When the two most prolific players of their era meet up, there’s always reason for comparison. But when you have the history that Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte have, it makes them a logical matchup to watch for Sunday’s critical game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
Since Forte joined the league in 2008, he and Peterson are 1-2 in total yards from scrimmage – Forte having 12,427 (8,425 rushing and 4,002 receiving) and Peterson having 11,753 (10,100 rushing and 1,653 receiving). Peterson held the lead through their careers until the bulk of his 2014 season was wiped out with a suspension, while Forte went on to have one of the greatest seasons of his career, rushing for 1,038 yards and catching 102 passes for 808 yards.
Both have reasons to want to be the player that dominates the game. In 14 career games against the Vikings, Forte has scored just two touchdowns, but has done his damage on the ground and through the air, rushing 248 times for 1,047 yards and catching 58 passes for 373 yards. What has made Forte the player that he is centers on his unique role in the Chicago offense.
Most running backs, even dominating backs like Peterson, are on the field for less than 70 percent of snaps. Peterson comes off the field to get a breather. He comes off on third downs. He comes off when he’s handled the ball too many times in a short period of time. That isn’t the case with Forte.
No running back over the last several years has been on the field more than Forte. It hasn’t been unusual for him to be on the field for 90 percent of offensive snaps. He has averaged over 80 percent of snaps for the last five years … until he played the Vikings in November.
When the Vikings and Bears met Nov. 1 at Soldier Field, Forte, who was looking for a big season in his contract year, was injured and sidelined for just the second time in his career. Considering he turned 30 on Dec. 10, he needed a big season to get someone, whether the Bears or another team, to make a lucrative investment in him. When he was injured by a shot to his knee against the Vikings, that all came into doubt.
While he was out, it opened the door for Jeremy Langford, the running back of the future if the Bears opt to move on without Forte following the season. Prior to his injury, the split between carries with Forte and Langford was extremely lopsided. In the six games prior to Forte’s injury, he had rushed 126 times – more than 21 carries a game. Langford has just 15 carries – an average of 2½ carries a game. In the three weeks since his return, Forte has carried the ball 46 times. Langford has carried it 35 times.
It can be argued that, had Forte not been hurt against the Vikings, he would have kept his spot as the focal point of the Bears offense. John Fox has a history of loyalty to veterans, especially running backs – check his track record in Carolina and Denver. That all changed when Forte played the Vikings less than two months ago.
From Peterson’s side of things, he’s had a chip on his shoulder against the Bears since he arrived in Minnesota. In his first meeting with the Bears, he broke the franchise single-game rushing record, carrying 20 times for 224 yards and three touchdowns. In that game, the national chatter was that there was already a changing of the guard as to who was the elite running back in the NFL. Up until that game, it was LaDainian Tomlinson. After that game, it was Peterson. That was 2007. Eight years and two months later, nothing has changed. Peterson is still viewed as the premier running back in the NFL and he’s still feasting on the Bears and there’s been nothing they can do to stop it.
In 13 career games, Peterson has rushed for 1,499 yards on 298 carries – an average of 23 carries a game for 115 yards – and has scored 14 touchdowns. In games that he has rushed 20 or more times, he has never rushed for fewer than 85 yards, including eight 100-yard games and two games with more than 200 yards. In his last five games, he has topped 100 yards in each of them and has proved his worth as a workhorse running back, carrying 130 times for 576 yards, continuing his mastery of the Bears. In their first meeting this year, he rushed 20 times for 103 yards.
Both Forte and Peterson have turned 30 during 2015. Both of them have claimed they have plenty of good football left in them. Both of them are going to get the chance to prove it Sunday – Peterson looking to dominate on the ground to get the Vikings to 9-5 and all but assure themselves of a spot in the playoffs and Forte looking to prolong the Bears’ playoff life support.
If one of these past-the-prime (or so others will have you believe) running backs can have the huge game each expect, it will have big implications for both of their teams.