Stock Watch: Forte on verge of career year
December, 17, 2013
By Jeff Dickerson | ESPNChicago.com
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesWith another 39 yards rushing, Matt Forte will have a new career high.
1. Matt Forte, RB: Forte has done some of his best work of the season in the month of December. Sunday's 127-yard rushing effort against the Cleveland Browns marked the third straight week Forte topped 100 yards on the ground. Through 14 games, Forte has rushed for 1,200 yards, and is just 38 yards shy of the career-best 1,238 yards he ran for as a rookie in 2008. One of the best all-around tailbacks in the NFL, Forte has accumulated a career-high 1,722 yards from scrimmage, the highest total of any player in franchise history other than Walter Payton. While the Bears' quarterback position is receiving the bulk of the attention, the ground game led by Forte is stronger than ever.
2. James Anderson, LB: The veteran strongside linebacker recorded a team-high and season-best 14 tackles in the win against the Browns. Anderson, along with rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic (eight tackles), were around the football much of the afternoon. The past couple of months have not been easy for Anderson. With veterans Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams unavailable because of injuries, Anderson was thrust into the leadership role at linebacker, playing alongside rookies Bostic and Khaseem Greene.
3. Zack Bowman, CB: Bowman had perhaps the finest game of his six-year NFL career against the Browns when he intercepted two passes, returning the second one 43 yards for a touchdown. Although cornerback Charles Tillman is a two-time Pro Bowler and the greatest defensive back in team history, it's not as if the Bears have fallen off a cliff with Bowman in the starting lineup the past five weeks. Bowman recorded eight or more tackles in three of the four games prior to the Browns victory, and is now tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He is a relative bargain at a combined $785,425 salary in 2013.
4. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery receives a weekly mention in the stock report. His remarkable 45-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter over two Browns defenders swung the momentum in the Bears' favor for good. Jeffery has caught four touchdowns in the past three weeks, and is on pace to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl with 80 catches for 1,265 yards and seven touchdowns. Jeffery joked after the game Sunday that his teammates called him a "human highlight reel." With apologies to basketball Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, that nickname is very appropriate for Jeffery.
1. Stephen Paea, DT: Paea's problematic toe limited the nose tackle to 15 snaps in the win against Cleveland. Injuries are part of the game, but unfortunately for Paea, veteran Jeremiah Ratliff has emerged in his absence. Ratliff was on the field for 44 of the Bears' 58 defensive snaps, recording three tackles, one tackle-for-loss and three quarterback hits, according to the coaches review of the film. If Ratliff continues to produce at that level, it could make it difficult for Paea to be on the field as much as he would like in the final two regular season games.
2. Shea McClellin, DE: McClellin played 46 snaps in Week 15 and registered zero tackles and two quarterback pressures. That means McClellin has a combined four tackles in the past four games since returning from a hamstring injury. McClellin hasn't recorded a sack since he had the hat trick (three sacks) against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4 en route to winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week. His hit on Aaron Rodgers altered the NFC North race, but that occurred more than a month ago. It would be great for the Bears' defense -- and for McClellin's confidence -- if the former first-round pick can finish out the regular season on a high note. Pressuring the quarterback is important. McClellin can do that. But can he begin to sack the quarterback on a regular basis? That remains to be seen, as McClellin has six sacks in 26 career games.