Earlier this year, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was the subject of discussion as to whether he is an elite NFL running back. If the debate centers on his value to his offense in comparison to that of other teams, it can be argued that Forte would be an MVP candidate – if most valuable player means how critical he is to his teams' offense.
Adrian Peterson is widely regarded as the top running back in the NFL, but he often comes off the field on third-down passing situations. Forte does not. As important as Peterson is to the Vikings offense, a claim could be made that Forte should be called All Day, because whether his team is winning or losing, he remains on the field at all times and is the centerpiece of the offense.
It seems strange that just two years ago the Bears signed Chester Taylor to a free-agent contract and the rationale was given that Taylor was a more ideal fit in the Chicago offense than Forte. Given his skills as runner, blocker and receiver, it was theorized that Taylor was more of the Marshall Faulk clone Mike Martz was looking for in the Bears' offensive attack. A year later, Taylor is a fuzzy memory in Chicago and widely viewed as a failed (and expensive) experiment. Forte proved his value last year and, to date this season, no running back has been more pivotal to his offense than Forte has been with the Bears.
No running back in the NFL has been used as much as Forte. Not only does he lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 785 yards (440 rushing, 345 receiving), he is second in total touches with 112 – trailing only Peterson (119). But Peterson has gained 238 fewer yards and represents a much smaller percentage of the Vikings' total offense. Peterson has 547 total yards – 34.6 percent of the Vikings' total offense. Forte's 785 yards represents 49.4 percent of the Bears' team total.
Forte has rushed 82 times for 440 yards, which represents 83 percent of all the rushing attempts by running backs. He is so dominant in his position in the offense that the team's second leading rusher is quarterback Jay Cutler, who has gained 28 yards on seven carries. Forte's 440 yards are 86.8 percent of the Bears' rushing total and, from Week 2 on, the other running backs that have seen action in relief of Forte (Khalil Bell and Marion Barber) have combined to rush just seven times for 21 yards, while Forte has rushed 66 times for 372 yards.
"He's a patient runner. He really runs well behind his blockers and behind his pads. They really like to attack the exterior of the defense and get into that alley," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "That's something we're going to have to be good on. We're going to have to set edges and we're going to have to pick blockers off, and guys are going to have to rally up and making tackles."
The same is true for Forte as a receiver. He has 30 receptions through five games, as many as the next two Bears combined and all but one of the receptions for the running backs on the roster. His 345 receiving yards are 91 more than the next highest team total (Johnny Knox, 254).
As dominant a component to the Bears offense as Forte has been, it has become even more pronounced over the last two games. As a team in the last two games, Chicago has rushed 51 times for 329 yards. Of those, Forte has rushed 47 times for 321 yards, as well as catching eight passes for 58 yards.
Breaking down Forte's usage with the Chicago offense would appear to depend on whether the team is winning or losing. His number of carries has dropped with each successive quarter (28-20-19-14), due in large part to the Bears abandoning the run when they get behind by double digits. In their three losses, Forte has just one carry in the fourth quarter. If this was Peterson, his numbers would likely fall completely off the table, but Forte is different in that he gets used throughout the game as a receiver.
Through five games, he has 30 receptions. His reception-yardage numbers have remained pretty consistent through the first three quarters – five catches for 105 yards in the first quarter, 7-77 in the second and 6-45 in the third. But he has 12 catches for 118 yards in the fourth quarter – 10 of those coming in the Bears' three losses.
A breakdown of Forte's production has been relatively predictable from game to game. Early on, the Bears look to establish the run. In what was viewed as a critical Monday night game vs. Detroit earlier this week, Forte had nine carries in the first quarter, as the Bears looked to control the clock and keep the Lions' big-play offense off the field. As has become a habit in Chicago with the arrival of Martz, the Bears will abandon the run for long stretches as a time, but Forte remains on the field and transfers his contribution from being a runner to being a receiver.
With both the Vikings and Bears desperately needing a victory to try to dig themselves out of a disappointing start to the season, both of them are going to lean heavily on their star players. In the battle between Peterson and Forte, the numbers tell us that, as important as A.D. is to the Vikings, Forte may well be even more important to Chicago and its offense.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Stats show everything is Forte's forte
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