Monday, Jan. 17, 2011
Posted: 4:54 PM
By John Mullin
In the second installment of a special three-part series, CSNChicago.com is the No. 1 factor favoring the Bears.
General manager Jerry Angelo always has identified quarterback, running back and a pass-rushing defensive lineman as the true franchise positions in football. The quarterback position, even with Jay Cutler playing as well as he has over the second half of this season and through Sundays win over Seattle, rates as the No. 1 advantage area favoring the Packers.
READ: Why do Packers hold QB advantage?
But what about the second franchise position in Angelos trilogy?
Running back: Forte over Starks
The philosophical course correction undergone mid-season by the Chicago offense proved to be a case of NFL addition by subtraction. The Bears not only made sure they saw less of Cutler passing; they made sure they saw more of Matt Forte.
After just two 100-yard rushing games as a team in the first seven, the Bears had eight games of 100 or more yards over the final nine. Not coincidentally, seven of those nine were wins.
The prime beneficiary, besides an offensive line that was struggling in pass protection and turned more toward run blocking, was Forte. The tailback had exactly two games with 100 or more yards of total offense in the first seven; he had five in the final nine plus the Minnesota game with 98.
Forte finished the season with eight games in which he accumulated 100 yards of offense. The Bears were 7-1 in those games.
WATCH: How to beat Green Bay
Fortes rushing average ticked up to a career-best 4.5 per carry and his 51 receptions accounted for an additional 547 yards to go with his 1,069 on the ground.
In five games this season Forte led or tied for team-high in pass receptions.
He just does such a great job with the football, making cuts, making catches, making people miss, said right guard Roberto Garza. Matt is a great back, maybe the best all-around back in the league. He works hard and you want to work hard for a guy like Matt.
Life after Grant?
The Packers lost Ryan Grant to an ankle injury the first week and he hasnt played all season. Of course, that didnt mean he couldnt weigh in with a Tweet on Monday that Packers fans could comfortably start making their reservations for Dallas on that first weekend in February.
Grant will be along for the ride but the Packers will be expecting a bit more from James Starks, the 2010 sixth-round draft choice who broke out for 123 rushing yards against Philadelphia.
Starks, who opened the season on the PUP list and didnt play in the first 11 games of the season, had a pedestrian 20 rushing yards against the Bears in Green Bays season-ending win to reach the playoffs. He managed all of 66 yards in 25 carries against the Atlanta Falcons.
Starks has really given them a boost with their running game, coach Lovie Smith said, without elaboration.
The Packers had just one 100-yard rushing performance by a back during the regular season, when Brandon Jackson gained 115 yards in a mid-season loss to the Washington Redskins.
Even with Starks performance, Green Bay is averaging 3.7 yards per carry through two playoff games. The Packers have as many rushing fumbles (2) as touchdowns.
Forte and Starks are about the same size: 6-2, 218 pounds. That is where the similarities end. Forte has emerged as one of the top all-around backs in the NFC as both a runner and receiver, with the capability of forcing defenses to devote resources to stopping him instead of assaulting Cutler.
Next: CSNChicago.com breaks down the defenses of Green Bay and Chicago, two of the NFLs best, and whether the Packers or Bears hold an edge in this crucial game-decider...
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.