Caleb Hanie has not established himself in the NFL as a quarterback who can beat a defense through the air. Until he shows he's capable of carrying an offense, opposing defenses will continue to stack the box against the Bears, putting at least 1-2 extra players up near the line of scrimmage. In this way, their odds of shutting down Matt Forte increase greatly.
This isn't likely to change any time soon. Forte is Chicago's biggest weapon on offense. He's third in the NFL in rushing yards, fourth in rushing yards per game, ninth in yards per carry and he leads the league in total yards from scrimmage. Forte has proven himself as one of the league's most-dangerous dual threats. Hanie hasn't proven squat. And until he does, Chicago's offense will receive a steady diet of eight- and nine-man fronts.
"They want to make us pass the ball. And if we're going to run it, then they'll make us earn the yards. I don't mind either way," Forte said. "We may have to get the tough yards, you know the carries may be bust it up to get three or four yards, and hopefully you'll break one later on in the game. That's how it's going to be from here on out."
RB Matt Forte
Kelley L. Cox/US Presswire
Bringing extra players near the line of scrimmage hurts the secondary, which can open things up for the passing attack. It will create opportunities for Hanie to take shots down the field. The key for him going forward will be to take advantage of those open areas in the secondary.
Stacking the box, while done in an effort to stop the run, can also lead to big plays on the ground. If an offensive line does a good job picking up that loaded front, it will leave fewer defenders on the back end.
"If you are a good running back, obviously you're going to face good defenses, and they're going to have a scheme to try and stop you," said Forte. "The idea is, we figure that out, we make adjustments on the sideline, and Coach (Mike) Tice makes good adjustments, and attack them from there. From that part, if they do have an extra lineman, I can break a tackle and make somebody miss. That's where big plays come from. If you can make a guy miss, that's just as good as a good block."
After a blistering start, Forte has slowed down recently. He hasn't rushed for more than 100 yards since Week 9. Over the past three games, he's averaging just 60 yards on the ground, with a per-carry average of 3.6 yards during that span.
At the same time, running back Marion Barber appears to be hitting his stride. Last week, the team split the carries almost down the middle, with Forte receiving just two more than Barber. Forte didn't care to speculate how the timeshare will play out going forward.
"You have to ask the coaches about that," he said. "I don't decide who gets the carries. The coaches do that."
No matter how the carries are split, one thing is for sure: the Bears won't make the playoffs if they can't run the ball.
"We've got to run the ball well and take a lot of pressure off of Caleb," said Forte. "That's our basic thought going forward: Take the pressure off him by running the ball effectively."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.