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Bears believe better run-pass balance is key in rematch

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The last time the Chicago Bears played the Seattle Seahawks, they treated the run as an afterthought and ended up with one of their worst losses of the season.

Matt Forte doesn't see that happening again.

The Bears will meet Seattle in a divisional playoff at Soldier Field on Sunday after orchestrating a dramatic turnaround that led to the NFC North championship and a first-round bye.

Forte was a big part of that.

He ran for 717 yards during the final nine games -- averaging 4.9 yards per carry, eighth in the league in that span -- and if the Bears are going to beat the Seahawks, Forte said they will need to go with the same approach that led to their first playoff appearance in four years.

That means more balance.

"I don't think we have a choice," said Forte. "We can't go out and do what we did last time and throw the ball 40 or 50 times and run the ball 10 times. We have to have a balanced offense."

It was hard to envision any of this after the first meeting between these teams in October. The Seahawks won 23-20 at Soldier Field, sending Chicago to its second loss in a 1-3 stretch that nearly ruined the Bears' season.

Jay Cutler dropped back to pass 47 times in that game, completing 17 of 39 with six sacks in another brutal pounding after sitting out the previous week with a concussion. That gave him 15 sacks in two games.

Forte, meanwhile, was a non-factor with eight carries for 11 yards. Things weren't much better the following week when he wound up with 10 carries for 41 yards in another embarrassing home loss to Washington. That sent the Bears staggering into their bye at 4-3 after a 3-0 start, but a team that appeared to be in pieces managed to put itself back together.

The Bears committed to the run, keeping defenses off balance and reducing the wear-and-tear on Cutler. Forte rewarded them, and Chicago won seven of eight before closing out the regular season with a loss at Green Bay.

He came up big in wins at Miami (97 yards) and Minnesota (92 yards) and at home against the New York Jets (113 yards) -- teams with top-10 run defenses. He also ran for 117 yards in a win over Philadelphia and had 91 yards on 15 attempts against the Packers two weeks ago, although the Bears went back to their pass-happy ways.

They called 12 consecutive pass plays to close out the third quarter in that game, not counting a run by Forte that a penalty wiped out.

Against Seattle?

"If we can run the ball, that's going to take pressure off the passing game," Forte said.

And few have been doing that better than him lately.

He was fifth in the NFL at 5.8 yards per carry over the final six games, and his career-high 4.5 average for the season was the best by a Bears running back with 200 attempts since Neal Anderson in 1989 (4.7).

The late surge gave Forte 1,069 yards rushing to go with 547 receiving, putting him alongside Walter Payton as the only Chicago players with at least 1,000 and 500 in the same season. It also gave Forte his second 1,000-yard rushing season in three years as a pro.

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"In the last five games, I don't know if there's a back playing better," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "He has always been really good, been very impressive, but about five weeks ago something happened."

One thing that happened is the offensive line started to come together.

Between injuries and poor play, players were constantly shuffling in out and of the lineup and switching positions before the off week around midseason. That changed after the break. The Bears have stuck with the same alignment since then: Frank Omiyale and Chris Williams at left tackle and left guard, Olin Kreutz at center, Roberto Garza at right guard and J'Marcus Webb at right tackle.

They're picking up the blitz, blocking better, and Forte is finding the room to run that wasn't there in the early going.

"I was just doing what the offense required me to do," Forte said. "We were pass-heavy. There's a lot of stuff in the pass offense that singled me out on a linebacker or safety. I was worried about getting into pass routes and catching the ball."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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