Bears 2013 Positional Review: RB

In the second of our 12-part series reviewing 2013, we break down the play of the Chicago Bears running backs, as well as the lead blocker, in the first year of Marc Trestman's offense.

Statistics of Note

Matt Forte: 289 carries, 1,339 rushing yards, 4.6 average, 9 TD; 74 catches, 594 receiving yards, 3 TD

Michael Bush: 63 carries, 197 rushing yards, 3.1 average, 3 TD; 4 catches, 48 receiving yards, 1 TD

Report Card

After Marc Trestman was named head coach of the Chicago Bears back in January, there couldn't have been a happier player in the NFL than Matt Forte. Looking back at what Charlie Garner accomplished as the lead back in Trestman's Oakland Raiders offenses of the early 2000s, the expectations for Forte rose sky high.

In 2002, Garner nearly gained 1,000 yards as both a runner and a receiver, racking up more than 1,900 yards from scrimmage en route to Super Bowl XXVII. Most expected the same from Forte, who has a similar skill set to Garner, and he sure didn't disappoint.

Forte's 1,339 rushing yards were second most in the NFL, while his 74 receptions were second most amongst running backs. His 1,933 yards from scrimmage were second in the NFL and his 594 receiving yards were fourth most at the position.

As the centerpiece of Trestman's offense, Forte shined and fit like a glove in coordinator Aaron Kromer's zone blocking run game. It was a system that designed plays to get Forte in space, of which he took full advantage. Forte gained 36.8 percent of his yards on plays of 15 yards or more, which was the third highest percentage in the league amongst running backs, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) – a stat made possible due to his combination of field vision, elusiveness and speed.

For his efforts this year, Forte was named to his second straight Pro Bowl, a reward well deserved.

Yet Forte wasn't perfect in 2013, particularly in pass protection, where he took a significant step backward. Per PFF, Forte gave up 12 hurries on the season, which equals Roberto Garza's total in nearly 200 fewer snaps. PFF also uses a Pass Block Efficiency metric, which measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed, in which Forte finished dead last in the league amongst running backs with 80 or more pass blocking snaps this year.

It's an area of Forte's overall game that needs to improve but it's hard to complain about a running back that put together the greatest season in franchise history by a running back not named Walter Payton.

Conversely, Michael Bush was a disappointment. In 2012, Bush had a down year by his standards, rushing for just 411 yards, at 3.6 yards per carry, which were both career lows. Yet he dropped that bar even further this season, picking up just 197 yards on the ground, at 3.1 yards per tote.

For a player that makes $3.5 million, that's not going to cut it. Granted, he was routinely ignored by Trestman and never got a real opportunity to help the offense. Yet when his number was called, often in short-yardage situations, Bush failed to consistently come through.

The low point came in Week 12 against the St. Louis Rams, when Bush carried seven times for -5 yards, including a goal-line series in which it took five carries, a penalty to reset the downs and a last-second lunge to finally score.

Bush held a heavy dead money number last year but there will be no cap hit for the Bears this season if they decide to cut him. Considering how nonexistent he was in Trestman's offense, that $3.5 million might be better spent elsewhere.

FB Tony Fiammetta was very inconsistent early in the campaign. On numerous occasions, he led into a hole on a run play and ran right past the defender who made the tackle in the backfield. And when he did make contact, he didn't bring much pop.

Yet something switched for Fiammetta right around the Week 9 contest against the Green Bay Packers. During that game, he made arguably the biggest block of the season for the team. On a gutsy 4th-down pitch play, ran from Chicago's own 32-yard line, Fiammetta broke back on the play to pick up the blitzing linebacker, allowing Forte to clear the backfield and pick up the necessary yard.

From there, Fiammetta showed much more consistency, which is why the club rewarded him with a two-year contract extension a few weeks back. If he can build on his strong second half, he'll be a pivotal part of the run game in 2014.

2013 RB Grade: B

Forte was amazing this year and at 29 years old, he should have at least one more Pro Bowl season in him. If this year was any indication, he'll have every opportunity next season to match or surpass his career-best stats in 2013. But the pass blocking was a bane for the offense in a number of games, which lowers his overall grade.

Bush has struggled since the Bears signed him to a four-year, $14 million deal two years ago. With a team that has so many needs on defense, and a quarterback due $22.5 million this season, it's hard to justify tying up so much cap space in Bush.

The Bears may consider inserting Michael Ford into Bush's role. Ford, an undrafted rookie out of LSU this year, was active in every contest this season, although he did not see any snaps on offense. He has experience as a kick returner, which gives him added value. If he's going to replace Bush, he'll have to earn that job in training camp.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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