Monday, July 23, 2012
Matt Forte or Michael Bush near goal line?
By Kevin Seifert
Matt Forte's contract agreement last week with the Chicago Bears changed the dynamic of our discussions about their backfield. No longer is newcomer Michael Bush a contingency plan for a possible Forte holdout. Now, Forte and Bush are part of a two-headed backfield that offers plenty of new possibilities.
Our friends over at ESPNChicago.com started the conversation with a "Four Downs" feature that asked, among other questions, whether Forte or Bush would finish the season with more touchdowns. You never know what might happen in the passing game, but in terms of the run, past performance and schematic history suggest Bush could out-score Forte even if he gets a fraction of the carries.
We've discussed Forte's poor production in goal-to-goal situations in previous years. Last season, as the chart shows, he didn't score on any of his 12 carries under those circumstances. Bush, on the other hand, scored on seven of his 20 goal-to-go carries. For perspective, the NFL's most productive goal-to-go runner was probably the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy, who scored 11 times on 28 carries.
Forte is among the NFL's most versatile backs, but he has never demonstrated consistent power running near the goal line -- even when playing in two very different offensive schemes under Ron Turner and then Mike Martz. The Bears' current offensive coordinator, Mike Tice, is a long-time proponent of power running, and set up an interesting and at least mildly relevant arrangement during his first year as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach in 2002.
That season, the Vikings started speedy Michael Bennett as their primary tailback and used veteran Moe Williams in short-yardage situations. Bennett finished with 1,296 yards and Williams scored 11 rushing touchdowns on 106 total carries, mostly close to the goal-line.
It would be convenient to conclude that Tice will reprise that situation 10 years later, with Forte as his lead back and Bush playing in short-yardage, but it makes sense and has precedent. That's a pretty good start as we sit here prior to the first whistle of training camp.