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For decades the Chicago Bears were known as the "Monsters of the Midway." Due to their swarming defense and bruising ground game, the nickname was apropos. Opponents were often fear-stricken.
With the addition of Jay Cutler(notes), this was supposed to be the year Chicago reclaimed its terrorizing dominance. His strong arm and plus athleticism were destined to launch an average Chi-town offense into the stratosphere. But ineptitude and inconsistency on both sides of the ball have the storied franchise wading in mediocrity. So unpredictable and generally abysmal have some of Bears' commodities been, fantasy owners have become fearful of owning, not playing against, them.
Of the Bears' bevy of unsteady performers, no player has feasted on the flesh of his supporters more than Matt Forte(notes). Channeling the ghosts of "busted" running backs past – Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam and the not-so-finished Cedric Benson(notes) – the popular top-five pick has been arguably the biggest first-round disappointment this season (Sidebar: LT owners also have a legitimate gripe). After a stellar '08 campaign in which he set the pace for catches among RBs with 64, the Tulane product has mystified the masses with a string of vanilla performances. Ranked 31st at his position in points per game (8.9), he's penetrated the end-zone just once and has eclipsed 75 total yards in a contest only twice in six tries.
More disheartening for Bears supporters, the man Forte replaced, Benson, who interestingly has the same career YPC as the second-year rusher (3.8 ypc), has run wild in Cincinnati, averaging 15.5 points per game, good for the sixth-best mark in virtual pigskin. Last week, motivated by emotion, the vengeful rusher pillaged his old club for 189 yards and a touchdown. If you walked the darkened streets of Chicago on Sunday night, you probably heard Andy Behrens weeping.
As for the festering Forte, several reasons explain his zombified state:
1) Chicago's despicable offensive line. Sans the Detroit game, the trench hogs up front have emitted a rancid odor. The left side of the line anchored by Orlando Pace(notes) and Frank Omiyale(notes) has routinely been manhandled. The downtrodden tandem has failed to create consistent push.
Though center Olin Kreutz(notes) has played at a respectable level, the right side has been equally deplorable. Based on the lack of chemistry at the bookends, not even a bottle rocket propelled squirrel could burst through the holes generated by the underachieving unit. The goal-line stuffing Forte received at Atlanta two weeks ago is a prime example of what he's endured all season. Though he may tell you otherwise, it's obvious he's visibly miserable. From the Chicago Tribune:
"It's not frustrating, it's disappointing," Forte said. "We can't get frustrated because if we get frustrated, it's just going to carry on. In the back of your mind, it's just going to lead to more bad things. Got to forget about it, go out next week and play better. We just have to get better. We have to look at more film, lift more weights, everything. Then we have to get out on the field and show it, not just practice it."
2) Decrease in workload. Throughout the offseason and into training camp the Bears' coaching staff expressed their desire to trim down Forte's burdensome workload to ensure longevity. Last season, he griped the rock 23.7 times per game. This season that average has decreased to 19.0. Even if his yards per touch elevated up to ‘08's level ('08: 4.5, '09: 4.1), he would still finish nearly 350 total yards shy of last year's mark.
3) Play-calling. The opposite of what most pundits argued preseason, Cutler has actually been more of a hindrance than help for the running game. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has leaned on the arm of his prized quarterback, calling 6.5 percent more pass plays than with Kyle Orton(notes) a season ago. More worrisome for Forte owners, Cutler leads the league in pass attempts inside the 10 (21), which has led to a downturn in goal-line rushes for the marquee back.
Cutesy sums up Turner's play-calling in the red zone. Instead of designing plays to utilize his back's tacky hands, he's installed riskier fades and corner routes. So far this season, Forte has netted just 7.3 percent of the team's targets inside the 20, down from 16.9 percent a year ago. Overall, his role in the passing game is nearly identical to last year, but he's being underused in critical situations. All four of his receiving TDs a year ago were scored inside the 10.
With the expressionless Lovie Smith relatively mute on Turner's reckless game-planning, it's no wonder Mike Shanahan-to-Chicago whispers have grown. If the Bears continue to hibernate, the Devil may once again come to life in the White City.
So what does the immediate future hold for Mr.
The initial slate is very encouraging. Forte's Week 8 opponent, Cleveland, has surrendered 4.3 yards per carry, 166.2 total yards per game and five scores to tugboats since Week 3 equal to the sixth-most fantasy points allowed. In an attempt to resuscitate the club's nearly flat-lined rushing attack, Turner will surely deploy Forte often to assault the Chihuahuas' primary weakness. An output similar to his Week 4 clash with Detroit is very possible (140 tyds, TD).
However, the Bears' remaining slate is unmistakably frightening. Take a look for yourself:
As the wonderful schedule tool at FFToday foretells, save for St. Louis and Detroit, Forte's schedule is bone-chilling, especially during the fantasy playoffs. Though he should retain appreciable value in PPR-intensive formats, he is undoubtedly a strong sell candidate after this week. Salvage what you can.
Unless the Bears' offense quickly finds an antidote, Chicago's lumbering zombie will ultimately detach his owners from limb-to-limb.
Fearless Forecast Week 8: 18 carries, 82 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 36 receiving yards, 1 touchdown
How scared are you of Forte's upcoming slate? Have you already dished him off to a hopeful owner? What's your favorite zombie film? Discuss below.
Image courtesy of the AP