Bears-Packers Part II: RB Matchup favors Bears


Bears-Packers Part II: RB Matchup favors Bears

Monday, Jan. 17, 2011
Posted: 4:54 PM

By John Mullin

In the second installment of a special three-part series, is the No. 1 factor favoring the Bears.

General manager Jerry Angelo always has identified quarterback, running back and a pass-rushing defensive lineman as the true franchise positions in football. The quarterback position, even with Jay Cutler playing as well as he has over the second half of this season and through Sundays win over Seattle, rates as the No. 1 advantage area favoring the Packers.

READ: Why do Packers hold QB advantage?

But what about the second franchise position in Angelos trilogy?

Running back: Forte over Starks

The philosophical course correction undergone mid-season by the Chicago offense proved to be a case of NFL addition by subtraction. The Bears not only made sure they saw less of Cutler passing; they made sure they saw more of Matt Forte.

After just two 100-yard rushing games as a team in the first seven, the Bears had eight games of 100 or more yards over the final nine. Not coincidentally, seven of those nine were wins.

The prime beneficiary, besides an offensive line that was struggling in pass protection and turned more toward run blocking, was Forte. The tailback had exactly two games with 100 or more yards of total offense in the first seven; he had five in the final nine plus the Minnesota game with 98.

Forte finished the season with eight games in which he accumulated 100 yards of offense. The Bears were 7-1 in those games.

WATCH: How to beat Green Bay

Fortes rushing average ticked up to a career-best 4.5 per carry and his 51 receptions accounted for an additional 547 yards to go with his 1,069 on the ground.

In five games this season Forte led or tied for team-high in pass receptions.

He just does such a great job with the football, making cuts, making catches, making people miss, said right guard Roberto Garza. Matt is a great back, maybe the best all-around back in the league. He works hard and you want to work hard for a guy like Matt.

Life after Grant?

The Packers lost Ryan Grant to an ankle injury the first week and he hasnt played all season. Of course, that didnt mean he couldnt weigh in with a Tweet on Monday that Packers fans could comfortably start making their reservations for Dallas on that first weekend in February.

Grant will be along for the ride but the Packers will be expecting a bit more from James Starks, the 2010 sixth-round draft choice who broke out for 123 rushing yards against Philadelphia.

Starks, who opened the season on the PUP list and didnt play in the first 11 games of the season, had a pedestrian 20 rushing yards against the Bears in Green Bays season-ending win to reach the playoffs. He managed all of 66 yards in 25 carries against the Atlanta Falcons.

Starks has really given them a boost with their running game, coach Lovie Smith said, without elaboration.

The Packers had just one 100-yard rushing performance by a back during the regular season, when Brandon Jackson gained 115 yards in a mid-season loss to the Washington Redskins.

Even with Starks performance, Green Bay is averaging 3.7 yards per carry through two playoff games. The Packers have as many rushing fumbles (2) as touchdowns.

Forte and Starks are about the same size: 6-2, 218 pounds. That is where the similarities end. Forte has emerged as one of the top all-around backs in the NFC as both a runner and receiver, with the capability of forcing defenses to devote resources to stopping him instead of assaulting Cutler.

Advantage: Chicago

Next: breaks down the defenses of Green Bay and Chicago, two of the NFLs best, and whether the Packers or Bears hold an edge in this crucial game-decider...

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Hall of Fame to honor Butkus, Dent, Hampton, Sayers at Bears-Vikings game

Hall of Fame to honor Butkus, Dent, Hampton, Sayers at Bears-Vikings game

It will be a special evening for a handful of legendary Bears on Monday night.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will honor Dick Butkus, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Gale Sayers with a Ring of Excellence in a halftime presentation during the Bears-Vikings game at Soldier Field.

The Ring of Excellence is one of three symbols that represents Pro Football Hall of Fame status. The Gold Jacket, the Bronzed Bust and the Ring of Excellence will all be on display during the presentation.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Each former Bear will wear their Gold Jacket and the four Bronzed Busts will be temporarily removed from the Hall of Fame for the ceremony.

Monday marks the second of three seasons in which the Ring of Excellence will be presented to the Hall of Famers.

Check out photos (provided by the Chicago Bears) of each ring below:

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Vikings handling of Sam Bradford offers object lesson for Bears transition to next QB

Call it variations on a theme. The Bears on Monday night will face not only the Minnesota Vikings, but also Sam Bradford, the latest quarterback opponent that hints at possibilities in the Bears’ own future far beyond what was once the norm.

That norm is what can reasonably be expected from a new quarterback, one coming into a new system, new environment, even a new league, and having near-immediate success. Quarterback changes can involve upheaval of staff, personnel and even franchise identity, as the Bears can confirm based on their last eight years with Jay Cutler.

The experiences in Dallas, Minnesota and Philadelphia point to the kinds of quarterback transitions the Bears may be in search of after the 2016 season.

Bradford arrived in Minnesota via trade just eight days before the season opener, yet has proceeded to post the best results of his career: for completion percentage (67.5), interception percentage (0.6 percent; 7 TD’s vs. 1 INT), yards per attempt (7.4) and rating (100.3, vs. a previous best of 90.9).

More important, without the Vikings’ starting left tackle (Matt Kalil) and running back (Adrian Peterson), Bradford has the Vikings leading the NFC North and tied for the NFC lead at 5-1.

“[The Vikings] had the misfortune of losing their quarterback, they go out and make a bold move to get him and they haven’t missed a beat offensively,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He’s been getting better and better.”

This all holds particular relevance for the Bears, who saw Brian Hoyer step in and deliver four straight 300-yard passing games, something he’d never done in his career and no quarterback in Bears franchise history had done. Cutler’s personal best was two straight, for purposes of comparison.

The Bears are expected to have a new quarterback in some form or other next year. In the meantime they have been victimized by two rookie quarterbacks already this season (Carson Wentz, Philadelphia, and Dak Prescott, Dallas). The experience of Bradford, Prescott and Wentz, all new in 2017 to their situations, suggests chances of dramatic improvement over the Bears’ recent history with Cutler, for example.

“A good quarterback can influence the guys and make guys around him better,” Wentz said. “So it’s one of those things where the quarterback usually gets too much credit and too much of the blame as well. It’s just kind of the nature of the position.”

Prescott and Wentz were 2016 draft choices and had offseasons and training camps with their respective teams. Bradford had none of that, yet began his year throwing 130 passes without an interception.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

How that happens may be illustrative for the 2017 Bears. The Vikings traded for Bradford, a one-time starter for the Rams and Eagles. But because of the late-offseason timing of the deal, necessitated by the season-ending leg injury for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Bradford had to be eased into the new offense.

“I think that’s honestly one of the bonuses of coming during the regular season,” Bradford said on Thursday. “Obviously it would’ve been nice to have some practices in training camp. But once you get into the regular season, it’s not like you have the whole playbook in each game plan. Each game plan is very specific for that week’s opponent, so it’s considerably less than would be in your training-camp installs.

“So I think that helped a little bit. But as far as it being cut down, the volume wasn’t so much cut down as how the plays were called, naming some concepts with some things I was familiar with. That really helped me.”