordan Howard is entering his third season. (Getty Images)

Minutes after the Bears won their first game of the season Sunday against the Steelers, exhausted left tackle Charles Leno Jr. sat at his locker and gave a knowing laugh. How hard is it to run the ball, he was asked, when everyone in the stadium knows you will?

‘‘It’s extremely tough, but you gotta get it done, right?’’ Leno said. ‘‘You gotta get your job done. You gotta find a way. You gotta dig down deep.’’

The Bears have to do just that if they want to stay competitive Thursday under the lights at Lambeau Field. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains won’t apologize for the decidedly old-school approach, either.

‘‘To play those close games and grind it out [is] the way the Bears need to win in 2017,’’ he said.

Because the Bears never had to play catch-up against Steelers, they were able to show their true selves. They ran 38 times Sunday after handing the ball off 39 times in their first two games combined.

They rode Jordan Howard, who broke 10 tackles and gained 65 yards after contact, to 138 rushing yards. He left the field twice because of an injured right shoulder, only to return and inspire his blockers.

‘‘I [expletive deleted] loved that,’’ Leno said.

Rookie Tarik Cohen rushed for 78 yards, giving him and Howard a combined 216 rushing yards, the most for a pair of Bears teammates since 2010.

Cohen said this week that Appalachian State was the best road stadium he had played in. That figures to change in prime time at Lambeau Field.

‘‘I envision myself making a lot of plays,’’ he said.

But Cohen’s confidence doesn’t veer into selfishness.

‘‘Between [Howard] and Tarik, you never hear a word about who’s getting the ball,’’ Loggains said. ‘‘And they both could. There’s only one ball to go around, and both of them, they don’t ever talk about touches or carries. . . . They’re doing something special in that room.’’

The Bears are only 19th in the NFL in carries because of the circumstances of their first two games, but few teams have run the ball better. Only the Chiefs and Titans average more than the Bears’ five yards per carry, and only five teams have more rushing first downs than the Bears’ 20.

‘‘They’re very dynamic,’’ Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Howard and Cohen. ‘‘There’s a distinct difference between their running styles, and that really makes them a challenge. Their run-blocking is playing very well. I really think this is one of the best run games we’ve seen to date.’’

The Bears have run the ball well without a fully healthy offensive line. Kyle Long returned Sunday after recovering from ankle surgery, but fellow guard Josh Sitton sat out with an injury to his ribs and center Hroniss Grasu left with a hand injury. Sitton, a former Packer, and Grasu are questionable for Thursday.

The Bears’ receivers have blocked better than they’ve caught, particularly Deonte Thompson, who led the way on Howard’s winning touchdown run in overtime.

Twelve of quarterback Mike Glennon’s 15 completions against the Steelers — and 73 of his 101 passing yards — came on throws to running backs. Thompson was the only wide receiver with a reception.

‘‘It would’ve been real easy to sit on the sideline and pout and say, ‘Hey, I’m not getting the ball,’ ’’ Loggains said. ‘‘But you know what? They’re a huge part [of the victory].’’

Cohen admitted it would be nice for the Bears to be able to stretch opposing defenses a bit, but their runners will make do — without the element of surprise.

‘‘I like to run the ball,’’ Long said. ‘‘I like to be part of a team that runs the ball, and I’ve said that before here. And I feel like when we have the most success as a Chicago Bears offense is when we’re running the ball.’’

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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