In the third of our Setting the Bar for the 2012 Chicago Bears series, I’ve chosen to take a closer look at what we can expect from running back Matt Forte. Forte has all the tools, there’s no doubt about that. The biggest question that looms for Forte and the Bears is his contract situation. While his teammates have been participating in OTA’s and minicamps, Forte has stayed away from Halas Hall, hoping to pressure the Bears into a long term contract rather than playing under the $7.7 million franchise tag.
Forte was in a similar situation last offseason, but rather than hold out during training camp, Forte was the good soldier and showed up to camp in tremendous shape. He exceeded expectations and played himself into his first Pro Bowl, despite missing the final 5 games of the season.
To get an idea of where Forte is going, let’s see where he’s been:
Forte’s strength has been his versatility out of the backfield. It’s not just about the 1000 yard rushing seasons that he puts up (OK, almost 1000 yard games), but it’s been about his pass catching abilities and the nearly 500 receiving yards that he adds in the passing game that have made Forte a standout. He’s been among the top backs in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage the last few seasons.
Before we set the bar for Forte, let’s figure out how many games he’s going to play. While he’s talked a big game, I think he will ultimately acquiesce and show up to camp in shape and ready to go. He’ll need some time to catch up with the new offensive playbook, but there’s no reason to think he’ll miss any time due to his contract situation. By all accounts – and the video he posted of himself pulling a sled – the knee he injured in Week 11 is fully healed, so he should appear in his usual 16 games.
The other factor to consider with Forte his his new backfield-mate, Michael Bush. Bush was one of the top free agent running backs out there when the Bears scooped him up with a tidy $14 million contract offer. Unlike Chester Taylor and Marion Barber before him, Bush is still in the prime of his career. Last season with the Raiders, while subbing for Darren McFadden, Bush racked up 977 yards and 7 TD’s. More on Bush in a future Setting the Bar post but it’s worth keeping him in mind when setting the bar for Forte.
The last bit I’ll mention before we set the bar is the work-in-progress offensive line. It looks like the interior of the line is pretty well set with Lance Louis, Roberto Garza and Chris Spencer, but there are still questions at both tackle positions. On the right side, Gabe Carimi is trying to fight his way back from a knee injury that ended his rookie season before it really got started in Week 2 at New Orleans. On the other side, it’s a battle between former first rounder Chris Williams and incumbent J’Marcus Webb. The way this line comes together will have a direct impact on how well the running game does. I expect Williams will win the LT job and Carimi bounces back to anchor the RT position
Now, back to #22. Forte’s weakness has been his lack of productivity in short yardage and an overall lack of touchdowns. His career high in TD’s was just 8 rushing TD’s in his rookie season. Last season, he only managed three rushing and one receiving TD. Given the new weapons for Jay Cutler and running mate Michael Bush, I don’t expect a surge in Forte touchdowns.
Here’s the bar I’m setting for Matt Forte: 200 carries, 1150 yards and 5 TD’s, 40 receptions for 425 yards and 3 TD’s.
What do you think? Do you think he’ll get 200 carries or will Michael Bush poach some? Will he still have as much of a role in the passing game? Post your projections in the Comments.