When the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers on Monday night, they are going to be doing so without their star quarterback Jay Cutler. His back-up, Josh McCown, however, will have a whole host of weapons at his disposal to ease the transition.
Brandon Marshall is still arguably one of the top wide receivers in the league. Martellus Bennett has opened up the offense in a way that few other tight ends could hope to. Alshon Jeffery is transforming himself into one of the league’s up and coming receivers. All three of these guys are important to the Bears’ chances of actually knocking off the heavily favored Packers, but there is one player that stands above the rest in that regard, and that is running back Matt Forte.
Forte obviously doesn’t have the gaudiest statistics of any running back in the league. He hasn’t had a 100 yard performance on the ground yet this season, and even though he is averaging five catches a game, he isn’t gaining much through the air either. Despite those numbers, Forte is a perfect change of pace guy for an offense that thrives on the variety of weapons at its disposal, and he is crucial to the success that they have had in turning things around from how lackluster they were a year ago.
On the Green Bay side of the field, Eddie Lacy is doing similar work for a Packers offense that is going through a spate of injuries that has robbed them of stalwart players like Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb. Despite their absences, Lacy has been able to not only help the Packers to a massive improvement in their running game, but has also allowed the offense to become a great force that is capable of holding onto the ball for the vast majority of the game, something that has only enhanced the performance of Aaron Rodgers.
Obviously, both players are very important to their teams, but with the unique skillsets that both backs bring to the table, the question is this: which is more valuable to their respective team? Is it the rookie that has turned the Packers’ biggest liability into one of their biggest strengths, or is it the back that flies below the radar but does all the little things right and has helped the Bears to a big turnaround in their offensive success?
The answer to that question is a tough one but by the narrowest of margins, it would seem that Lacy probably has the edge. Even though Forte has a nearly 100 yard edge in rushing this season, and also has over 20 more receptions than Lacy, the Packers’ back has stepped up in a much bigger way in the absence of some of the bigger weapons Green Bay has. He has averaged nearly 100 yards per game on the ground since returning from a Week 2 concussion he sustained against the Washington Redskins, and he has caught nine passes for 44 yards in the Pack’s last two contests, both winning efforts.
Meanwhile, Forte has done respectably well in recent weeks as well, catching 12 passes for 102 yards in the team’s last three games, and he rushed for 91 yards against the Redskins when Cutler went down with a groin injury. That number is inflated by the 50 yard touchdown run he had in that game, but his three touchdowns made up for the general lack of yardage.
Even still, the Packers’ offense has really opened up in recent weeks thanks to the ability of Lacy to wear teams down and then beat them with both his quickness and his power, as he showed against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8. That isn’t to take anything away from Forte, who is going to be looked at to help McCown in Monday’s game, but when push comes to shove, the Packers rely more on Lacy than the Bears do on Forte.