Allen Park — By just about any metric, Matt Forte is one of the best running backs in the NFL.
He ranks 10th with 932 rushing yards and had a solid 4.1-yard average. He ranks 10th among all players and first among running backs with 88 receptions, and he’s second among running backs with 745 receiving yards.
Yet, in the Lions’ first matchup against Chicago this season, the Bears hardly gave Forte the ball as he finished with just five carries for 6 yards and six receptions for 52 yards.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said he was “absolutely surprised” the Bears went away from Forte early in that Thanksgiving matchup, but with the Lions giving up an NFL-best 63.8 rushing yards per game, teams have started to forego the run altogether.
On Sunday in Chicago, the Lions expect the Bears to give Forte more chances to establish himself.
“I would think that they would try to use him more than they did the first game,” Austin said. “He’s one of their top players, if not the top player they have on offense. So, they’re going to try to get him as many touches as they can because he’s so good with the ball in his hands.
“We can’t limit his touches because they’re handing it off to him, but limit the big plays he makes, the gains because he does it both catching and running.”
Forte has been among the most consistent running backs since the Bears drafted him in the second round in 2008. His career-low in a season is 929 yards, and he’s on pace for his fifth 1,000-yard season in seven years. He’s also had at least 471 receiving yards in all but one season.
On a teleconference Thursday, Bears coach Marc Trestman didn’t want to discuss the decision to turn away from Forte in the previous meeting against the Lions.
“That’s 100 years ago,” he said. “We’re moving forward.”
Though he wouldn’t divulge his game plan, Trestman indicated the Bears would try to run more than the eight times they did on Thanksgiving. Plus, with Jimmy Clausen starting in place of Jay Cutler at quarterback, Chicago will have to establish the ground game.
“We’re going to run it, but we know our work is cut out for us,” Trestman said.
As always, the Lions’ first goal Sunday will be to stop the run, but they’ve proven they can stop most teams — besides the New England Patriots — through the air, too. If the Lions hold the Bears and Packers to 77 yards the next two games, they’ll tie the Baltimore Ravens for the best run defense in NFL history, so they’d likely be fine with Chicago passing more.
The Bears did have success early in that 34-17 Lions win on Thanksgiving with two first-quarter touchdown passes, but the Lions have adjusted to teams that want to beat them with quick passes instead of runs.
“I guess they just figure that it would be tough sledding that way,” Austin said. “They may have an easier time spreading us out and throwing the quick gain and making some gains that way.”