SUNDAY PLAYBOOK: Bears’ Matt Forte finally the force he was meant to be
BY ADAM L. JAHNS Staff Reporter December 20, 2013 11:44PM
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte runs the ball against the Cleveland Browns during an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Updated: January 23, 2014 6:22AM
When Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer went about constructing an offense, they determined that running back Matt Forte had to be something in particular.
‘‘We knew coming in that Forte needed to be a bell-cow running back for us,’’ Kromer said.
Care to explain?
‘‘He needed to be able to run all the different types of runs, and he was up for that,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘He was excited about the differences in our runs.’’
As with quarterback Jay Cutler, the stakes were raised for Forte with better offensive minds involved this season. This offense was tailored to his talents, too.
And Forte has delivered. There should be as much talk about him Sunday as there is about Philadelphia Eagles star running back LeSean McCoy. Forte has experienced a revival just like the Bears’ quarterbacks have. With two games remaining, he already has a career-high 1,722 total yards.
‘‘It’s always a blessing to have an offensive type of coach come in and have an offense that’s designed around the running back who can run the ball and catch out of the backfield,’’ Forte said. ‘‘When Coach [Mike] Martz was here [2010-2011], it was the same type of thing, running the ball and catching out of the backfield. . . . But now we run the ball a little more.’’
Considering Forte’s previous high of 1,715 total yards was in his rookie season in 2008, it’s evident he’s in a better system and being used better, whether it’s more zone runs or better screens. He’s no longer a versatile, rare talent with decent numbers. He’s where a player of his talents should be — among the league leaders statistically at his position.
‘‘With the offensive line that we have and Coach Trestman’s offense, I thought we would have a season like this,’’ said Forte, one of three running backs to have more than 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.
He’s going strong right now, surpassing 100 rushing yards the last three games. He’s 38 yards shy of his season-best rushing total of 1,238, which he set in 2008 with 58 more carries and two more games. And he’s 25 yards short of matching his best in receiving yards (547 in 2010).
‘‘I got kind of lost in the passing game last year because I had to really actually stay in and try to help the tackles out,’’ Forte said. ‘‘That just shows you how good these guys are. Most of the time, I don’t have to chip on the outside and then try to get out. I’m picking up linebackers, of course, as they blitz, but I’m not helping them on the outside because most of the time they got it handled on their own.’’
That means more opportunities for Forte. Kromer said he has developed a better sense for his line.
‘‘He’s done a nice job of getting a feel for what he’s reading, what he’s doing,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘You can see him getting better and better as the year goes.’’
It should make 2,000 total yards a real possibility.
‘‘Whatever comes comes,’’ Forte said. ‘‘All I’m doing right now is continuing to play like we’ve been playing.’’
So you’re saying there’s a chance.
COACH’S CORNER: Marc Trestman
The Bears’ high-flying attack figures to give them a distinct edge Sunday when it comes to beating the Philadelphia Eagles’ 31st-ranked pass defense.
But coach Marc Trestman said the key to besting the Eagles’ secondary, which includes cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, safeties Nate Allen and Patrick Chung and nickelback Brandon Boykin, is not getting confused by what you’re seeing because that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.
‘‘Their secondary is really a lot of zone coverage — they want to play man and they’ll play some,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘They’re all over the place. The thing that they try to do is confuse you with different looks back there, particularly on first and second down, and then on third down, it’s a little more conventional on the back end and unconventional up front [on the defensive line], and they try to force you to take the eyes off the ball.’’
Allen leads the defensive backs with 86 tackles and Boykin (just cleared after a concussion) has a team-high four interceptions. But as a team, the Eagles are allowing 291.6 passing yards per game.
‘‘We know where they are statistically, but they’ve had moments where they’ve made the plays,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘Just knowing their coordinator [Bill Davis] and watching how he works, he’s a really smart guy. He’s working to get them in the best position to have success, and that’s where they are.’’
UNSUNG SPOTLIGHT: Jermon Bushrod
According to Pro Football Focus, which has criticized left tackle Jermon Bushrod over the years, he has allowed only three sacks and eight quarterback hits for the Bears this season. Last season, J’Marcus Webb surrendered seven sacks and required more help from tight ends and running backs.
That Bushrod rarely needs helps is significant. It allows tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte to be involved in the passing game.
But Bushrod takes the most pleasure in running down opponents late in the games, which the Bears have done the previous two weeks against the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns.
‘‘When you have a lead in the fourth, that’s when we get to come together and try to put defenses in a difficult position,’’ Bushrod said. ‘‘And as a linemen, man, that feels good when we’re up by a score and we have the ability to run the ball, try to milk the clock, wear the defense down. That’s what we live for.’’
Unlike the last two weeks, it won’t be a cold one in Philadelphia. The Bears and Eagles are looking at some oddly warm weather that may include some downpours.
The National Weather Service is calling for highs around 70 degrees, lows in the 50s and wind gusts up to 25 mph Sunday. Bears coach Marc Trestman has often said it’s the wind that affects an offense and a quarterback more than anything.
◆ Like the Cleveland Browns, the Eagles have an emerging tight end to be mindful of in rookie Zach Ertz. The Bears were keen on the 6-5 Stanford product, meeting with him at the combine.
Ertz has 11 catches for 125 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games, and that includes being held off the stat sheet against the Detroit Lions on Dec. 8.
◆ Weekly stat to consider: When the Bears entered their matchup against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 20, they were ranked 12th in run defense, allowing a manageable 102 yards per game.
Linebacker Lance Briggs fractured his left shoulder in that game, and the run defense has never been the same. Will it change with him on the field?