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Numbers, Jay Cutler say Matt Forte is best running back

Jay Cutler says Bears would be trouble without running back Matt Forte (22) who has been carrying offense.  |

Jay Cutler says the Bears would be in trouble without running back Matt Forte (22), who has been carrying the offense. | David J. Phillip~AP

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:54AM

Is there a better running back in the NFL than red-hot Matt Forte?

‘‘Nah, it’s not even close,’’ quarterback Jay Cutler said Wednesday. ‘‘What he can do [on] first, second and third down in the passing game and the running game, inside and outside — if we lose him, we’ve got a lot of issues.’’

With 672 yards on 124 carries (5.4 average, two touchdowns), Forte is third in the NFL in rushing behind the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson (712 yards, 4.9, eight TDs) and the Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew (677 yards, 4.6, two TDs). Forte leads the NFL with nine rushes of 20 yards or more (the Bills’ Fred Jackson and the Raiders’ Darren McFadden have eight).

Forte leads all NFL non-quarterbacks in total yards per game with 155.0 (1,091 total). Jackson is second with 146.7 (880 total). Peterson is averaging 108.7 (761 total).

Forte has 105 touches in the last four games after having 57 in the first three. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he doesn’t concern himself with overusing Forte.

‘‘I don’t think about that [during a game]. But Spence does,’’ Martz said, referring to running backs coach Tim Spencer. ‘‘That’s why we alternate in there [with Marion Barber, who had six carries for 39 yards Sunday]. And it’s a really nice 1-2 punch.’’

Carimi getting closer

Rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi practiced for the first time since suffering a partially dislocated kneecap in Week 2 against the Saints and could play against the Eagles on Nov. 7 in Philadelphia. But it’s not a sure thing.

‘‘It felt like you’re coming off a knee injury,’’ Carimi said when asked how his practice went. ‘‘There are going to be some obstacles. But it felt pretty good.’’

But with the offensive line back on its feet the last two games, the Bears sound like they won’t rush Carimi back.

‘‘We like the group we’ve had on the field the last couple of weeks,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘To be able to add a first-round draft pick that was playing great football before, that’s a great position to be in. They’ll tell us who will start and who we need to play.’’

Bears are No. 1

Through seven weeks, the Bears have played the toughest schedule in the NFC. The combined record of their opponents is 25-17 (.595) in games not involving the Bears. The Cowboys are second at 19-13 (.594). The Packers’ opponents are a combined 18-22 (.450) against the rest of the NFL.

Five of the Bears’ first seven opponents are over .500: the Packers (7-0), Lions (5-2), Saints (5-2), Buccaneers (4-3) and Falcons (4-3).

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