2009 Position by Position Review: RB

After a disappointing 7-9 record in 2009, it's time to take a look back at the Chicago Bears and discover what went right and what went so incredibly wrong. Tuesday, we run through the running backs.

2009 Review
This was supposed to be the year Matt Forte became a superstar, following up his 1,238-yard rookie campaign with even more production and a Pro Bowl selection, but the former Tulane Green Wave instead fell prey to the dreaded sophomore slump.

Despite starting all 16 games, Forte managed only 929 yards rushing, averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and scored one third the amount of touchdowns (4) as he did the season before (12). Much of the blame can be thrown at the feet of the offensive line, which failed to open holes on a consistent basis for its primary ball carrier, but Forte didn't look to have the burst he showed in 2008 and had trouble breaking tackles all year long. Kevin Jones got hurt in the final exhibition contest and spent the entire campaign on injured reserve, and while neither Garrett Wolfe nor Adrian Peterson got the job done backing up Forte, undrafted rookie free agent Kahlil Bell averaged 5.5 yards per carry – including a 72-yard explosion on his very first attempt – after being promoted off the practice squad in Week 11.

At fullback, Jason McKie wasn't given a carry all season and caught just five passes for 13 yards despite being the only player on the roster at his position.

Inside the Numbers
Forte only cracked the century mark twice, and both of those outputs came against the Lions and their 25th-ranked rushing defense: 121 yards on 12 attempts in Week 4 and 101 yards on 16 attempts in Week 17. Credit the 6-2, 216-pounder for still being one of the better pass-catching tailbacks in the league, racking up 57 receptions for 471 yards and recording at least four grabs in nine games, but all of a sudden he became a fumbler and put the ball on the turf six times, three of which resulted in turnovers.

RB Kahlil Bell
AP Images: Kilchiro Sato

Thumbs Up
While you have to credit Forte for never throwing his offensive line under the bus and refusing to let minor injuries be an excuse for his lack of effectiveness, it was a shock to see Chicago's featured back play so poorly after being a top-five pick in every fantasy football draft. The coaching staff finally committed to getting a secondary option significant playing time once Bell was elevated to the active roster, and the former UCLA Bruin may have done enough to consider Jones expendable at this point.

Thumbs Down
It's hard to believe that the Monsters of the Midway, an organization known for pounding the rock between the tackles, could fall all the way to 29th in the NFL in rushing at just 93.3 yards per game, so Forte needs to take a long look in the mirror this offseason and decide if he's going to be the next Neal Anderson or the next Anthony Thomas. While Wolfe and Peterson may have combined to rush 29 times for 171 yards, good enough for 5.9 yards per attempt, neither is effective offensively and neither should be guaranteed a roster spot next year.

2010 Preview
With Jones injured again and the Wolfe-Peterson duo little more than special-teams options going forward, general manager Jerry Angelo may need to add a big back in free agency or the draft because Forte struggles in short-yardage situations.

Although it was assumed the acquisition of Jay Cutler would keep the eighth defender out of the box and open up running lanes for Forte, that was not the case because opponents didn't respect the Chicago passing attack and its lack of play-making receivers. The wideouts improved over the course of the schedule and will only get better come 2010, as will Cutler following an up-and-down performance his first year in a Bears uniform – the system, however, will be different since offensive coordinator Ron Turner was fired. Not only does the blocking up front need to get better if Forte wants to bounce back next year, but a difference-making fullback would be a quality addition since McKie isn't clearing a path in front of his tailback.

Coach Lovie Smith said in his season-ending press conference that he still wants to be balanced on offense and commit to the running game, but his plan might go up in smoke if the pass-happy Mike Martz is hired as the new offensive coordinator.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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