Bears

Bears moving on without Forte

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Bears moving on without Forte

For much of the past offseason the Bears have been preparing for life without Matt Forte. Not explicitly anything directed at Forte personally, just at not having their offense as mightily dependent on one running back.

Trading for Brandon Marshall, drafting Alshon Jeffery, drafting a receiver-type tight end (Evan Rodriguez), signing another 28-year-old running back with starter experience (Marion Barber last year, Michael Bush this year) all the moves tilt the offense away from reliance on Forte.

Forte is not in minicamp, having still not signed his franchise tag of 7.7 million nor agreed with the Bears on a long-term deal. Indeed, if that does not happen before Monday, July 16, the franchise tag is his only option for 2012.

Teammates have said on more than one occasion that they expect Forte to be with them this season, and most anticipate him being in Bourbonnais for training camp.

But nothing is waiting on Forte.

I know Matt Forte, coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday. Im sure hes getting ready to go. But in the meantime, the best thing we can do for the Chicago Bears is just keep this train going, which weve done.

Put simply, Fortes leverage for getting the Bears offer up to the level he wants is diminishing. The Bears put what they thought was a fair offer on the table at the outset of last training camp. They increased the guaranteed money slightly over the ensuing months.

Forte then suffered a knee injury and missed most of the last five games. Playing the Pro Bowl was a health statement but the only real movement the Bears have made since then was to add players to bolster their passing offense and to deepen the depth chart behind Forte.

Smith, who mentioned Bush first, unprompted, in his introductory comments after practice Tuesday, was not sending a message to Forte. But the message was there and unmistakable: If the Bears have to start the season with Bush, who is signed for four years, they will.

Its not like hes new to us, Smith said. We had a chance to see him up close and personal last year. Big running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, can block with his size.

I think hes a complete player and weve been very pleased. Getting all these reps has helped him a lot getting the offense down quickly.

Forte had two years under Ron Turner, then two years under Mike Martz. Now the coordinator is Mike Tice. Strange as it sounds, Forte will have some catching up to do.

When he shows up, Smith said, well be ready to coach him up then.

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Saints

1. Get production from receivers not named Allen Robinson. 

Robinson can expect to be followed all game by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s limited opposing receivers to nine catches on 20 targets in his last three games (a sampling of those receivers: Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, D.J. Chark). So if Robinson isn’t open, it likely will have less to do with his own play and more the play of one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. 

With that in mind, Sunday will be a significant test for the Bears’ other pass catchers. This team’s offensive identity was supposed to be steeped in an ability to spread the ball around to guys like Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Trey Burton, but so far this season, the only thing the Bears have proven to do well is get the ball to Robinson. That absolutely has to change on Sunday. 

Miller feels primed for a breakout game after ditching his shoulder harness, while Gabriel is back from a concussion suffered on the final catch of his explosive three touchdown game in Week 3 against Washington. Those two guys need to show up, and the Bears need to better scheme plays for Cohen, who’s averaging 4.5 yards per touch — lower than his average in 2017 with Dowell Loggains calling the plays. 

Robinson still could have a productive day — he’s that good — but the Bears shouldn’t count on it.

2. Hold your own against the Saints’ front. 

The Saints are outstanding at affecting quarterbacks without blitzing, with their 76 pressures ranking second in the NFL — this for a team that’s only blitzing on 22 percent of its defensive snaps. And of those 76 pressures, 63 have come from defensive linemen. 

Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan have been monsters this year, combining for eight sacks while consistently generating that pressure off the edge. Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie will need need to have their best games of 2019 to keep them away from Mitch Trubisky, but the interior of the Bears’ line will have its hands full, too. David Onyemata, Malcom Brown and Sheldon Rankins all have at least one sack, putting an onus on Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Rashaad Coward and/or Ted Larsen to keep those guys out of Trubisky’s face.

If not, Trubisky will have a difficult time getting comfortable and going through his progressions, which could lead to some forced/panicked throws...which could be jumped by Lattimore or another one of the Saints' defensive backs.   

3. Get game-wrecking plays on defense.

The thought here is Sunday’s game will be a tight defensive battle, with the game swinging on which team gets a turnover deep in its opponent territory. For the Bears, that means coming up with the kind of game-wrecking play (or plays) we’ve come to expect from this defense. 

Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked on only 16.7 percent of his drop-backs (24th, per PFF), though, with tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead among the best pass blockers at their position in the NFL. It’ll be a fascinating matchup for Khalil Mack, who will need to be at his best to beat the Saints’ best and “sack the football,” as he’s so good at doing. Or maybe Sunday is time for Eddie Jackson to get his first interception of the season (though he’s only been thrown at about two times per game, down from his average of nearly three times per game in 2018). 

However the Bears’ defense does it, they need to do it in a game in which their offense very well could struggle to move the ball. 

Prediction: Saints 13, Bears 9. 

While the Saints will be without future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, star do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara and reliable tight end Jared Cook, this is a team should have the advantage at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense (the Bears, of course, will be without Akiem Hicks and might start a greenhorn at right guard in Coward). That advantage matters greatly in close games, in which grinding out a few yards here and there will become critical, especially in the fourth quarter.

And too, Sean Payton has built a strong coach of the year case for how he’s guided the Saints to an undefeated record without Brees. The Saints are playing a strong brand of complementary football, with a ball security-based offense and a defense that’s progressively got better this year (punter Thomas Morstead, for what it’s worth, is outstanding and shouldn’t be completely overlooked). 

So the Saints will arrive at Soldier Field undermanned, but with an advantage at the line of scrimmage and on the sideline. And those will be enough for New Orleans to emerge with a win, sending the Bears to 3-3 in the process. 

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Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with NOLA.com's Luke Johnson

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USA Today

Under Center Podcast: Previewing Bears-Saints with NOLA.com's Luke Johnson

JJ Stankevitz is joined by New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune Saints beat writer Luke Johnson to preview Sunday's game at Soldier Field, starting with why the Saints have been able to keep winning without Drew Brees (1:29). JJ runs his concerns about the Bears' offense going against the Saints' defense by Luke (4:28) before getting into how New Orleans is viewing Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky and Chicago's lagging offense (8:17). Luke then explains the impact of Alvin Kamara's absence (10:40) and why Teddy Bridgewater has been so effective since tagging in for Brees (14:55).

Listen here or via the embedded player below: