Yes, Matt Forte is a very talented running back. Yes, he is one of the most versatile running backs in the league. Yes, he has accounted for a good chunk of the Bears' offensive production for the past few years. These are all facts that cannot be denied. What is not clear, however, is whether or not the Bears actually need him in order to win games. Follow me after the jump and I'll give you my two cents on the topic. Enjoy and, as always, BEAR DOWN!
Let's get this out of the way. Matt Forte is not going to miss any games because of a contract dispute this season. He's smart enough to know that he has only three options. He's going to either lower his contract demands, play under the franchise tag, or sit out and make exactly zero dollars this season. He's also smart enough to know that the third option isn't really an option. When it comes right down to it, he's going to realize that he as no busted knee to stand on and give in one way or another.
Now that the contract nonsense is out of the way, let's look at what really matters: the stats. We'll look at the 2011 running statistics first then take a gander at the receiving numbers. Matt Forte, playing in 12 games, had 203 carries for 997 yards, an average of 4.9 YPC, and added 3 rushing touchdowns. Respectable numbers, but nothing that cannot be replaced. Speaking of, let's look at the numbers that Michael Bush and Kahlil Bell put up last season. Bush appeared in 16 games and started 9 while putting together 256 carries for 977 yards, a 3.8 YPC average, and had 7 rushing touchdowns. Bell appeared in 13 games with just 3 starts while putting up 79 carries for 337 yards, a 4.3 YPC average and zero touchdowns. If I were being generous, I would say that Forte's numbers matched up well with the other backs, but let's be honest, 3 touchdowns in 203 carries isn't exactly what wins games. That's just one touchdown every 67 carries. Michael Bush, on the other hand got into the end zone every 36 carries. Let's treat Bush and Bell as if they're one player as they would be splitting carries if Forte were to not play. Their combined rushing stats total to 335 carries for 1314 yards for an average of 3.9 YPC and 7 TDs. Yes, the yard-per-carry average is a bit lower, but not by any amount worth being concerned over. At any rate, yards don't win games, touchdowns do, and that is one area in which Forte hasn't exactly excelled.
Now for the receiving numbers. Last year Forte caught 52 passes for 490 for an average of 9.4 YPC with one touchdown. Again, the yards are there, but the touchdowns are not. Bush caught 37 passes for 418 yards for an average of 11.3 YPC and also one touchdown. Combine that with Bell's 19 catches for 133 yards and a 7.0 YPC average along with a touchdown of his own, and you get 56 catches for 551 yards and a 9.8 YPC and 2 TDs. Those numbers are just a little better than Forte's, but they are better.
Finally, it was made very clear that Matt Forte was not the reason the Bears won games last year. When Forte was playing and Cutler wasn't, the Bears still lost. It was very clear that without Cutler, Forte wasn't as effective as he'd like his contract to reflect. Yes, Matt Forte is a very talented running back. Yes, he is one of the most versatile running backs in the league. Yes, he has accounted for a good chunk of the Bears' offensive production for the past few years. Yes, the Bears can win without him.