The Chicago Bears made a concerted effort in 2015 to run the ball consistently each and every week.
To that end, the Bears finished 6th in the NFL with 469 rushing attempts and 11th in total rushing yards (1,851). Here's how the production played out from the club's top three rushers:
The Bears never gave up on the run this year, which was a breath of fresh air following two years of Marc "Bubble Screens are an Extension of the Run Game" Trestman. Yet, at the end of the day, Chicago's rushing rank was the result of volume, not outstanding play.
As a team, the Bears averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which was just 20th best in the NFL. On a per-play basis, 19 other teams had better rushing attacks, which is concerning. In addition, the Bears had 44 runs of 10 yards or more, which ranked 17th in the league. In terms of explosive, game-changing run plays, the Bears were less than average.
Heading into 2016, there's even more uncertainty around the run game. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is unlikely to return and it's doubtful Forte will be on the roster.
But before we tackle the future of Chicago's rushing attack, let's evaluate last season running back by running back.
Forte missed three games due to a knee injury and finished with the lowest rushing total of his career, while his four rushing scores were his second fewest. His 4.1 yards per carry were his second fewest since 2009, while his 44 receptions tied for the lowest total of his career and were 58 fewer than he caught in 2014.
When you look at the numbers as a whole and the fact he missed more than one game for only the second time in his career, it's clear that Forte had his worst season as a professional. Not only that, the youngsters began siphoning carries in the second half of the campaign, which has never before happened during Forte's eight years in Chicago. He also had lapses in pass protection, giving up four QB hurries and two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).
And to top it all off, Forte turned 30 in December, the age at which NFL running backs have historically declined.
Forte is still a very good all-around running back but when you factor in age, injuries and overall production, it's easy to see why GM Ryan Pace took a wait-and-see approach with the veteran. Forte will soon hit free agency for the first time in his career and it's highly unlikely the Bears will re-sign him.
Many feel Forte would make a quality third-down back at this point in his career but there will be a handful of teams this off-season - the Dallas Cowboys come to mind - who will offer him workhorse snaps and a contract to match, something the Bears don't appear willing to do.
For all intents and purposes, Forte has played his last snap as part of the Monsters of the Midway.
In Week 8, Langford made his first NFL start and he ripped off 142 total yards and a touchdown. The following week, he racked up 182 total yards and two touchdowns.
Those two games showed Langford's explosiveness and potential as a full-time running back. His straight-line speed and open-field ability was on display, which created many believers. Yet there are a number of areas in which Langford must improve if he's to take over as the lead back going forward.
The most obvious is finding consistency as a pass catcher. Per PFF, Langford dropped 8 of 30 catchable passes. His 26.67 percent drop rate was nearly 10 points higher than any of the other 56 qualifying running backs. That's scary bad.
Langford also struggled in pass protection, allowing 7 QB hurries on the year, which was the most on the team among non-offensive linemen.
In addition, Langford struggled mightily to make defenders miss. His 10.3 Elusive Rating - a PFF metric that measures a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers - was dead last among 52 qualifying running backs.
Langford has speed, burst and potential but his game is extremely sloppy. If he's going to be the club's workhorse back going forward, he must improve on his details and find a way to make more defenders miss.
Carey was a pleasant surprise for the Bears this year. He was on the verge of being cut heading into the preseason but showed enough, particularly in the preseason finale, for the team to keep him on the 53-man roster. He was inactive the first eight weeks of the regular season but was active for all but one contest the rest of the year.
Carey's best game came in Week 9 against the Rams, in which he had 14 carries for 56 yards. He played third fiddle for most of the year but Carey proved very adept in short-yardage situations and even found his niche on special teams, something he didn't do in college nor in his rookie season.
The club's 2013 fourth-round pick, who led the nation in rushing that season for the University of Arizona, Carey is a hard-nosed, downhill ball carrier who runs with a lot of power. Between the tackles, Carey has a future in the NFL.
I asked Carey what a backfield of him and Langford would look like next season.
"It’s going to be very viscous," he said. "We’ll be one of the best combos, if not the best combo."
Obviously, Carey doesn't lack for confidence. If Forte departs and Carey is given a larger piece of the pie, he could surprise a lot of people next season.
Even if Gase leaves, the Bears won't suddenly become a pass-happy team that ignored the ground game, at least not as long as John Fox is the head coach.
"Let me make this clear, our systems are our systems," Fox said this week when asked about a post-Gase offense. "They’re not any individual’s systems, they are our systems. Our systems aren’t changing, offense, defense or special teams. You tweak and you grow and you adjust, you have to do that in this league because it’s a fluid league. There are trends and things that happen and things that you have to react to regardless of what they are, that’s all part of coaching. One of the hard things about being a new staff is introducing those systems and they won’t change."
Under Fox, the Bears will always run the ball. That much is clear. Who will be getting those carries has yet to be answered but the odds of Forte coming back appear very slim.
In all likelihood, Langford and Carey will be Chicago's one-two backfield punch of 2016 and beyond. That's a scary proposition, as both are inexperienced and lack accomplishment, but if talent is any indicator, the Bears should be in good hands letting the kids run the show.null