Monday, April 9, 2012

2011 Bears Position Reviews: Runningback

#22 Matt Forte-
It's hard to believe that Matt Forte of all people has become a divisive player. I won't dispute Matt's claim that he's "done everything the team has asked him to do." He really has. He's an outstanding player with a very useful skillset who may be the most complete back in the NFL. He's also not very business savvy.

If Matt wanted a contract, he should have gotten himself a real agent, one that would have advised him that last fall was the time to hold out. When he rejected a long term deal with 14 million in guaranteed money, he was basically gambling on a year so big that the Bears would have to pay him top dollar. He was on the way, but he got hurt. Ergo, he lost.

When you throw in the injury (his second major injury in three years, since he claims his hamstring was the problem during his awful 2009 season), the signing of Michael Bush, and the Bears cap situation (just about 3.5 million under, with a whole draft class yet to sign), it's clear Matt really doesn't have many options. We'll see how long it takes him to figure that out. All I know is that he's a fifth year back with a ton of mileage on him, and Jay Cutler's contract is up in 2013. If you have to ask which of those guys I'd rather give a big money extension to, well, you aren't paying much attention.

Contract dispute aside, though, this is about Matt Forte the player, and Matt Forte the player was very good in 2011. He picked up 997 yards on 203 carries (a spectacular 4.9 YPC avg) while throwing in 490 yards receiving in just 11 full games. Had he not been injured, and had Jay Cutler been there to force defenses to respect the pass (a major problem that led to Forte's numbers tailing off in his last couple of games), Forte could very easily have gotten over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Even with the addition of Michael Bush, Mike Tice's greater emphasis on the run means he'll probably get close to those totals again next year, although he may end up with fewer receptions since the Bears actually have a real, legitimate, big boy wide receiver. Once he gets into camp that is. Which he will, because he has no options. Sorry Matt.

#24 Marion Barber-
Dammit, I wanted to love Marion. I really did. He was certainly better than Chester Taylor, or Kevin Jones, but when you sign Marion Barber you hope for a short yardage beast while accepting the risk of constant injury. Unfortunately, he did far too little of the former and got hurt as often as, well, Marion Barber.

In all, Marion posted decent numbers for a backup runningback: 422 yards on 114 carries (3.7 ypc), 6 TDs, 5 rec., 50 yards, but he was unavailable for large parts of the season and he wore down way too quickly once he was forced into the top spot after Forte's injury. His best game statistically was the Denver game, but that'll forever be remembered as the game where he, more than anyone other than Jay Cutler's Thumb, did the most to torch the playoff hopes of the 2011 Bears. I don't begrudge him the fumble. That happens, but I still can't process the fact that a guy who built his entire reputation off of plowing over opponents went out of bounds in a crucial situation rather than just falling down. He compounded that mistake by hiding from the press after the game and, according to some reports, seemed to lose the respect of his teammates after that. He was ineffective the next week against Seattle before suffering yet another injury and sitting out the last two games. I really don't blame him for retiring. Get out while you can still walk, Marion. One can only hope that Michael Bush will break the disappointing chain of failed Bears power backs (Benson, Taylor, Barber, hell you could go all the way back to Enis if you wanted).

#32 Kahlil Bell
Before this year, Kahlil was known for one long run against Philadelphia in 2009. I never really thought he'd be much more than a special teamer, but he played really well when given the opportunity this year. He was actually much more effective than Barber, as he picked up 337 yards on just 79 carries (4.3 ypc) and proved surprisingly adept at catching passes out of the backfield, with 133 yards and a TD on 19 receptions. I think most of us would have felt comfortable heading into 2012 with Bell as the primary backup, but it's exciting to think of the potential of a Forte/Bush/Bell rotation, although that's still more evidence that Forte has no options and should really just sign the damn contract already.

#25 Armando Allen-
A forgettable emergency player brought in after Barber went down. He managed 48 yards on 15 carries (3.2 ypc) and will most likely never wear a Bear uniform again. Thanks, Armando.

It's easy to forget, with the disappointing finish for the Bears offense after the injuries to Cutler and Forte, that the team had one of it's best rushing seasons in recent memory. They racked up 2015 yards from scrimmage (helped somewhat by the mobility of Cutler, Hanie, and McCown, but mostly by the the solid showings, yardage-wise, of Forte/Barber/Bell) and averaged 4.4 yards per rush, with 10 rushing TDs. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Martz called just 51 running plays in the first three games of the season. With Jay Cutler keeping that eighth man out of the box, Michael Bush joining the mix, an offensive scheme with more balance, and hopefully better health on the offensive line (full seasons from Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi would be huge), you'd have to figure that those numbers will get even better next year.