When the Chicago Bears traded away Jared Allen and Jonathan Bostic, there were rumors circulating that the organization was holding a fire sale, despite the fact that neither Allen nor Bostic were a glove fit in a 3-4 defensive scheme. The player most often mentioned as being the next on the trading block is Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte.
A trade hasn’t happened yet and, given Forte’s value to the Bears, it may not happen and shouldn’t (the trading deadline is Tuesday). Perhaps there is no running back in the league that is more of a valued to his team than Forte.
“I feel like he’s one of the top backs in the NFL,” Minnesota Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he’s definitely one of the best running backs in the NFL.”
To look at Forte’s career numbers, he is compiling a résumé that could have him make his last stop in Canton in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has missed just five games in his eight NFL seasons. He has never rushed for less than 929 yards in a season, has five 1,000-yard rushing seasons, has caught more than 50 passes in six of his first seven seasons and has scored nine or more touchdowns in four of his first seven years.
If anything, he has improved with age, not declined. In his last two seasons, he has rushed the ball 555 times for 2,377 yards, caught 176 passes for 1,402 yards and scored 22 touchdowns.
He had his career high in rushing yards in 2013 (1,339) and shattered his personal best for receptions (102) and receiving yards (808) last year. Suffice to say, he is critical in the game plan of defensive coordinator George Edwards.
“He’s exceptional,” Edwards said. “He’s good with the ball in his hands, whether it’s a running play or whether he’s catching it coming out of the backfield. They’ll put him in the slot. Yards after the catch he’s excellent in. Last year, I think he led everybody in the league for catches (for running backs). He’s someone that we definitely have to pay attention to and be disciplined as far as the leverage of the coverages that we’re playing on him and just the different aspects of what he brings to the ballgame.”
His role in the Bears offense is just as big, if not bigger, this season than it has been in the past. He is averaging 21 carries a game and hasn’t had less than 15 carries in any game. No other Bears player has more than 15 carries through the first six games combined, hammering home the point as to how valued he is in the Chicago offense.
“He can catch the ball out of the backfield, that’s the biggest positive he brings to the game,” Munnerlyn said. “Most guys have a third-down back. They don’t have one. He’s there all-down back. He’s their guy. We definitely have to be prepared to shut him down because they’re going to use him a lot.”
He has only scored two touchdowns in 13 career games against the Vikings and hasn’t scored in the last 11, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t dangerous to the Minnesota defense. He has 90 or more rushing yards in three of the last four meetings and six or more receptions in three of those games as well.
He may be unheralded for what he does for the Bears offense, but he has the respect of his peers like few others. Even Vikings running back Adrian Peterson made a comparison to him and reigning NBA MVP Stephon Curry – high praise indeed.
“He’s good,” Peterson said. “He does it all. He catches the ball well. He’s good when it comes to pass pro (protection). Obviously, running the ball. For me personally, the reason I compared him (to Curry), he’s smooth with it kind of like Stephon. I felt like it was a good comparison for Forte. To me, he’s been like an unsung hero for a long time because he does so much. Recognizes real well. That’s why I gave him (the nickname) Stephon.”
When the Vikings head into Chicago looking to snap their eight-year drought of wins in the Windy City, it will be Forte who will be the focus of the Vikings defense. Stop him and you go a long way to stopping the Bears. Nobody knows that more than Linval Joseph, who played against Forte before Bears fans knew who he was. He has seen what Forte can do and has given the word to teammates not as familiar with him to beware because if the Bears are going to keep their home winning streak against the Vikings going, it will likely be the result of another big day from Forte.
“I played Forte back in college, me and him go back a long way,” Joseph said. “Forte is a very good running back. He’s very versatile. He can run the ball. He can catch the ball. He can do power plays. He can do tosses. He can line up as a receiver. He’s very good on screens. He’s a really good running back and we really have to contain him and stop the run. If we can stop him, it will open things up for everyone.”