There is no denying that Matt Forte gave us the best chance to win in 2008. He broke many rookie rushing records last season, as well as some receiving records. He also finished third in total touches behind the Vikings Adrian Peterson and the Falcons Michael Turner. Through the good, Chicago still managed to finish 24th in yards, 26th, in average yards per carry, and 24th in yards per game.
The aforementioned teams had the right formula to constantly pound the rock: a spell-back and the threat of a deep pass. The Bears, however, had their backs against the wall, and therefore ran into other walls. Do we need another back? Ron Turner certainly believes so. So why don't we have a number two guy? Believe it or not, The best running mate for Forte was on our roster before the season even began.
Cedric Benson- I know what most of you are thinking, just bear with me. The NFL is having a running back renaissance, where picking one in the first round does not always mean he'll be the feature back. For example, the carolina Panthers, who ranked third last season in total rushing yards, drafted Jonathan Stewart 13th overall. He was drafted to compliment Deangelo Williams (also a first rounder), not to take his role as starter.
I don't need to describe Ced to anyone on this board. In 2006, Chicago ranked 15th in the rush, but was still regarded as having one of the best tandems in the league in Jones and Benson. Benson had 157 carries for 647 yards(4.1 ypc) and six scores. Good numbers for a backup role. One play i can vividly remember is in the NFC championship game, when he took a handoff up the gut 12 yards for a score. I remember thinking "That's the working formula."
So what happened in 2007? Simple: Benson was put in a bad position. It's misleading to think the offensive line's decline happened in '07. The fact is, that line was bad in 2006. There's a reason why Rex Grossman won NFC player of the month for September: the Bears couldn't run the ball. The Bears ran a total of 85 rushing plays for a total of 251 yards. less than 3.0 yards per carry. For a team built to run, that was unacceptable. Sure, they got better down the stretch, but not before that infamous monday night clunker at Arizona (16-38-2.4).
Let's rewind four years back shall we? In 2005, the Bears had to run the ball harder to make up for having then rookie Kyle Orton under center. Jones had more cutback lanes, Benson started to hit his stride midway during the season, and when both went down with injuries, the original Adrian Peterson came in and didn't miss a beat. In fact Peterson was a solid contributor in '05, having 76 caries for 391 yards for a 5.1 average. That's what the issue was. Jones averaged 4.3 yards per carry, Benson had 4.1 yards. In 2006, the Bears ran the ball 471 times (sans QB scrambles) for 1916 yards which is a 4.1 average, whereas 2005 they ran the ball 461 times for 2,025 yards for a 4.4 average: a big difference when you're talking about a game of inches.
Now on to 2007. Chicago ran a total of 391 plays (a very significant drop-off) for 1,276 yards for 3.3 yards. Benson was ineffective, as was Peterson, and Garrett Wolfe was used very sparingly. After the bye week Benson ran the ball more effectively, especially in Seattle and Denver before being knocked out for the year. Let me reiterate my previous statement, Benson was put in a bad position.
In 2008 two separate off field issues forced the bears to release Cedric, or so they say. Was that the legitimate reason? Or was it because of his work ethic? Or maybe Jerry Angelo needed a scapegoat for his absent-minded decision not to draft offensive linemen? Benson had his flaws, but not more than other players in the league, not by a long shot. Of course Benson voiced his disappointment when Angelo planned to draft another back, But would you blame him? Maybe Getting cut has humbled Benson. his numbers as a Bengal makes it look that way, as was a positive critique from T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
One thing that was well documented in Carolina, Tennessee and New York (Giants) this past season, were good, cooperative relationships between the running backs. They even gave themselves alter egos: Smash 'n Dash, Earth, Wind and Fire, Identity and Theft. So far, it's been Crash and Burn in the Windy City. So would Benson be Forte's running mate, much less even want to come back to Chicago? Would Angelo consider bringing him back considering he's on the open market this season? If it does happen, it would be a shot at redemption.
For Benson and for Angelo.