By Bryan Dietzler
If you haven’t heard the news, the Chicago Bear’s star running back and all around most productive offensive player has a knee injury and will probably miss some time this season. It’s not going to require surgery but he could be out for an extended period of time and this is devastating news to the Bears. The offense has been centered around Matt Forte for several seasons now and the Bears have put a lot of their offensive strategy on him. What does it mean for the Bears with his being out for what might be an extended period of time? Will they be able to be as productive on offense without him in the lineup or will the offense suffer?
The running game has clearly gone through Forte as the Bears have been using him, for the most part, on most of their runs. They have been getting rookie running back Jeremy Langford involved more in the running game this season giving Forte a breather every now and then (and the team has even stated that they planned to get Langford involved more) but the rushing offense still runs through Forte.
The Bears also run screens and throw the ball to Forte often out of the backfield and he has a unique ability to gain yards on his catches. Chicago hasn’t thrown the ball to Langford that much out of the backfield (the one notable time they did he dropped the ball in the Vikings game) so he doesn’t have a lot of experience in this offense catching the ball. With Forte out he is going to get a lot more looks in the passing game and is going to have to start catching passes. The Bears need him to this in order for them to have success on offense.
Langford is a solid back and has shown flashes this year but he just hasn’t been used enough in the offense to get a good gauge as to what kind of back he will be. He can pick up those tough yards in between the tackles and get outside to pick up yardage on the edge. He showed himself to be a versatile back in college and the Bears will hope that carries over to his pro game.
After Langford, who will be the clear starter while Forte is out, the Bears have Ka’Deem Carey and Antone Smith. Carey is a second year player and a holdover from the previous regime. He was little used last year and hasn’t proven himself as a player that can carry the load game in and game out. Smith is a six year player who has some NFL experience rushing the football and may be considered the next best option after Langford. He might end up getting some carries in the next few games to give Langford some rest. We might see all the running backs involved in the running game.
There is always a chance that the Bears will sign another running back, depending on how long Forte will be out, to give some added depth to the position. There isn’t a lot of talent left on the “scrap heap” out there however. A name like Trent Richardson, formerly of the Browns, Colts and Raiders comes to mind but he is being worked out by the Saints right now and they might end up signing him. There are other players out there floating around and the Bears may choose to try to pick someone up and get him in the lineup to help bolster their running back group (but this means they would have to release someone so who would they release?).
The Bear’s coaching staff is pretty tight lipped about how long they feel that Forte is going to be out. They haven’t said anything about a definitive length of time that he will be out but it can almost be assured that he is going to miss a couple games with this injury. We will find out more as the week goes on. It’s going to be an interesting next few games not only in terms of whether or not Forte plays but also how the Bears do without him in the lineup.
Chicago is sure to run Langford as much as possible to see how effective he can be and if he is not as effective as Forte is running the ball they will most likely go to the air to try to control the ball and the clock. With Alshon Jeffery in the lineup and healthy again the Bears are much better in the passing game. Granted they will be without Eddie Royal but they have the talent at the wide receiver position to pick up the slack that they lose without Royal. So if the running game isn’t as effective without Forte in the lineup the passing game will be the featured way to move the ball down the field.
So look for it to be an interesting period of time without Forte in the lineup. It will be a new experience for the Bears as Forte has missed very little time during his long career with the Bears. Hopefully Langford will be able to step up and play well in his absence and keep the Bears offense going. If he can’t the team does have a little more talent to try out but they are close to the end of their talent pool at the running back position so there isn’t much left. Chicago needs to establish the run especially in their next few games because they are going up against some pretty potent passing offenses and need to keep the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. But can they do that without Forte? We will soon find out.