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Bears Playbook - The Forte Passing Game

Matt Forte was finally looking up to form last Sunday against the Panthers. Let's take a look at some of his work in the passing game.

Grant Halverson

Matt Forte has always done his best work outside the tackles, and he finally got it going against a weakened Carolina defense.  Marc Trestman was clearly going through the playbook looking for different ways to get Forte into open field, trying every variety of pitch, fake end-around, screen pass, and empty-backfield play to give the Bears running back opportunities to shine, and in the first half, shine he did.

Forte best play of the day was this 50+ yard catch-and-run off of a screen right.  The real action is on the right, but on your first watch, I recommend you watch the left side of the formation:

Forte Big Gain Pass, CHI @ CAR 2014

If you're looking to break your running back down the edge, you draw it up so your offensive linesmen can block out the linebackers and get the RB around the corner. The biggest plays, however, come only when you find a good way to take the DBs out of the play.  Trestman's playcall takes care of left-side DBs by executing a fake wide receiver screen to the left side, which draws the safety in and eats up the nickel defender.  So even while the Panthers drop eight into coverage, Trestman's trickery draws in that extra cover man and evens up the numbers on the other side.

Meanwhile, on the right side of the formation, Trestman uses a WR to block out the play-side safety while Kyle Long and Brian de la Puente lead Forte down the field.  And while Long makes a good block, De La Puente's slowfooted march down the field leaves a Panthers linebacker free to make the play.  Forte, however, would not be denied on this one - he lowers a shoulder into the tackle, bounces off the weak attempt to bring him down, and then breaks straight to the edge.  50 some yards later, the Panthers caught up to Forte, but with a good playcall and (mostly) good blocking, Forte was able to switch fields for the Bears and help get points on the board.

It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for Forte in the passing game, however, and the Panthers were wisely keyed into Forte after his gangbusters first half.  Take a look at this typical result Forte got in the second half, with the action again on the right side. Still, I would recommend you start by watching the left side of the play:

Forte Pass For Loss, CHI @ CAR 2014

With the Panthers playing zone, Jay Cutler would have been wise to check out the three-receiver left side of this one before going with the checkdown.  With Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett sucking up the short zone defenders, Brandon Marshall gets a free release to the safety level.  If Cutler looks left, he's got Marshall wide open for what could have been an easy touchdown.

As it actually happened, however, Cutler starts by staring down the slot cover-man, and when Martellus Bennett doesn't come free soon enough, Cutler takes a hitch step and finds Forte on the right flat.  That one hitch step gave the linebacker covering Forte time enough to close the gap and make an easy tackle as soon as the ball is delivered.  If the ball comes out a half-second faster, Forte would have had a chance to make a move, but as it stood, he was cut down for a minimal gain.

Forte's had a tough go of it this season, and you don't have look much further than the patchwork offensive line to figure out why.  While Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola has done well enough, without Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson's athleticism the middle, Forte hasn't had the running room he enjoyed last season in the screen game.  And between the drop in talent due to injury and the strong defensive-line talent the Bears have faced this season so far, it's equally unsurprising that he hasn't had much doing on the ground this season either.

But with Forte showing he's still got plenty in the tank last Sunday, I suspect he'll enjoy another 100+ yard game against a weak Atlanta defense.  The Bears will need every yard he's got in him, as the also-desperate Falcons will be bringing their absolute best on offense.  If the Bears can grind out long drives using Forte in the run and pass game, they'll do themselves the double service of putting points on the board and keeping Matt Ryan off the field.  If we see more drives featuring two runs for minimal gain and an incompletion on third down, however, Bears fans might find themselves on the wrong end of a Devin Hester punt return.