If they wish to remain relevant in postseason discussions, the Bears (6-5) need a victory Sunday in their final visit to the Mall of America Field at the HHH Metrodome against the Vikings (2-8-1).
The Bears' best chance of success, at least offensively, seems to be getting multipurpose running back Matt Forte heavily involved. Through Week 12, Forte was third in the NFL with 1,265 yards from scrimmage, and in Bears victories he averages 129.6 yards rushing and receiving on an average of 25 touches. In Bears losses Forte has averaged 19.4 touches and 97.4 yards from scrimmage.
Against Minnesota defense that has not done well against the run (25th in yards allowed per game) or the pass (29th in yards allowed), Forte should be the ultimate weapon.
That's especially true in Marc Trestman's offense, which fits Forte's skill set like a glove. Trestman points out, though, that the multitalented, 27-year-old running back would be a great fit for just about any team.
"I think Matt's skill set would be valuable on any offense," Trestman said. "We all see it every day. He's a fluid runner. He can run inside and outside. He's a very good pass receiver, and he's a very big part of our protection package. He's in every protection meeting; he's a big part of picking up that sixth player, wherever he comes from."
Forte is on pace for 81 receptions, 18 more than his single-season best of 63 in 2008, when he set the franchise record for receptions by a rookie. At his current clip, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Forte will finish with 602 receiving yards, which also would be the most he has ever accumulated in a season.
He's on pace for 1,238 rushing yards, which would match his career best for a single season, which he also set in his rookie season.
Through 12 weeks, Forte was sixth in the NFL with 851 yards on the ground, and his 4.5-yard average is tied for the second best of his career. He's third in the league in yards from scrimmage, which again, is on pace for a yearly personal best of 2,024.
"He's got multiple skill sets, and he's a three-down player," Trestman said. "I think we all see that. There's a lot of flexibility in what you can do with him."
That's part of the reason Trestman is hesitant to take Forte off the field.
His backup, Michael Bush, averages just 4½ touches per game. Bush has been given the short-yardage role more to give Forte an occasional break, not because he's incapable of handling that chore. There isn't an aspect of playing running back that Forte can't handle.
"The most important thing is, a running back really has a hard time getting on the field (in passing situations) if the quarterback and the coach can't trust him to block the right guy in protection," Trestman said.
"It's hard to put a player out there who can't do that because now you're threatening the safety of your football team. He does all of that. That's why he's such an important part of what we do."
And that's why production from Forte will be important Sunday if the Bears hope to remain in the playoff chase.
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