Bears

For Bears running back Matt Forte, 30 is just a number

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For Bears running back Matt Forte, 30 is just a number

One mantra of the Sixties was “never trust anybody over 30.” With apologies to that generation and era, the Bears are more than happy to trust at least one 30-year-old.

Matt Forte turned 30 on Thursday and ran right off life’s cliff.

“I’m dead,” Forte deadpanned. “I’m an old man, I feel like I’m so old, man. Yesterday I was 29 running around all practice. Today it took me like one extra minute to get going. It’s taking a toll on me.”

If anything has taken a toll on Forte this season, it was the tackle that Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith delivered in the Nov. 1 game that sidelined Forte for the next three games.

He struggled a bit in the Green Bay game, with 44 yards on 15 carries, no rush going longer than seven yards, which might hint at a running back losing burst or top-end speed. The Bears and Forte don’t see it that way, and Forte came back with 84 rushing and 39 receiving yards in the San Francisco game, the fifth time in his nine games that Forte has topped 100 total yards.

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“I just know for us right now he’s playing really well,” Forte said. “He’s doing some things that I haven’t seen many running backs be able to do because he’s so good in all three areas of the game for that position. We lean on him. I think this last game showed you.”

Forte ran 21 times last Sunday for 84 yards “and he was effective in all those rushes and really probably should have had over 100 yards if we don’t get that holding call,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “We had an explosive run that put us in great position, and then we get it called back. For us, I feel like he’s still playing at a very high level.”

Forte is nearing the end of the four-year contract he signed in July 2012. What the future holds for a tailback age 30 is problematic. Among the NFL’s leading rushers, Adrian Peterson (No. 1) is 30 and Chris Johnson (No. 6) is 30.

Forte made changes in his offseason fitness regimen a couple of years ago, adding running hills and other drills to his program. The result was lower body fat and enhanced longevity.

“As long you take care of your body,” Forte said. “I’ve got a lot of people praying for me, and I pray a lot, too. A lot of that helps, too.”

Bears reportedly expect Akiem Hicks to come off injured reserve in eight weeks

Bears reportedly expect Akiem Hicks to come off injured reserve in eight weeks

The Bears expect to activate Akiem Hicks off injured reserve as soon as they can — which would be for their Week 15 game against the Green Bay Packers — according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

The NFL requires players placed on injured reserve to spend eight weeks on it before they can be activated. While losing Hicks for half the season certainly presents a significant challenge to the Bears’ defense, that he does not need surgery and is expected to return in 2019 is at least a silver lining. 

The Bears officially placed Hicks on injured reserve Tuesday and promoted offensive lineman Alex Bars from their practice squad. 

While Hicks won’t be on the field for a while, he will be present around Halas Hall and Soldier Field as the Bears, defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. 

“He’s going to be with us throughout the gameplanning, he’s going to be with us on game day, he’s going to be on the sidelines, all those kinds of things,” Rodgers said. “You’re going to feel the presence of him on the sideline and everything we do from here to whenever that is.”

Bears can feel Trey Flowers' pain with NFL's over-emphasis on hands to the face penalties

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USA Today

Bears can feel Trey Flowers' pain with NFL's over-emphasis on hands to the face penalties

The Detroit Lions felt victimized by two brutal hands to the face penalties assessed to defensive end Trey Flowers on Monday night, flags which significantly contributed to the Green Bay Packers kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired. Those two penalties sparked yet another officiating firestorm for the NFL to put out. 

But while those two fouls came in high-leverage, fourth quarter situations — and helped the Packers score 10 points on their way to a division-best 5-1 record — they were just two fouls. The Bears have been flagged for illegal use of hands/hands to the face a mind-numbing eight times in 2019, easily the highest total in the league. 
No other team has been flagged more than four times for it. 

The Bears, collectively, were flagged twice for illegal use of hands in 2018 (defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Akiem Hicks were the offenders). 2019’s breakdown encompasses three units and quite a bit of frustration: Cornerback Prince Amukamara (3), left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (2), and right guard Kyle Long, outside linebacker Khalil Mack and outside linebacker Isaiah Irving (1). 

So on Tuesday, we asked around the Bears’ position coaches to get their take on why all these hands to the face penalties are occurring in Chicago, and also their thoughts on the high-profile mistakes made by Clete Blakeman’s officiating crew in Green Bay on Monday. 

“You just gotta avoid it,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “There’s times where it happens, times where it doesn’t happen, especially when you get your hands on sweaty, slippery guys in the fourth quarter, it’s going to happen.”

Long, prior to his season-ending injury, said officiating crews previously would mete out warnings of sorts for hands to the face. Perhaps baked into those were an understanding of what Rodgers said — sometimes, these things just happen unintentionally in such a physical, fast-moving sport. 

Now? Seemingly any contact with a player’s face — facemask or helmet — is whistled. 

“Those guys don't seem to get it as far as people's heads are moving all the time,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “What I read this morning, one of the things that was important about it is that (a player’s hand) stays there and that it's kind of an act of getting an edge by doing it. You just want to prevent that.”

Still, even while some of these hands to the face fouls aren’t preventable or are just straight up blown calls, there are coaching points for these players on both sides of the ball. 

“You just gotta watch the release of that receiver, keep (your) eyes down,” cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend said. “Sometimes it’s incidental when a guy ducks his head, but you gotta focus on putting your eyes where they should be and that’ll force him to keep his hands down.”

So that’s the coaching point for Amukamara, at least. For Rodgers’ defensive linemen and Ted Monachino’s outside linebackers, it’s similarly all about hand placement. 

Rodgers said a lot of the rushes he teaches his players involve hand strikes near an offensive lineman’s armpit, which if executed correctly won’t allow for the possibility of a hands to the face penalty. And for guys like Mack, Monachino said they need to be aware of keeping their hands more toward the middle of a lineman’s numbers and not anywhere higher near the collar or facemask. 

Because while the second of the hands to the face penalties called on Flowers was admitted as a blown call by NFL VP of operations Troy Vincent, his hand was close enough to left tackle David Bakhtiari’s face that a blown call became a possibility based on what he’s coached to do. 

“As a protector, they’re taught to keep their face out,” Monachino explained. “So as he’s getting driven back, he’s got his head back so he can do that. From the side, that doesn’t look very good, right? But that pass rusher, Flowers, he wasn’t the reason that his head was back. It was because David Bakhtiari is a good player. He wants to get his face out of there so he can have a chance to recover.”

So it wasn’t like Bakhtiari flopped or sold the penalty like he was suited up for Manchester United and not the Green Bay Packers. But with the NFL making hands to the face a point of emphasis in 2019, anything that looks remotely like it is liable to be called. 

Monachino said he’ll use those two calls against Flowers as coaching points this week, not to remind them of how sub-optimal the league’s officiating has come across this year, but to remind his players of where their hands need to be to make sure officiating mistakes don’t happen, let alone reasonably-called penalties. 

And at some point, the Bears’ string of hands to the face penalties aren’t just on the officiating crews calling their games or random bad luck. They’re on the coaches and players for not getting the league’s message that anything contact close to an opponent’s face isn’t acceptable. 

“Those are judgements now,” Hiestand said. “Their eyes are on that a little bit, so we've got to do a better job.”

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