The Chicago Bears have hit the skids in a big way this season, going 3-6 in the first nine games of the year and suffering setbacks on both sides of the ball.
One of the few bright spots on the team has been running back Matt Forte. While Jay Cutler and the team’s passing games have looked largely lost for most of the year, Forte has eclipsed 100 total yards in six of the team’s nine contests and is leading the team with 61 receptions out of the backfield. His yards per carry is down this year to 4.2, but that can be explained largely because of the team’s increased reliance on their passing game as they’ve tried to come from behind in most of their games.
With the team’s record, their penchant for getting blown out in games, and the low likelihood that they’ll be going to the playoffs, the Bears will soon be faced with questions about how they’re using their veteran players. Adding unnecessary mileage to the proverbial odometers could be something Marc Trestman and company could seek to avoid, and one player in particular that has a game-ready back-up is Forte.
Ka’Deem Carey, taken by the team in the fourth round of the NFL Draft earlier this year, has played sporadically for the Bears, rushing for 143 yards in his rookie season. He began training camp buried on the depth chart, but as the preseason wore on he worked his way up until he secured the back-up job just before the year began.
So should Trestman start to rest Forte more often as the season goes on? He’s on pace to rack up over 2000 yards from scrimmage this season, and he should easily eclipse his career high in receptions as he is just 13 receptions shy of the mark with seven games remaining in the year. All of those touches are good in the short-term for Chicago, but with Forte approaching his 29th birthday and currently competing in his seventh season in the league, the team might want to start paying attention to how much they are using him.
To illustrate that point, we have compiled some numbers on Forte and a player with a similar skillset, former San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Through the first seven years of his career, Tomlinson averaged over 25 touches (rushing attempts and receptions) per game, and Forte averages about four fewer touches per contest.
Here were Tomlinson's numbers:
Tomlinson clearly averaged more touches per game (and also about 20 more yards per contest) than Forte does, but his usage has been similar. Both players are capable of rushing the ball as well as they can catch it out of the backfield, and they take quite a bit of punishment on a weekly basis. That is something the Bears need to keep in mind, because the numbers for Tomlinson in his final four years in the league took a pretty serious dive:
Over those four seasons, Tomlinson got nine fewer touches per game, and his yards per game took an even bigger dip, plummeting over 50 yards per contest. By that point, Darren Sproles was taking a good amount of receptions away from Tomlinson in San Diego (and Shonn Greene did the same with the New York Jets), but the fact remains that injuries and high usage took a serious toll as he got older.
Judging by these numbers, the Bears would be very smart to begin to use Carey more often as the season wears on. Sure it’ll have a somewhat detrimental impact on their offense, but the long-term benefits would be worth it as they look to get the most out of Forte’s remaining years in the league.