After all of the hubub surrounding the quarterback situation for the Chicago Bears going into their Week 15 game against the Cleveland Browns, one player perhaps more than any other made things work out well in the end for Jay Cutler.
That player was Matt Forte, and he continued his excellent all-around play in that victory over Cleveland. He rushed for 127 yards in the game, and his carries in the second half of the game were especially critical in taking some of the pressure off of Cutler as the Bears managed to grab first place in the NFC North division with the win.
While guys like Cutler, Josh McCown and Alshon Jeffery have been busy stealing the headlines for the much-improved Bears’ offense this season, Forte has been slowly laying the groundwork for what has arguably been his best season. So far this year he has rushed for 1200 yards and seven touchdowns, and he has also grabbed 66 passes for 522 yards and two scores this season. Forte is also leading the Bears with 466 yards after the catch this season.
As it stands now, Forte is just 38 yards shy of his career high for rushing yards, and he also has 58 fewer carries this season than he had in that year, his rookie campaign. He also needs one more touchdown to match the eight scores he had in the 2008 season. As for his receiving, Forte already has beaten his career high for receptions, but he is still 25 yards shy of his 2010 career high for receiving yards.
Those are a lot of numbers to digest, but they all point to one simple narrative. The Bears’ offense has been at its best this season (at Green Bay, at Cleveland) when it has been able to effectively mix the run and the pass, and whether the quarterback is Cutler or McCown, Forte is the guy that is helping make that happen.
Consider his role in McCown’s stellar performance against the Cowboys. Despite knowing that the Bears were going to have to run the ball more than usual because of the frigid conditions, Forte still was able to rush for over 100 yards in the game. He also made sure that the Bears’ short-range passing game was firing on all cylinders, catching seven passes for 73 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield.
Forte once again did that on Sunday against the Browns, despite only having one catch for two yards in the game. As the Bears drove down the field with the score tied 24-24, it was Forte who took advantage of the fake-reverse to Jeffery, and he brought the ball 19 yards all the way to the Cleveland 6-yard line. Cutler ended up finding Earl Bennett in the end zone for the go-ahead score three plays later.
Forte also played a big part in another scoring drive for the Bears in that quarter. He rushed for 13 yards on the first play from scrimmage, and on a brilliantly designed 3rd-and-9 play, Forte took the Browns by surprise as he grabbed a pitch from Cutler and picked up 24 yards and the first down. Michael Bush ended up jumping through a B-gap hole and got a 40-yard touchdown run as a reward for his efforts, but that play would not have been possible without Forte having the speed still remaining in his legs for the huge first down conversion on the play before.
The Trestman offense may be primarily designed to spread the ball out via the pass, but there’s little doubt after watching these last two Bears victories that Forte plays a crucial role in driving the offense forward. If he can continue to be the versatile threat out of the backfield that he has been throughout this season, then the NFC North title might come as a welcome reward for his efforts.