But not the running back (he's great) - we need to seriously upgrade the O - Line.
In another thread someone brought up some Football Outsiders stats on the Bears o-Line. Generally speaking they do excellent football analysis there, and their stats can be used to tease apart different parts of the game, that are heavily intertwined.
For the offensive line, they use a number of measures to identify how much of a running back's success (or lack thereof) is due to the line and how much is due to him. Now I think we can all say that just looking at Forte run, simply as fans, we can tell he's an awfully good runner. But I have thought, based on my subjective assessment, that he's even better than that, and has been hampered by a line that has been extremely weak. The FO stats back this up.
Here's how they explain the stats:
Teams are ranked according to Adjusted Line Yards. Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages:
- Losses: 120% value
- 0-4 Yards: 100% value
- 5-10 Yards: 50% value
- 11+ Yards: 0% value
These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, and opponent, and normalized...
This recognizes the fact that even a bad runner can get some yardage if the initial hole is there - that's the offensive line doing it's job, but a good runner will extend the play into the next level and a bad runner won't. With a bad offensive line, even a good runner will have a hard time, if there's nowhere to go.
Some other stats they also measure, which are not adjusted for opponent, are:
RB Yards: Yards per carry by that team's running backs, according to standard NFL numbers. 10+ Yards: Percentage of a team's rushing yards more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Represents yardage not reflected in Adjusted Line Yards stat. Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks. Stuffed: Percentage of runs that result in (on first down) zero or negative gain or (on second through fourth down) less than one-fourth the yards needed for another first down. Since being stuffed is bad, teams are ranked from stuffed least often (#1) to most often (#32).
So given these stats, where do the Bears fit in?
The Bears are only 23rd overall, near the bottom of the league - but it's even worse than that, really: As you can see in the table, Forte is in the top half of the league once he gets out of the 10 yard O-Line area (14th overall), with close to 20% of his yards coming after he makes it past the O-Line. But his overall RB Yards are slightly below league average - this likely means the O-Line is hurting him.
Indeed, if you look at the situations where the O-Line is most important - short yardage situations on 3rd or 4th down - they only create space less than 2/3rds of the time. And they get stuffed more than anyone in the league besides for DET or CIN.
Now, their pass protection is fine. They're ranked 10th in the league with a 5% adjusted sack rate (sacks per pass attempt, adjusted for opponent etc.). But when you the line can't create holes to run in, it's still a serious problem.
Football Outsiders also breaks it down by where the run goes. The Bears O-Line is uniformly bad regardless of where the run goes, with one exception: they are 11th in the league when running up the middle or off guard (these are one category). When they run Left End they are 26th, Right End they are 22nd, Left Tackle 21st, and Right Tackle 23rd.
What's interesting is that Ron Turner, who I have felt has been inconsistent as a playcaller, seems to have recognized this fact, as 50% of the bears runs have gone up the middle or off guard (only 10% for each end, and 15% for each tackle).
The problem is that stuffs (which the bears are 3rd worst in) are also often a product of the interior of the line, which indicates to me that when the defense knows the bears have to run the ball in critical situations, they can stuff the middle and not worry about the outsides as much.
This is why the O-Line has to be a priority in the off-season. We don't know how well the rookie is as St. Claire has gotten all the playing time, but it seems like we need to improve significantly. Forte may really be a quality back in this league for a long time, but not if he has no holes to run through.