Stiff challenge awaits Eagles in underrated Forte

Stiff challenge awaits Eagles in underrated Forte

How will Eagles contain versatile Bears?

December 20, 2013, 7:00 am
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Matt Forte has rushed for 1,200 yards, caught 66 passes for 522 yards and scored nine total touchdowns this season. (USA Today Images)

He might be the most underrated player in the NFL.

He doesn’t have blazing speed, he’s never led the league in anything and he’s only been to one Pro Bowl in six seasons.

He didn’t play at a big-time football school and he wasn’t a first-round pick.

All Matt Forte does is produce. More than almost anybody in the league.

“He’s an underrated player in this league that doesn’t get a lot of attention,” Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “But he definitely should be up there with the top backs in the league because of his versatility and all the things he’s able to do.”

The Eagles on Sunday will have their hands full with one of the NFL’s most productive running backs not just this year but over the last six years.

In his six NFL seasons, Forte has averaged 1,087 rushing yards, 56 receptions, 475 receiving yards and 7.5 touchdowns.

This has been a typical season for Forte, with 1,200 rushing yards for a healthy 4.7 average and 66 receptions.

Forte is one of only three players in NFL history with at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of his first six NFL seasons, and one of only two players (along with LaDainian Tomlinson) with 900 rushing yards and 40 catches in each of his first six seasons.

Since he entered the NFL as a second-round pick out of Tulane in 2008, Forte has more rushing yards and more yards from scrimmage than anybody in the NFL, other than Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, and more receptions than any tailbacks, other than Ray Rice and Darren Sproles.

And Forte is playing the best football of his life right now.

“Really, a very quality guy, high character, very, very high football intelligence,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

“He’s not an outwardly vocal guy, he’s very quiet in his demeanor, he’s very much a part of our protection package and very much just a very even-keeled guy and just very, very steady.”

With 100 rushing yards Sunday against the Eagles, Forte will become the first Bear since Walter Payton in 1985 with four consecutive 100-yard games.

We’ve heard all week about the Bears’ electrifying wideout due of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery (see story).

But guess what.

Forte has far more yards of offense this year than either one -- 1,722 for Forte, 1,370 for Jeffery, 1,185 for Marshall.

“That is a tough thing to defend, when you have a team like that, because you have an outstanding running back, but they have two outstanding receivers,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.

“When you play some teams, you can slant things one way or another and say, ‘Hey, we need to stop this.’ But the one thing about them that sticks out is that they're so multiple in terms of their talent at wide receiver, at tight end and running back, it makes it tough. You can't say, ‘Hey, if we stop this one guy, we'll be in good shape,’ because the other guy's going to hurt you.

“[Forte] is such a multi-dimensional player. He can do everything. He's maybe as good a running back as there is in pass protection. He's a mismatch at times in the passing game, depending on who you match up with him, and he's a big, physical presence when he's running the football.”

Forte has had big games in his last two appearances against the Eagles, 14 for 117 with two touchdowns in 2010 and 24 for 133 in 2011.

He’s the only running back in the NFL -- inside the NFC East or out -- with more than one 100-yard game against the Eagles since 2010.

In four career games against the Eagles, Forte has 327 rushing yards and a 4.6 average and 14 for 101 receiving.

While McCoy and the Eagles are salivating about facing the Bears’ defense -- ranked 27th overall and last against the run -- Forte will be facing a defense ranked 30th overall and 16th against the run.

“They have playmakers at the wideout position, of course, two playmakers, but also Forte is definitely a guy we have to keep our eyes on, and we’re going to be focused on him,” Ryans said. “They do a good job of running the ball and getting him on screen plays and just check downs, they do a good job.”

As dangerous as Forte is running and catching, the one thing the Eagles keep emphasizing is how tough he is picking up the blitz and in pass protection.

“He’s a guy that kind of does it all,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “There’s not many guys who can do what he does. Runs inside the tackles or outside the tackles, pass protect, and run routes and catch the ball.

“He’s really important to them, because you get a lot of sacks when backers get a matchup with a back. A lot of schemes are built to get a matchup on a running back in protection, and it’s a little bit different when you have a running back who can protect.”