Bears

Bears RB draft preview: Depth thin for run-based offense

bears-matt-forte-insider-0427.png

Bears RB draft preview: Depth thin for run-based offense

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position by position as the Bears approach the 2015 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

Matt Forte is entering the final year of his contract and has established himself as one of the great running backs in the history of a franchise with a number of elite runners to its credit. Since entering the league as a second-round pick in 2008, Forte ranks No. 1 in yards from scrimmage and set an NFL record for receptions by a running back (102) last season while still netting 1,038 yards rushing yards.

Forte gave and continues to give elite one-size-fits-all consistency at the position. He is a unique back with a record of success in myriad offensive systems: 1,000-yard rushing seasons under four different coordinators. He also has been the definition of durable, starting 16 games in five of his seven seasons.

The Bears used a fourth-round pick last season on Ka’Deem Carey out of Arizona but he was a virtual non-factor: 36 total carries through 14 games, then not seeing the field in the final two. He worked throughout the year on improving pass protection, which he did, but coaches were reluctant to trust his grasp of the playbook. His high point of 14 carries for 72 yards came vs. Green Bay but he was unable to establish himself as an adequate alternative or relief for Forte.

The Bears picked up Jacquizz Rodgers, a smallish (5-6) speed-back, originally a fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2011. He was Pac-12 offensive player of the year in 2008, a distinction also won by Carey (2013).

[SHOP: Get your official Bears NFL Draft hat]

Bears draft priority: Moderate

Forte’s outlook at age 29 (turning 30 in December) with some mileage is a question, and Carey had too few chances as a rookie to show whether he is or isn’t an NFL running back.

This all matters a great deal given coach John Fox’s stated intention to rely on the run game, something Marc Trestman paid lip service to but then was about 65:35 pass:run. Taking Fox at his word, the Bears may not have their long-term situation set at this position.

When Fox was at Carolina, the Panthers went heavily on defense with top picks but also placed enough of a premium on the running-back position to invest No. 1’s at the position in 2006 (DeAngelo Williams) and 2008 (Jonathan Stewart), and those after using at No. 2 there in 2005 (Eric Shelton). Perhaps more relevant to the Bears’ current situation, Fox’s Panthers used two No. 4 picks on running backs in 2009 (Mike Goodson, Tony Fiammetta).

The “value” running back position has been a debated topic (not as far as Forte is concerned, however) and the new Fox-Ryan Pace regime has some solid run offenses in its collective background.

[BEARS DRAFT PREVIEW: Looking for answers beyond Jay Cutler

Keep an eye on ...

Javorious Allen, USC: Likely gone by rd. 4 but a 221-pound producer in the Forte mold.

Dominique Brown, Louisville: Power back (234 pounds) in the mold of Michael Bush, alternative to Forte.

Jeremy Langford, Michigan State: Shorter (5-9) than the norm but had two productive seasons replacing Le’Veon Bell.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

10-17mitchtrubisky.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

Subscribe:

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.