On the NFL
7:20 PM CDT, September 22, 2012
The last time the Bears were without Matt Forte, as they will be Sunday against the Rams, they went 1-3.
"Forte is such a dynamic and versatile player who accounted for such a significant amount of the Bears production in the past that losing him will affect the team as a whole," said an NFC defensive assistant familiar with the Bears. "(But Michael) Bush is a capable replacement with different skill sets.
There are some misconceptions about what missing Forte could mean, such as:
• The Bears will shy away from the run.
Last season when the Bears were without Forte the last four games, they averaged 34 carries per game — eight more than they did with Forte. Of course, they also were without Jay Cutler in those games.
• The Bears will be incapable of running.
The Bears know how to run without Forte. Bush already has carried the ball three times more than Forte (for 15 fewer yards).
Without Forte in 2011, the Bears averaged 145.5 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry. With him, they averaged 119/4.5.
• The types of runs the Bears call will not change.
No matter the company line is, it makes sense to highlight what Bush does best, which is different from what Forte does best.
"Forte is effective running the zone schemes, gap schemes and draws, and he creates explosive production in the pass game with route running and screens," the assistant said. "Bush will provide a downhill run element so that will be close to a wash."
• The passing game will be unaffected.
Forte is a huge factor in the passing game, and it's likely the Bears will miss him more as a receiver and pass protector than as a runner.
At the time of his injury last season, Forte was leading the Bears in receptions and second in receiving yards. This year, even with the added receiving weapons and missing most of the second half against the Packers, he is the team's second leading receiver in catches and yards.
Bush will be able to catch the dump-offs. What he won't be able to do is run the kinds of routes, make the kinds of catches and make defenders miss in the open field like Forte can.
How the Bears compensate for Forte's absence could have a significant impact in how this game plays out.
Comprehend the trend: Hester package
After two games, it is becoming evident what the mysterious "Devin Hester Package" is.
It consists of playing Hester approximately 40 percent of the offensive snaps, as he has done in the first two games combined (32 against the Colts and 20 against the Packers).
Hester has only four touches on offense, but the idea is to get him the ball more on screens, downfield passes and handoffs. The feeling is he will get more chances against the Rams.
But he probably won't get a lot more snaps, if any.
The receivers playing the most, by far, are Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Marshall has played all but six snaps; the rookie 58 percent of them.
After not being used much against the Colts (20 snaps), Earl Bennett doubled his count against the Packers.
Numbers games: Whither Ditka?
Last year, the Bears ranked last in the NFL in tight end catches with 25, 144 behind the the league-leading Patriots, according to STATS.
They also ranked last in tight end receiving yards with 256, 1,981 fewer than the Patriots.
The perception has been that with the switch from one former tight end (Mike Martz) to another (Mike Tice) at offensive coordinator, the tight ends would become much more involved in the passing game.
Kellen Davis has been talked up as if he were Kellen Winslow Sr. But so far, the tight ends might as well be wearing boxing gloves.
They have three catches, which, once again, ranks last in the NFL. The Patriots' tight ends have 18.
The Bears have 42 receiving yards from their tight ends, which is 2 more than the Dolphins, who rank last. The Eagles lead the league with 257.
Front office chess: Replacement runners
When it became apparent the Bears likely would be without Forte for some time, the front office scheduled workouts with former Texans third-round pick Steve Slaton and former Jaguar and Steeler DaJuan Harris.
After the workouts, the Bears decided to sign neither free agent, instead bringing back Kahlil Bell because they a contributor now and he knows the offense.
If Bell had accepted the Bears' request to take a pay cut in August to $700,000 from $1.26 million, indications from NFL sources are that he would have made the roster. Bell clearly appeared to be ahead of Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker in the battle for the third halfback spot.
Now, if he sticks with the team, Bell will earn $538,125 for the rest of the season. He signed a one-year deal for $615,000, but won't be paid for the first two games.
But sticking with the team is not a foregone conclusion for Bell. Before Forte comes back, he needs to show he is a better option than Allen.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC