LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -The hits are coming from all angles, and Cedric Benson acknowledged they sting. When opponents aren't getting him, the criticism is.
``That's just the way it is,'' Benson said. ``Overcome it, turn the season around. The sun will be shining soon.''
Perhaps as soon as Sunday.
That would seem like a logical day for a running game that's been stuck all season to finally get going, considering the Chicago Bears meet an Oakland Raiders team that ranks 30th against the run.
Coach Lovie Smith said the Bears want to run as soon as they ``get off the bus,'' and just to be clear, he doesn't mean in quicksand. Or on a treadmill.
The Bears (3-5) have been running in place all season, with Benson at the front of this stagnant parade.
Only Green Bay is averaging fewer yards rushing per game than Chicago (78.9), and the Packers have a simple, two-word explanation for that: Brett Favre. The Bears are tied with Kansas City for the league-low at 3.2 yards per carry.
And Benson?
Well, he's getting almost as much criticism from fans as Rex Grossman.
A power runner who in the past plowed over defenses, Benson has just 466 yards and is averaging 3.1 per attempt. He has done little to ease concerns about his ability to carry the load, and the final eight games might determine his future with the Bears.
``I'm not really thinking just about myself,'' Benson said. ``We haven't been winning. We just came off a winning season; that's what I'm thinking about. How can we get back to being that team? Hopefully, we can get the wins up and if my numbers are still horrible, then we'll figure out what we've got to do.''
Only twice has he carried the ball more than 19 times this season, and in the most recent game against Detroit two weeks ago, he had just three of his 13 attempts in the second half.
If he sees a breakout game coming this week, he's not saying - even though the Raiders just gave up 122 yards to Houston's Ron Dayne.
``We're not overlooking these guys, looking at film like 'Oh, they gave Ron Dayne 100 yards so we definitely can do this and this and this,''' Benson said. ``We've still got to game-plan and prepare for a battle.''
Of course, the Bears' plans keep going awry.
Instead of maturing into a consistent quarterback, Grossman got replaced by Brian Griese. And with Grossman on the sideline, Benson is now the fans' favorite target.
``People can say what they want,'' fullback Jason McKie said. ``If we're not blocking people, there are only so many tackles a person can break. A lot of people are putting the blame on Cedric, but the blame should be on all of us.''
Fans wonder why the team traded away Thomas Jones in the offseason to make room for Benson, the fourth pick in the 2005 draft. They wonder if the runner who plowed through defenses late last season will show up.
And they wonder why Benson hasn't emerged when rookie Adrian Peterson already has 1,036 yards for Minnesota.
``It's a tough criticism, but there are a lot of different scenarios,'' Benson said. ``Different teams, different players, different scenarios. It's kind of tough to say that, put those same two things in the same boat.''
One theory is that Benson might be more effective when he's vying for time with another running back, like Jones. But he shrugged that off. ``That's probably something a coach would decide or figure out,'' he said, adding opponents aren't loading up the box any more than they did a year ago.
Oakland linebacker Thomas Howard said, ``They're probably going to have in their game plan that they want to run the ball 30, 40 times. That's just what I expect.''
It's hard to run 30 or 40 times, though, if Benson's missing holes or the line breaks down.
The Bears' longest run is a a 16-yarder by Benson and only 16 have been for 10 or more yards. Meanwhile, opponents have 25 carries of at least 10 yards.
Benson has been benched for stretches, in part because of his own effectiveness and because the Bears have been playing from behind. Opponents hold a 20-10 scoring edge in the first quarter, the lone touchdown coming on a punt return by Devin Hester against Minnesota.
Throw in a minus-10 turnover margin and it adds up to limited opportunities to run.
``In the second half, we've been having to come out and pass the ball,'' McKie said. ``When we do run the ball, we're all cold.''

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