Bears-Browns RB Viewer's Guide: Forte looms as 'X' factor

Bears-Browns RB Viewer's Guide: Forte looms as 'X' factor
December 13, 2013, 8:30 pm
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Maybe it was remarkable because it wasn’t so remarkable.

The night that Josh McCown was directing the offense to 490 yards against the Dallas Cowboys, Alshon Jeffery was grabbing balls and Pro Bowl votes and DeMarco Murray was sending more shudders through the Bears’ run defense, Matt Forte was quietly going about his business as usual.

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Murray rushed for 146 yards and added nine on a couple of pass receptions. Jeffery was making highlight films with his 25-yard TD catch, part of his 84 receiving yards on five catches. Brandon Marshall was netting 100 receiving yards for the sixth time this season.

While all that was going on, Forte was piling up 175 total yards, more than any other player on the field and pushing him past 1,000 for the season. And part of the reason McCown was sacked just once by the Cowboys was blitz pickups by Forte, who has become arguably the most complete back in the NFL.

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“I think Forte is doing everything well, blocking, running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who completed 33 passes to Forte in Cutler’s first six starts before injuries set in. “He’s kind of making it all go for us.”

That will be a challenge on Sunday, however.

The Cleveland Browns rank No. 2 in the NFL in rushing average, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry. Forte is at 4.6, the second-highest average carry for his career.

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But even in defeats, the Browns allowed Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles just 74 yards (4.1 per carry) and Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy (3.7). Ray Rice, who ran for 131 and 5.2 per carry against the Bears, managed a paltry 1.5 in Baltimore’s loss to the Browns on Nov. 3, the last game the Browns won.

“When Matt’s running the ball successfully, when everyone’s doing what they need to do,” said coach Marc Trestman, “it give us a better opportunity to neutralize what a team does best.”

What to look for: Forte is ahead of the norm for featured backs in Marc Trestman offenses; over Trestman’s last 10 NFL seasons, his lead backs caught an average of 65.4 passes per season. Forte has 65 now.

The Bears are 1-2 when Forte does not net 100 total yards. They are 5-2 when he catches five or more passes. For all of the spectaculars of Jeffery and Marshall, Forte has been the security blanket for the offense. They are 3-1 when Forte gets 25 or more touches and Cutler’s ability to use him in check-downs and underneath routes will be a key to finding open spots in a very good Cleveland defense.

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