Say what you will about the NFL Network but every so often they have some pretty solid reporting segments on players in the league. Yesterday they focused in on Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. Forte as we all know was drafted to come in and provide competition for Cedric Benson the 2004 bust the Bears landed in the first round. What no one foresaw was Benson’s legal problems and subsequent dismissal from the team.
Forte was then promptly made the starter for the 2008 season and instantaneously stabilized the RB position for perhaps the next decade. It’s hard to say whether or not the organization thought Forte would be as successful as soon as he was in the league. But what we do know is that Forte was the intense focus of this organization the instant they started evaluating prospects for the 2008 draft. That focus never let up and when Forte was there, the Bears didn’t hesitate in grabbing this 1,000-yard rookie rusher.
So what is it exactly that makes Forte so special? He already performs like a 5-year veteran in the league and achieved more in one year than Cedric Benson did in his entire career. No not meaning production, but all around capabilities from running, catching and perhaps most importantly blocking/blitz pick up. Forte’s unique abilities were part of what was high-lighted by the experts on the NFL network.
The first video high-lite came from the Carolina Panthers game, the play was a running play to Forte a simple sliding zone block isolation play. There was no pulling, no traps, just simple one on one blocking with one double team block by Olin Kreutz and Josh Beekman on the nose tackle. The play was designed to go the left with Forte making a read and plowing ahead into the the line where a possible open hole may be. But Forte didn’t do just a simple plow ahead into the line and this is what separates him from Benson. Where Benson may have taken what was directly in front of him, Forte took what the defense gave him. He took his time, patiently read how the defense flowed, found the soft spot in the line which turned into a solid hole to day light, stuck his foot in the ground and instantly accelerated to the second level.
This play high-lites the most important aspect of Forte’s running ability, it’s not his size, it’s not his speed, it’s his VISION to the hole. Waiting and then exploding through the best hole he sees in front of him. While the defense flowed to the blocking scheme, they in turn were caught up in the wash and put in a over pursuing angle.
What made the play happen from a blocking standpoint was the brush or chip block made by Roberto Garza on the left DT. Garza simply drives up the field with his outside right shoulder with the drive block from John Tait, Garza then slides to the second level and eats up the outside LB opening up the gaping hole. Forte who takes the hand off to the left slides back right following the block by Garza and is immediately into the secondary. The play is both well blocked and well read by Forte for a solid gain. Where as Forte could have gone the direction of strength where the O-Line was lined up strong side blocking, he cut it back based on the alignments of the LBs were were shift towards the strong side of the defense.
From there once Forte is in the second level and into the third level he rarely is tackles by the first open field defender. He doesn’t do a Barry Sanders wiggle, but he sets up enough of a juke that the safety can’t tackle his square and typically falls off to the side.
The second play high-lighted by the NFL network experts is how Forte has an excellent sense of timing in setting up a screen play. He makes the lineman think it’s a sure fire passing play and he’s attacking the defensive end for a chip block. Instead he slides behind the defender, sets up the screen blockers and then utilizes those blockers to maximum effectiveness. The play action screen is set up by a nice long drive side by John St Clair that has the DE completely out of position thus opening up the lane for Forte. The play-action motion isn’t what is the most effective aspect of this play because the LBs read it well and drop back into a soft middle zone. But that’s not the intent of this play, the purpose is to make them think deep play action pass get a drive up the field by the DEs, get the LBs into their zone coverage thus letting the O-Lineman be at the second level instantly to take on the ‘backers. While some screen plays may use the play action to get the LBs to cheat up, this play is set up by the deliberately long motion of the QB on a fake hand off.
This play against the Tampa Buccaneers exposes us again to Forte’s greatest strength, not his size, not his speed but his vision to the hole and making that one cut acceleration. Whereas fans all to often focus in on a RBs height and weight, his 40-yard dash time, and college stats. They overlook the important aspect of vision to the hole, making the one cut and accelerating to day light. NFL defenses are superb at filling gaps, maintaining gap discipline to slow down a running game to a mere 3 yards per carry. The special backs see the flow, make their own pre-snap reads on the alignment of the defense and attack the defense accordingly.
The third play high-lighted is Forte split wide like a wide receiver in one on one coverage in the red-zone. Forte wins the one on one battle in front of the defender for the touchdown reception.
Forte’s production will likely grow as the Bears get a better and stronger group of run blockers in front of him. Players like Frank Omiyale who come from a run heavy attack like the Carolina Panthers understand the importance of solid fundamental run blocking and they love to get out and attack a defense with the run.
Same goes for a big massive young RT like Phil Loadholt that the Bears seem to be intensely focused on in much the same way they scouted Matt Forte. A big drive blocker who can swallow up multiple defenders just by his size alone. Driving into a defender allowing the guard to scrape and get to the second level gives Forte 4 more yards of day light.
The intent to do what it takes to make the Bears a more successful offense will start with the offensive line and Matt Forte. Continuing to develop the rushing attack will be even more important in Kyle Orton’s development. The good news is the Bears finally have a RB capable of keeping this offense dangerous and effective.