Taking a look at Chicago’s tailback as part of a larger ESPN.com project:
AP Photo/Dave Martin
Matt Forte's numbers have dropped significantly from his rookie season.
A half-yard per carry. About 19 yards per game. That’s the production dropoff that has taken Matt Forte from NFC North blue-chipper to the division’s biggest disappointment in 2009.
Through five games this season, Forte is averaging 3.4 yards per carry and about 58 yards per game. As one of the NFL’s top rookies last season, he averaged 3.9 yards and almost 78 yards per game. Those numbers might not sound significant, but it’s been alarming for a team that has few personnel options at the position.
Considering that almost 40 percent of his season total came in one game against 1-5 Detroit, Forte in essence has been in a season-long slump. It’s too early to know where this will take us, but there seem to be three options:
The Bears have matched up against an exceptional collection of run defenses.
Chicago’s offensive line is playing worse than imagined.
Forte is simply an average back.
The final explanation is most frightening for the Bears, who lost backup Kevin Jones during the preseason and have never seemed to trust the diminutive Garrett Wolfe. From the moment he was drafted last season, Forte was named the heir to the Cedric Benson/Thomas Jones duo. The Bears haven’t hedged that bet, and so their 2009 fortunes are tied to Forte.
Regardless of the reason the Bears are not getting nearly the production they need from one of their key offensive players. (Note: An earlier version of this post contained an inaccurate number for Forte's receptions this season. He has caught 18 passes.)