Bears are at their best when Matt Forte is involved
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter October 9, 2013 10:57PM
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Updated: October 10, 2013 1:02PM
We haven’t known Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer for long around here, but that sure sounded like sarcasm when he was asked about Matt Forte’s ‘‘uncharacteristic’’ game last week.
‘‘Yeah, he had one fumble and he had one missed key, so he had a horrible game,’’ Kromer said Wednesday at Halas Hall. ‘‘But that’s football. It’s an imperfect game played by imperfect people, and every week someone gets on the news and says, ‘Hey, we made some mistakes, and that’s what lost the game.’ ’’
Forte didn’t lose the game last week, but it’s no coincidence that his minimal impact coincided with the Bears’ disappointing performance in the 26-18 loss to the Saints. Forte’s muffed pitchout lost 10 yards on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage, and it helped set the tone. The Bears needed to get off to a good start and planned a run-heavy attack to keep Drew Brees off the field, and they ended up doing just the opposite. That’s why they lost. Forte had four carries for 10 yards in the first half. Only a symptom, but a big one.
The Bears can’t afford to lose Jay Cutler. But — with all due respect to No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall — Forte is an offensive anchor they will not win without. He’s on pace to rush for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns and catch 86 passes for 640 yards. But his versatility arguably gives him more room for growth than anybody in coach Marc Trestman’s offense.
Forte often has stealth-like production that makes him one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He admitted to having one of those days against the Saints. ‘‘I could have played better,’’ he said. And that was after he had 95 yards from scrimmage (55 rushing, 40 receiving) — only four other running backs had more last week.
A day after the Saints game — after Forte had four receptions — Cutler was asked if the Bears could get more out of Forte in the passing game.
‘‘I think he has been involved,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I don’t think that’s an accurate statement. He caught  balls in one game [against the Vikings in Week 2]. He’s getting a lot of touches.’’
He’s right. Forte has 27 receptions for 200 yards. But it always seems like he can do more. He’s only averaging 7.4 yards per catch with a long gain of 24 yards. That’s a lower average than last season, when his 44 receptions and 7.7 yards per catch were evidence of a lack of usage that helped convince general manager Phil Emery to make a coaching change.
The point is, Forte has a lot more to offer. And as Trestman’s offense grows, Forte is going to grow with it. The 6-2, 218-pound six-year veteran from Tulane has been in the middle of every Bears hot streak in recent years. In 2011, when Forte was in the midst of a five-game streak in which he averaged 137 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was telling anyone who would listen that Forte was the team’s most valuable player.
It took a Cutler injury to prove him wrong, but that doesn’t diminish Forte’s value to the Bears. The Bears are 23-3 when Forte scores a rushing touchdown. They’re 14-1 when Forte rushes for 100 yards or more. They’re 24-8 when he rushes for 80 or more yards. Eighty yards — it doesn’t take much for Forte to make a difference.