Moon: Forte giving away the game plan?

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Moon: Forte giving away the game plan?

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 10:25 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
Matt Forte came as close to giving away a game plan this week as any player in the Lovie Smith tenure. And that would ostensibly be a good thing.

Going into Sundays game against Atlanta, Forte sent a message to the Falcons:

I expect to be how we were during the middle of the season last year when we started running the ball and be a balanced attack, the Bears franchise running back said. Both the pass and the run help each other out, so I think that well be balanced.

That message ideally is picked up by the Falcons, particularly sack threats and ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards, and has an effect similar to what the Bears achieved over the 7-2 run through the key portion of their schedule.

We did some good things at the end of the year, coach Lovie Smith said. We made progress I saw improvement throughout the year. And Ive seen that right now.
O-line help

The best help that coordinator Mike Martz can give young tackles Gabe Carimi and JMarcus Webb is to let them come off the ball and apply some muscle to Abraham and Edwards. Webb has a 70-pound advantage on Abraham. Carimi has 48 pounds on Edwards.

Whats perhaps been forgotten is that Lance Louis struggled early but never lost his starting job at right guard. Chris Williams ability to handle left guard faded as a topic of conversation, one of the nicest things that can happen to an offensive lineman.

Theyve made terrific progress in the last three weeks, particularly in the last two weeks, so Im anxious to see them play, Martz said. Well find out where we are with that. But Im excited about what theyve done so far. I think theyve got a chance to be a pretty good group.

Barber concerns

A factor in the improved performance by Forte, however, was Martzs willingness to have the ball handed to Chester Taylor 112 times and thrown to him another 20. Taylor was generally ineffective, which is why he is an Arizona Cardinal now rather than a Bear.

It is no coincidence, though, that Fortes career-best for yards per carry (4.5) was achieved when his workload was the lightest (237 carrries) of his career.

But the addition of Marion Barber from Dallas was made with the intention of not just lightening Fortes load; that could have been accomplished again with Taylor.

Barber has never averaged less than 3.3 yards per carry in his career (2010) or carried fewer than 113 times (also last year), one more than Taylor.

The calf injury Barber suffered against Tennessee in the preseason has had him out of practice ever since and he is not expected to play against the Falcons. Without his type of running, the ability of the offense to pound the Atlanta defense is reduced.

Hes such a violent runner, Martz said. Hes a guy that he can certainly jump-cut and do all of those things, but hell take a defender on, too, and break tackles that way. So hes kind of a complete back in that way. Hes a real tough, inside runner, but hes got the skills to get outside and hes an excellent receiver. Hes a guy that will excel, too, in short yards. We need to have him healthy. We really do.

Beyond Barber

What is different in the offense this year is that the presence of backup power to the backup power.

Kahlil Bell was inactive all 16 games last season as coaches were forced to have Garrett Wolfe on special teams. The trouble was, Wolfe was too small to suit Martz and was only used on four runs, all in the second Minnesota game.

Bell is 219 pounds, virtually identical with Barber and Forte.

Matts more comfortable with the scheme, and the offensive line and the way theyre opening holes, said quarterback Jay Cutler. Last year, Forte started a little slow, just like we all did, because everyone was getting comfortable with veering and we were trying to figure it out.

You add a Marion Barber a downhill guy, a short-yardage goal-line guy, packs a little more of a punch we got a good group back there.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com'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.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.