Chicago Bears: Running game

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 15

December, 16, 2013
CLEVELAND -- An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns:

Cutler’s rust: It would be unrealistic to believe that Jay Cutler could knock off all the rust from a month away from the game in just one outing. So you can expect to see the quarterback exhibit a little rust at times next week at Philadelphia. That’s normal.

“I had some throws that were high,” Cutler said of his two interceptions in the first half.

Cutler will be able to work out the kinks much faster over the next couple of weeks, but he’ll really help himself at practice by taking on tons of repetitions to improve his comfort level. Cutler knows that when the Bears face Philadelphia, he can’t put together a start like he did against Cleveland and think he’ll be able to bounce back easily.

The run defense looked better: But we’ve got to keep it in proper perspective because the Bears were facing a 28th-ranked Cleveland rushing attack that featured players such as Fozzy Whittaker, Edwin Baker and Chris Ogbonnaya. (Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of any of them.) What’s encouraging, however, is the Bears are definitely starting to build some chemistry along the front four, and that’s because the club is finally able to use the same lineup for multiple games. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff continues to grow with each game after missing more than a year of football, and middle linebacker Jon Bostic is starting to fly around and make plays. Let’s also remember that there’s a good chance Lance Briggs will return to the lineup to face the Eagles.

Corners shining: Tim Jennings essentially shut down Dez Bryant and Josh Gordon in back-to-back outings. Sure, both players caught touchdown passes. But neither had a huge impact on the game; Jennings limited them to a total of 79 yards on five receptions. That’s what we call balling. On the other side, Zack Bowman, filling in for an injured Charles Tillman, picked off two passes against the Browns and returned one for a touchdown.

Now the Bears need to get their safeties to play at a higher level.

Forte quietly destroying opponents: Matt Forte has rushed for 100 yards or more in three consecutive games, carrying the ball 20 times or more each time. Forte is averaging 5.2 yards per attempt over the past three games and needs just 38 yards over the next two contests to match his career high for rushing yards (1,238). Cutler has said that Forte is the glue that holds together the entire offense. That’s absolutely true.

Forte thriving for Bears in early going

August, 24, 2013
Matt ForteAP Photo/Ben MargotMatt Forte ran for 76 yards and caught a 32-yard TD pass in Friday's win.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- With every attempt, Matt Forte’s confidence grows in his club’s zone-blocking schemes, which allow the running back to showcase some of his best attributes.

Over his past four quarters, Forte has averaged 10.7 yards per attempt, and he finished with 76 yards on six attempts Friday in the Chicago Bears' 34-26 win over the Oakland Raiders.

“What makes the zone blocking good is those linemen get push off the ball,” Forte said. “When they can do that, I can be patient and just sit back and read the blocking. So [while] there’s a place where the play is designed to go, you can just use your vision. If I want to, I can cut it all the way back. Or I can just pick a hole. That’s what makes it so nice.”

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Matt Forte Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireMatt Forte hopes to be a bigger factor in the Bears offense this season.
The Chicago Bears brought in another weapon on offense for quarterback Jay Cutler in tight end Martellus Bennett, and there’s got to be at least some desire on the team’s part to see a repeat performance of Brandon Marshall's 2012 record-breaking season.

That’s why it would seem difficult for the Bears to find a way to incorporate more Matt Forte into the offense in 2013, but that’s the plan under Marc Trestman. More than likely, the team will be able to pull it off.

"I would expect (to be used more in 2013). Coach Trestman, I think he said he watched a lot of film on me and has seen me run different routes," Forte said back in May. "So we'll get back to catching the ball out of the backfield like we did the prior years."

The addition of Marshall prior to the 2012 season certainly caused a dip in production for Forte. Forte gained 1,434 yards from scrimmage in 2012 (1,094 rushing and 340 receiving), and while those numbers indicate a productive season, the running back rushed for 100 yards or more in just three games.

Forte finished second in receptions (44), but caught 74 fewer passes than Marshall (119). Forte's 44 catches in 2012 represented a career low. In the four previous years, he averaged nearly 56 catches.

"I think last year was basically the only time that happened. Before that, I actually was running the ball and catching the ball out of the backfield, had multiple catches," Forte said. "Last year was the only (a reduction) in catches. Brandon had a lot of catches, and everybody else really didn't have a whole lot. We were kind of one-dimensional last year I would say. (There’s) gonna be an emphasis for us this year to spread the ball around so that it works, it's balanced.”

To achieve that balance, the offense needs to run through Forte. Once opposing defenses gear up to stop him, that’s when Cutler can work the magic with Marshall, Bennett and the rest of the receiving corps.

Matt Forte: Rule change 'absurd'

March, 17, 2013
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte called the NFL's proposed rule change that would penalize ball carriers who lower their heads to deliver a blow "absurb" in a series of messages he posted on his official Twitter account Sunday morning.

The new rule would penalize a runner 15-yards if he initiates contact with the crown of his helmet outside of the tackle box. Incidental contact with the crown of the helmet would not be a penalty.

"The proposed rule change for running backs might be the most absurd suggestion of a rule change I've ever heard of," Forte wrote. "In order to lower ur shoulder u obviously have to lower ur head. It's a way of protecting ur self from a tackler and a way to break tackles."

Read the entire story.

Coach's Big Decision: More Forte?

November, 3, 2012
The Chicago Bears paid running back Matt Forte well when they signed him in July to a contract extension. So perhaps it’s time to start using him, considering he’s carried the ball 20 times or more in just two games all season.

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice blamed the club’s four three-and-outs against the Carolina Panthers for Forte’s lack of carries last weekend.

“When you’re three and out, three and out, nobody’s going to get a lot of touches,” Tice said. “Fortunately (receiver) Brandon (Marshall) got some catches in the two-minute (offense) or he wouldn’t have had many touches. We can’t have the ball 23 minutes. We had been up in the 36-minute range (in terms of time of possession). When you’re in the 36-minute range you’ve got plays. But when you have the ball 23 minutes, I don’t think anybody’s going to feel they had enough touches.”

Maybe the best way to remedy that situation is to run the ball.

Forte ran the ball eight times in the first half of last week’s game, but didn’t take handoffs on back-to-back plays until the 3:57 mark of the second quarter when his 5-yard run gave him 14 yards total on the two attempts.

Quarterback Jay Cutler predicted Forte wouldn’t “get the touches that he got last year” in 2012 because “there are not enough balls to go around.”

But somehow the Bears need to find a way to get Forte involved. Ultimately, their success on offense depends on it.

Bush gets job done filling in for Forte

September, 23, 2012
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears running back Michael Bush doesn’t care if he’s ever described as a flashy runner, but he does take pride in being an effective one.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bush
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMichael Bush scored the Bears' lone offensive touchdown on Sunday.
Bush displayed a bit of good (three runs, one reception of 10-plus yards and a touchdown) and a bit of bad (11 carries of two yards or less) while filling in for injured Matt Forte on Sunday. Overall, though, all Bush cared about was doing enough to help the Bears win 23-6 over the St. Louis Rams.

“I think it was kind of ugly, but I got it done,” Bush said.

Early on, it appeared as if the Bears running game wouldn’t lose a beat without Forte. Bush’s first five plays, four runs and one reception, equated to 48 total yards. He later added a 12-yard run and the offense’s lone touchdown on a 4-yard run.

“You can’t say enough about a guy like Michael Bush,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He really didn’t miss a beat. He’s protection savvy. He runs the ball hard and hits the holes. He does everything for us.”

In the first half, Bush rushed for 49 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries and caught two receptions for 18 yards.

“We moved the ball good in the first half as far as runs,” Bush said. “Other than that, I think it was a solid job. Anytime you can move the ball in the league, that’s good. That’s a good start in the right direction.”

Bears coach Lovie Smith looked favorably on Bush’s early play.

“Thought Michael Bush stepped up and gave us some good runs, getting the running game going,” Smith said.

The second half was a different story for Bush and the Bears’ ground game. Bush picked up six yards on four carries and caught no passes. The team rushed for 39 yards, 21 of which came on a Cutler scramble.

“I guess they figured out the scheme and it was kind of stopping at the end,” Bush said.

Outside of the victory, Bush was indifferent about everything else, including his own play, being the go-to back for the day and even the game’s score.

“To me, it’s the same,” Bush said of being the starter. “I made sure I prepared to be ready when it was my turn. … That’s just me. I’m just dry. I know it’s something I got to do. I know everybody is depending on me, so I just try to stay consistent, no turnovers and do the best I can.

“You always want to put up more points up. Whether we won 6-7, 2-0, I can care less as long as won.”

Bears re-sign Kahlil Bell

September, 15, 2012
Free-agent running back Kahlil Bell tweeted on Saturday that he is re-signing with the Chicago Bears.

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Bears looking at Steve Slaton?

September, 14, 2012
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears will bring in free agent running back Steve Slaton for a workout on Saturday, a league source confirmed on Friday.

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Matt Forte tips the balance

September, 9, 2012
CHICAGO -- If you expected Matt Forte to say now that he has his new contract, it doesn’t matter how many touchdowns he scores, you were wrong.

If you expected him to somehow stop running as if every step was an attempt to prove he was truly one of the elite backs in the league; or that his overall production would suffer, well it looks like that’s going to be proven incorrect as well.

If we expected Forte to lose his edge or to suddenly become diplomatic, thank goodness that’s not going to happen either.

Read the entire column.

ESPNChicago's Jeff Dickerson joins SportsCenter to discuss Matt Forte's new contract.

ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson on the latest with the Bears and Matt Forte.

Damien Woody thinks there should be no concern over Matt Forte's knees.

Lovie Smith talked to Matt Forte

March, 25, 2012
Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said he has spoken to Matt Forte since the running back's angry reaction to the signing of Michael Bush. While Smith didn't say the situation had been resolved, he seemed confident that it would be.

"We love him, he's going to rush for a lot of yards for us," Smith told ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "It's going to work out fine."

Read the entire story.

Bears place tag on Matt Forte

March, 2, 2012
The Chicago Bears announced on Friday that they applied the franchise designation to running back Matt Forte as the sides continue to work on a long-term contract.

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No Forte tag yet may be a good sign

March, 1, 2012
No news might serve as a sliver of optimism regarding Matt Forte's prospects for signing a long-term contract extension with the Chicago Bears prior to the league-mandated Monday deadline for teams to apply the franchise tag to players.

The Philadelphia Eagles -- 11 days into the 15-day window -- became the first team to designate a franchise player on Thursday, applying the tag to receiver DeSean Jackson, thus taking a potential target of the receiver-starved Bears off the free-agent market.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireBears running back Matt Forte was leading the league in yards from scrimmage last season before suffering a knee injury.
While sources said that representatives for Forte spoke with the Bears at the NFL Combine last week, it's unclear where the sides stand in consummating a new deal. But the fact the Bears didn't tag Forte on Thursday might mean the sides remain in serious discussions, and a move -- whether it's the franchise tag or an announcement of a new deal -- could be coming soon.

Exactly one week ago, Bears coach Lovie Smith seemed confident the sides would come to an agreement.

"Matt is going to play his football for the Chicago Bears, you start with that," Smith said from the NFL Combine. "In time, hopefully we can get an agreement in place that suits Matt, and we feel comfortable with. I think it's just a matter of time. That will happen eventually."

Negotiations between the sides skid to a halt over the summer when the Bears offered betweent $13 and $14 million in guarantees, according to a source. Surely the team's initial offer will increase to near the $20 million range in guarantees with the running back coming off his first selection to the Pro Bowl. The club's acquisition of Phil Emery as the new general manager also seems to have generated optimism that the sides can come to an accord.

"The team hasn't changed its approach to Matt Forte, at all," Smith said. "We are on record [as] to how important Matt is to our organization."

Forte gained 1,487 yards from scrimmage, and led the league in that category before a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee sidelined the running back for the final four games of the season.

The deadline for the team to apply the franchise tag -- which will be $7.7 million -- is Monday, but it's not out of the realm of possibility the sides could reach a long-term deal before then.

Given the team's myriad needs and the fact that free agency and the draft are on the horizon, the Bears surely would like to reach a deal with money already set aside for Forte so they can move forward with other plans with no uncertainty.