The Soldier Field weather forecast for Sunday is one of those that factors into game plans and adjustments: an 80 percent chance of rain and, more important, south-southwest winds at 26 mph.
The second part of that forecast is: Matt Forte.
Forte is on pace for a franchise-record receiving year for a running back, with 44 through nine games, which projects out to 73 on the year.
As important at a time when weather threatens anything thrown downfield, nearly 80 percent of the passes thrown to Forte this season have been completed.
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Contrast that to 65 percent of passes to Brandon Marshall and 55 percent to Alshon Jeffery being completed. While the yardages per catch for the two wideouts may be almost twice Forte’s, the point is to keep the ball and chains moving. Forte ranks fourth in the NFL in combined receiving and rushing yards and fourth with first downs picked up (50).
Bears coaches are not concerned with run-pass balance; the premium is on positive plays. Forte has had just one 100-yard rushing game this season (125 at Green Bay), but he is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and already has seven rushing touchdown – more than any full season since his rookie year (2008, eight).
But the Bears will not be able to simply load up Forte 20-25 times and let him carry the ball and the offense.
The Bears did not run the ball even close to effectively against the Detroit Lions in part because of the quality of the Detroit front – the Bears simply did not block well enough often enough – and in part because Jay Cutler’s ailing ankle had the Bears operating out in some form of shotgun on 16 of 26 snaps to ease some of the drop-back stress on Cutler. (The Bears continued with the shotgun on Josh McCown’s one possession but that was a two-minute hurry up situation that was going to make scant use of the run game anyway.)
The Baltimore run defense is a step up from Detroit’s. The Bears were able to run effectively against the giants in the Green Bay 3-4 and even against Washington’s speed-based 3-4.
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This one is different.
The Ravens have allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns (one) in the NFL and rank fifth in yards per carry allowed (3.7). To count on moving All-Pro nose tackle Haloti Ngata (340 pounds) with any consistency is probably not a sound strategy.
“It’s the three guys inside,” said coach Marc Trestman, referring to Ngata, Chris Canty (6-7, 317 pounds) and Arthur Jones (6-3, 315). “They’re two-gapping everything, they’re playing everything, they’re bench-pressing the offensive line and they’re waiting to see what happens.
“And then they’re just squeezing everything to the ball and that’s what makes a 3-4 defense so tough to run against. They just stop everything at the line of scrimmage and squeezed everything with their ‘backers and their speed on the edges. It makes it difficult and they’ve got three big guys that hold up very well.”
What to watch for: Forte, and Michael Bush with his one failed fourth-down rush were non-factors vs. Detroit for an offense that will be hard pressed to throw downfield to an elite receiving group in the face of the Baltimore pass rush. Forcing the Ravens’ giants to pursue screen passes and dump-off’s is a way to slow the pass rush and eventually allow Forte and the run offense to win the game in the fourth quarter.