Bears and Hawks: It's all about Matt Forte

The Chicago Bears returned to the practice field Monday and finally it's time to start discussing their first playoff matchup of the 2010 postseason. You're going to hear plenty about quarterback Jay Cutler's playoff debut, so I figured we would start with another segment of the Bears' offense.

If you haven't already looked at the chart accompanying this post, you might be surprised to know that tailback Matt Forte was one of the most explosive and productive running backs in the NFL over the final six games of the season. His average of 5.9 yards per rush ranked fifth overall among running backs, and when you add in Forte's 216 receiving yards over that span, you find he had the third-most all-purpose yards in the league after Week 11.

You have to figure that Forte's role will be perhaps the biggest difference between the Bears' first and second meeting with the Seattle Seahawks this year. In the teams' Week 6 game, Forte scored on a 6-yard run in the first quarter but managed only five yards on his other seven carries as the Bears continued to mix and match their offensive linemen. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called 39 passing plays in what ended up being a 3-point Seahawks victory.

Forte has averaged nearly 16 carries per game since then, however, as Martz successfully rebalanced his offense. And it's a good thing for the Bears; backup Chester Taylor has offered the Bears almost nothing since ripping off a season-high 24-yard run in that Seahawks game.

As we noted in our regular-season wrap-up, Taylor is the first post-merger running back to average less than 2.4 yards per carry with a minimum of 100 carries. But Forte has more than made up for Taylor's performance, and closed out the season with three of his best games -- rushing for 92 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, 113 against the New York Jets and 91 against the Green Bay Packers. It's hard to imagine him as anything other than a central focus of their game plan for Sunday's divisional playoff game.