There is no question in my mind that Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte is a top five running back in the NFL. A player who doesn’t receive the hype that other elite running backs garner such as Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy and Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, make no mistake Forte is just as valuable to his team. And with Forte showing mid-season form, as he shredded the Buffalo Bills defense for 169 total yards from scrimmage, the 49ers must account for Forte on every snap. But the question remains, can they do that for four quarters? I believe they can.
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The last time Forte played against San Francisco, the 49ers defense swarmed to the football like a bunch of killer bees, as they held him to 67 yards of total offense. And while Forte was contained, this time will be a little different as new personnel, coaching staff, and schemes are in place. Not to mention, the Bears had zero offense to speak of as QB Jason Campbell was the starting quarterback, the 49ers basically stacked the box which eventually led to an easy 32-7 victory. But this is a different season and with OC Aaron Kromer leading the Bears offense, you can be sure you will see a heavy dose of Forte in both the run and pass. So how can the 49ers contain Forte understanding he will again be the focal point of the offense? By devising a game-plan to make the Bears offense one-dimensional.
Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, the 49ers were suspect against the run as they allowed 127 yards on only 23 carries. That will definitely need to change this time around, if the 49ers hope to win in their home opener. The Bears have RG Kyle Long and he alone can open up gaping holes on that right side of the line. The Pro Bowl guard will likely be matched up against DE Ray McDonald (when lined up as the three-technique) so you can see where the mismatch lies. If McDonald can occupy Long at the point of attack, that should allow OLB Ahmad Brooks and ILB Patrick Willis to flow to the ball naturally as they hit their gaps.
A tough task for both McDonald and Brooks as they need to set the edge while not allowing Forte to get open in the flats (especially on check-downs), it will be up to those two players to contain Forte on the left side. McDonald had trouble with Cowboys RT Doug Free last week as he tried to shed and will definitely need to do better in Week 2.
With the 49ers left-side being their weak link, the right side should bode well for them. A right side of the defensive line which is anchored by none other than All-Pro DE Justin Smith, the 49ers defense should have their way. Sure the Bears have LT Jermon Bushrod but he is no longer an elite tackle making this a mismatch worth noting. And with Cowboy getting off to a fast start as he recorded two sacks in the season opener, look for that type of presence to continue in the home opener.
In Cowboy’s last three meetings against Bushrod (Saints) he amassed 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and seven quarterback hits. Whether getting bull-rushed with brute strength or manhandled with a swim/rip, Cowboy has Bushrod’s number so expect a big game from No. 94 as I predict him to have a stat line around six tackles and 1.5 sacks. If this is the case that should translate into a rough day for Forte, as his goons up front won’t be able to give him running lanes to run through while consistently getting hit near the line-of-scrimmage.
So what will the Bears do from here? Evade the running game altogether and use Forte coming out of the flat, split out wide, or in the slot. Forte is a multi-dimensional weapon and Bears HC Marc Trestman is a smart offensive mind, so if something doesn’t go according to plan, look for Forte to make his living in the passing game. If the 49ers can take away Forte’s quick slants, flat-routes, and curl-routes, while bringing him down on initial contact that will do wonders for the 49ers defense.
If the 49ers can contain the Bear’s running game while taking away Forte’s dual-threat ability as a receiver, they should be able to stop Forte dead in his tracks. A tough task for any defense, look for Forte to get his fantasy numbers as I predict he will have a stat line similar to 17 carries for 76 yards and one touchdown while adding five catches for 28 yards.