The Matt Forte Saga: Why Is He Struggling So Much?

Scott OttersenCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 13: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears tries to gain yardage as A.J. Hawk #50 of the Green Bay Packers chases him on September 13, 2009 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Bears 21-15.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I am sure I will take some flak for saying this, but Matt Forte is not as good of a running back as everyone thinks.

He can be explosive. He can catch the ball. He can make plays after the catch. But, he is just not a complete running back.

I don’t believe his vision is all that great. And, in the history of the NFL, vision is what makes you a great running back. A running back has to be able to see the cutback before he commits to the run and he has to have the ability to make that cutback. 

As of right now, Matt Forte is not seeing those cutbacks. It seems that if a gaping hole is not provided for him in the designed area of the running play, he is just going to be cut down in the backfield or bowl into the backs of his offensive lineman and take a gain of a yard or two.

I saw several plays in the first two weeks where he took the handoff and ran straight ahead into the pile of lineman when there was a hole opened up to the left or right of him. 

In the NFL, those holes close up quickly. I would have liked to have seen him at least try to make the cut and try and get through that hole rather than just give up on the play and head into the trenches where he had to have known he wasn’t going to come out the other end.

He has looked jittery these first two weeks. I am not sure if we can contribute that to the fact that he has gone up against two 3-4 defenses (one being the best in the business in Pittsburgh), or if it’s a sophomore slump (which I don’t believe in), or if it is just him being exposed for what he really is.

Last season, he benefited from a good amount of big plays. He took several runs for big gains, which padded his stats a lot more than most Chicago fans want to admit. 

He was never the running back who would take several carries for five to 10-yard gains.  He was either breaking it long or getting tackled at the line of scrimmage and, unfortunately, it was more of the latter than the former.

Another reason for his standing out was the plays he made with his hands. He is a great pass catcher out of the backfield and I believe that his making some plays in that facet of the game helped shade his struggles when running the ball.

If you look into his game stats, you can see his struggles. If you take out his longest run from each game he played in, he averaged 3.1 yards per carry on the rest of his 300 carries last season. That is not a good number. 

I understand that stats are deceiving and that most of the running backs who lead the league in rushing benefit from breaking big plays. However, they also are practitioners of the five to 10-yard gainers. They aren’t broke or bust only type backs.

If you look more into his rookie season, he had three 100-yard games and only three other games over 80 yards. Does that sound like an elite back to you?

All of this came with being fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts. So, he had ample opportunities to gain those yards, but he just always seemed to fall short.

This is not an article claiming that Matt Forte is done. I don’t believe that at all. But, I just feel that he needs to be knocked down a peg or two so that the expectations for him aren’t so lofty. 

As of right now, Bears fans are expecting him to be Adrian Peterson (and not the Bears' Adrian Peterson) and Him he is not.

If the Bears are going to succeed this season and in the future, Matt Forte is going to have to develop better vision. I am not sure if it is his understanding of how to read defenses before the snap or if it is his focusing in on a point after he takes the handoff and not being able to release his eyes from that spot thereafter. 

Whatever it is, he needs to work on that ability. Otherwise, he is going to have to wait for big holes to break open and in the NFL, that only happens once in a great while. And, you do not have a great while to become a great back. It is quite easy to lose your job in the NFL.

I think next week (against Seattle) will be a good test of where he stands. Green Bay has an underrated defense and in that game, they looked fierce. Also, we all know how great of a defense Pittsburgh has, so being fed to the lions the first two weeks of the season may have been the best thing for the rest of Matt Forte’s season.

He doesn’t face a 3-4 defense again until Week Eight when the Bears face off against Cleveland. Hopefully, he just struggles with the 3-4 and I am completely off in my assessment of him. 

Seattle has definitely shown its struggles against the run so far this season. Both Steven Jackson and Frank Gore have gone over 100 yards against them, with Gore breaking out for over 200 yards. 

This could be the exact matchup Matt Forte needs. But, he is going to have to show us something if he wants to be named on the same level as the Frank Gores and Steven Jacksons of the NFL.

The Bears have a fairly easy schedule in the coming weeks, but toward the end of the season they will start to see stronger based defenses (Philadelphia, Minnesota twice, Green Bay, and Baltimore), so if Matt Forte is going to get on track, he should think about doing so starting next week. 

Because if he is not playing at a high level come Week 11, the weeks after that aren’t going to make it any easier on him—save the Week 17 game at Detroit.

With the improved passing attack the Bears have, Matt Forte should be running wild on defenses. I do not think we can blame his lack of production on the lack of talent the Bears have at wide receiver, but that could be some of the reasoning. 

If the Bears' wide receivers continued to improve and safeties had to pay more attention to where they were on the field, defenses would have to stop focusing in on only where Matt Forte is each down.

Football is a team sport, and even though only one man has the ball in his hands at a given time, the rest of the team still plays a part in how well he does with the ball in his hands. 

But, the rest of the team and coaches can only help so much. It is up to the ball carrier to be able to see what his team is doing to help him and take advantage of the openings they are providing. 


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