Was Matt Forte a Mirage?

Everyone desperately wanted to believe in Matt Forte.

Still stung by the disaster that was Cedric Benson, Bears fans fell in love with Forte, a second-round draft pick out of Tulane, before they really knew who he was. He just seemed like the complete opposite of Benson in every way: Humble, hard working, and actually capable of being an impact player in the NFL.

So when Forte burst onto the scene in September with 23 carries for 123 yards in his first NFL game, Bears fans were ecstatic. The papers were talking about Forte Fever and saying he plays like a 10-year vet. Benson had never had as many as 123 yards in any game in his career. Forte must be the man to turn around the Bears' running game, right?

Maybe not. In six starts since that Week 1 win over the Colts, Forte has 124 carries for 392 yards. He doesn't have a 100-yard game, or a single game averaging better than 4.0 yards a carry. And the Colts, who are giving up 144.1 rushing yards a game, have made a lot of running backs look like stars.

That leads to an uncomfortable question: Was Matt Forte's Week 1 performance a mirage?

It's certainly too soon to write Forte off, but it's clear that he has a lot of work to do. He looks too much like a running back who thinks he has to make a big play every time he touches the ball. At Tulane, Forte was usually the best athlete on the field, and he could rely on his pure speed to break big plays. That meant that any time he didn't see a big hole in front of him, he could bounce plays to the outside and out-run the opposing defense.

In the NFL, Forte can't do that. He needs to learn how to read his blocks and become an effective runner a few yards at a time, because he's not going to race past the defense in the NFL. Forte had a 50-yard run against the Colts, but he hasn't broken one for longer than 20 yards since then.

The good news is that Forte is a 22-year-old rookie who didn't play big-time college football. He has a lot of room to improve. Even Walter Payton gained just 679 yards and 3.5 yards a carry as a rookie.

From all indications, Forte is no Cedric Benson, either on the field or off. But Bears fans may have become a bit too excited at the prospect of the anti-Benson becoming an immediate star.

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