Matt Forte is right: “It doesn’t matter what your record is,” the Bears running back said. “You see 9-7 teams go to the Super Bowl and end up winning it. It really is just about playing your best football late in the season.”
The Bears need Forte to be playing his best football late in the 2013 season. But that has not been his pattern in previous years, which does not bode well for an offense putting up respectable yardage numbers but not enough points.
Forte has topped 100 rushing yards in just four of 23 career games after Dec. 1, including playoffs. He managed 100 combined yards in three of the five last season but for someone averaging 104 yards per game for his career, the results do not represent consistent closing kicks.
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The Bears need to help him have one on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. For someone currently averaging 118 per game, the eighth-highest figure in franchise history, the target is eminently reachable.
As much as the yardage total, however, the offense’s ability to get Forte past the first-down sticks looms as critical. Forte is tied for second in the NFL with 52 first-downs but the Bears have been unable to get him too many of the most crucial ones, including multiple ones needing only a single yard.
The Bears devoted extra time all week on short-yardage situations, a surprising problem area given the quality of running back the offense has to work with. Both the St. Louis and Minnesota games may have turned out differently with better results in this area of the offense.
“There’s no one guy,” coach Marc Trestman said. “It’s been a bit of taking turns. We’ve spent time on it and extra time on this week in our walk-throughs and repeating plays and things like that to make sure that everybody knows what to do.
“We haven’t been able to get it done at key times. A week ago in St. Louis we didn’t get it done, and we didn’t it done this past week on third-and-one. It inhibited us in our ability to move the ball and win games, and our guys know these are game-defining moments, these short-yardage and goal-line plays, and we’ve got to do better.”
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What to look for: The offense has not had sufficient success going with simple power personnel. The Bears are at their most effective when they are utilizing base personnel that includes big receivers (Martellus Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall) that prevent defenses from stacking to stop Forte.
The Cowboys rank 30th in rushing average allowed and 27th in stopping third-down conversions.