- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice believes inquiries about Matt Forte's usage in the offense are "fair questions," but he says the reason for the Pro Bowl tailback's' lack of touches stems from the offense's inability to stay on the field.
Forte got the ball 20 times (15 rushing attempts, five receptions) in a 23-22 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It was a modest workload that Tice would like to see increased if the offense can do a better job in the time-of-possession battle. The Bears had the ball for 23 minutes, 22 seconds and ran only 53 offensive plays (two plays were nullified due to penalties) compared to the Panthers' 77 plays in the 36:38 their offense was on the field.
The Bears also had problems sustaining drives. They converted just 2-of-8 (25 percent) third downs. One reason for the Bears lack of success on third down could be their failures on first down, where they ranked last in the NFL, averaging 4.19 yards per play.
"When you're three-and-out, three-and-out, nobody is going to get a lot of touches," Tice said. "Fortunately, Brandon (Marshall) got some catches in the two-minute drill or his numbers would have been down. No, I wasn't (happy with Forte's workload), but we can't have the ball 23 minutes. We had been up in the 36 minute range.
"When you're in the 36-minute range you've got plays, then you can say 'Hey, you didn't give him enough plays.' When you have the ball for 23 minutes, I don't think anybody is going to come out saying they got enough touches. And I think that's a fair question."
It's also fair to wonder if the Bears could be utilizing Forte more as a pass catcher. Forte always has been regarded as a terrific receiver out of the backfield, and last season averaged 4.3 receptions per game before he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 4.
But so far in six games in 2012 (Forte was inactive Week 3 against St. Louis), he is catching an average of three balls per game.