The biggest addition of the New York Jets offseason has been Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. He is heading into his ninth NFL season after racking up 8,602 rushing yards, 4,118 receiving yards and 64 career touchdowns in Chicago. Forte has a career yards per carry of 4.2 and a yards per reception of 8.5 on 487 career catches.
Last season, Forte played in 13 games finishing with 898 rushing yards and 389 receiving yards despite dealing with a sprained MCL. It is worth noting that Forte played in 16 games the previous two years and racked up a mind blowing 102 receptions in 2014 to go with 808 receiving yards and 1,038 rushing yards. The Jets are hoping that similar to another skill position player acquired from the Chicago Bears recently, Forte can still produce like a player in his prime, despite many saying his best years are over.
What are Forte’s strengths and weaknesses and more importantly how will he fit in Chan Gailey’s offense? We take a closer look in the film room…
Gailey’s offense is well known for heavily integrating the running backs in the passing game. This is one of the biggest talents of Forte who is the definition of a three down back due to his versatility and fluidity when catching the football. He has a natural feel for the screen game, which the Jets will heavily rely on when they are looking to go elsewhere besides Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. Forte is not a burner but still runs physical enough in the open field to break the occasional big play.
Forte knows how to set up his blockers and time his release from the backfield, regularly leading to big chunks of yardage on easy throws for the quarterback, something the Jets will badly need in 2016.
Forte does not just contribute to the passing game on screens. He is a reliable check down option and safe primary target on traditional running downs. The below play may not seem like anything special but is a ludicrously easy 8 yard gain on 1st and 10 off a basic play action and quick out from Forte. Despite improving on pass catching during his time in New York, the Jets would never utilize a play like this with Chris Ivory on an early, predominantly run heavy down. The presence of Forte gives them more options and makes them more difficult to defend on early downs.
He is also capable of splitting out and functioning as an additional wide receiver. The Jets are still thin behind their big two and the reality is that not only will Forte be their starting running back, he will be their “third” receiver in this offense. Due to the versatility of him and Bilal Powell, both can be on the field at the same time, working between the backfield and split positions.
The combination of Powell and Forte allows the Jets to avoid showing their hand at running back. Both players can play on three downs. Both can pass protect. Both can split out and play wide receiver. Both function well in the screen game. The Jets can use formations that utilize them both at the same time or have them be interchangeable in run/pass situations. Last season, if you were playing the odds, Ivory in the backfield probably meant run and Powell in the backfield probably meant pass…it will not be as easy this year to decipher the Jets tendencies.
Being a three down back doesn’t just mean being able to catch the football, it means being able to pass protect. Forte is reliable and consistent in this area of his game. The Jets are likely to have struggles on the offensive line in 2016, so having all of their backs be solid at pass pro is imperative.
Moving away from his pass game capabilities, Forte is still an effective runner both between the tackles and on outside/stretch concepts. There has been a decline in his straight line speed and foot quickness but Forte still possesses terrific vision. He has a natural ability to find the cutback lane and can think quick enough on his feet to improvise when he needs to make something out of nothing.
Without a top end burst, Forte either needs to utilize his vision and improvisation to make plays or show a veteran patience to let a play or hole develop. The amount of “big” plays for Forte has declined but he is the type of back who regularly makes the right read on his blocks and falls forward for additional yards. He isn’t going to hurt you with poor decisions that result in negative chunks of yardage.
We have repeatedly referenced Forte’s lack of burst but he can still hit it a few times a game when the proper seam opens up. He knows when to plant his foot in the ground, cut up-field and put on the after burners he has left.
Overall, the Jets are getting a complete back who is looking to prove he is not as far past his prime as many are assuming. Forte has a skill set conducive to the Jets spread attack which is built heavily on the short, quick release passing game. He will function as a 1A back to Powell’s 1B back and likely look at a workload of 12-16 carries per game with the third most targets in the passing game on the team behind Marshall and Decker.
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