The Sixth Man

The Bears had one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year, allowing 56 sacks, the most in the NFL. If not for running back Matt Forte, things could have been much, much worse.

In evaluating Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, one obviously must take into consideration his contributions as a runner and pass catcher. In his three NFL seasons, he has averaged 270 carries for 1,079 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground, while adding 57 catches, 498 yards and 2 TDs per season through the air.

Forte touched the ball 288 times last year, making up more than 30 percent of all Chicago touches last season. To say he's the heart of the offense is an understatement, especially when one considers how poorly his offensive line played. If the addition of Gabe Carimi, and possibly a free agent guard, can improve the blocking up front, Forte could earn a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2011.

Yet what most overlook are his contributions as a pass blocker. According to numbers provided by Pro Football Focus (PFF), Forte accumulated 140 pass blocking snaps last year, the fourth most of any NFL running back. Of those 140 snaps, Forte gave up pressure on the quarterback just five times. PFF crunched the numbers and graded Forte's overall pass blocking efficiency at 2.68, fifth best in the league.

RB Matt Forte
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

It's safe to say, without Forte's pass-blocking contributions, the Bears would have given up many more sacks than the league-leading 56 the team surrendered.

These numbers are even more interesting when we take into consideration the offseason signing of Chester Taylor last year, and his subsequent $6 million salary in 2010. Taylor has been prolific his entire career as a third-down back, yet not only did Forte take the vast majority of the third-down reps, the team ended up relegating Taylor to short-yardage duty.

To add insult to injury, Taylor averaged a paltry 2.4 yards per carry – the worst average of any ball carrier with at least 100 carries in a season in the post-merger era. Taylor is owed $1.275 million in 2011, which is not a hefty sum for a veteran backup running back. Yet many observers feel its time to let go of the 31 year old.

Forte's numbers as a pass blocker support that argument. With Kahlil Bell and Harvey Unga on the roster, both younger and cheaper options than Taylor, the team should strongly consider cutting the veteran.

Yet Martz seemed incredulous when asked about Taylor's future with the team, telling Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune: "Why would he get cut? Why would that happen? It wouldn't make any sense, would it? We're pleased with him. We're very pleased with him. He really played well, especially in the last few games."

Yet the numbers don't lie. Forte is just as good protecting the quarterback as he is running and catching the football. Unga (6-1, 240), BYU's all-time career leader in rushing yards, is built like a goal-line back and should be given the opportunity to contribute as such. That leaves no room for Taylor.

The Bears will bring Taylor to camp but it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him cut before the start of the season. If that comes to fruition, expect Forte to see even more time on the field in 2011, which could lead to a career year.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider

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