Bears look to get Forte back on track

Matt Trowbridge

The Bears like to talk about how well Matt Forte blocks and catches. Forte talks about that, too.

“I’m most proud of just being productive,” Forte said, “no matter what I’m doing: Rushing the ball, catching the ball, blocking. I’ve got to do all three, so I do them.”

But he’s a running back. By definition, that’s his most important job. And one of the most exciting Bears’ offensive rookies of the last quarter century has been running in place most of the season.

Forte joins Anthony Thomas (2001), Cade McNown (1999) and Rashaan Salaam (1995) as the only Bear rookies to run, pass or catch for more than 500 yards as a rookie since deep threat Willie Gault had 863 yards in 1983. But he’s also tied for next-to-last in yards per carry (3.5) among the 33 NFL runners with at least 300 yards, one-tenth of a yard ahead of Green Bay’s Ryan Grant.

After averaging 107.5 yards and 4.7 per carry in his first two games, the second-round pick out of Tulane has fallen to 60 yards and 3.0 per carry his last five games.

“We pride ourselves on running the ball,” left tackle John St. Clair said. “We haven’t done that the past few weeks. … I’m not concerned at all. We’ll go back to the drawing board and we’ll get better at that.”

The Bears aren’t too worried because Kyle Orton is on a near team-record passing pace. And because Forte has gotten the tough yards. Consider:

--His 12-yard run on third down at the two-minute warning helped Chicago virtually run out the clock in a 24-20 upset of the Eagles.

--He picked up a first down on fourth-and-1 and also scored a third-down touchdown run against the Falcons, both times with minimal blocking.

--He’s 4-for-4 on third-and-1 rushes this year, one of only seven NFL backs perfect on at least four third-and-1 tries.

“He hasn’t gotten the big runs lately, but he’s getting some key runs at some crucial times,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.

“I’m doing it whenever we need to get it done,” Forte said. “Four yards here, or a block on a blitz that helps us get the ball off. Or catching a pass and making a first down on third down to keep the drive going.”

Indeed, Forte is tied for fifth in the NFL in first downs gained with 37. Twelve of those are receiving, showcasing his versatility.

As for running, he blames his woes there on teams game-planning to stop him.

“It’s always had to run when they’ve got nine and eight people in the box,” Forte said. “That’s why the passing game is working so well.

“The first game, they brought a safety down sometimes, but now they’ve got linebackers on the line and they bring a safety down, too. It’s a different game.”

Not necessarily.

“It’s about the same,” Turner said, “as teams were doing earlier.”

Turner said the Bears (4-3) re-examined their running game during the bye week and feel confident they’ll start running well again as long as they keep trying.

“The big thing is the carries,” Turner said. “We’re really close to popping a couple of those runs.”

“It’s just a matter of a block here or breaking a tackle there,” Forte agreed. “We are really close to breaking some long runs.”

The Bears say Orton’s passing could open up some running lanes, but there’s no magical cure.

The Bears, after all, averaged an NFL-worst 3.1 yards per carry last year, and Thomas Jones (three times) and Anthony Thomas (twice) are the only Bears’ leading rushers in the last 18 years to average at least 4.0 yards a carry.

“It’s never going to be easy,” tight end Desmond Clark said, “but if we execute our plays, we will have success. We have a running back who can make people miss in an open field, but we’ve got to give him lanes to run the ball. And, of course, he’s got to make his right reads, also.”

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383

Matt Forte

Rushing and receiving totals for Chicago’s rookie RB

Opp. Rush  Yds  Avg   Rec.  Yards

Colts 23      123   5.3     3       18

Panthers     23      92     4.0     3       21

Bucs 27      89     3.3     7       66

Eagles         19      43     2.3     5       42

Lions 15      36     2.4     4       25

Falcons      20      76     3.8     5       34

Vikings       20      56     2.8     2       17

Totals                  147    515   3.5     29     223