By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Pondering the best current NFL running backs, the name Matt Forte might not immediately pop to mind.
If it does not, it should, according to Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.
“Forte is just an outstanding player,” Schwartz said. “A lot of times he flies below the radar, just [as far as] people that fans and media talk about, but he’s one of the top dual-threat backs in the NFL. He can catch the ball, he can run inside, he can run outside, and we’re going to have to play our very best against him.”
Schwartz even agreed to compare Forte with freakishly talented Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson.
“Both of them can break it outside, break it inside,” Schwartz said. “Both of them are good. They’ve got a little different style to do it, but I think they’re both equally as important to their offense.”
Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham explained how dangerous Forte is and why. Essentially, the Lions have to bring him down at first contact, or he will likely get away for a first down or more.
“If you take your eye off of him …” Cunningham said. “What they do, they’re very conservative in their approach. Like third down, it’s third and 10, and they’ll dump it to him. The reason for that, a lot of times defenses spread out, and we call it being over the top of the receiver. Well, the linebackers’ll hover at 10 yards in a lot of coverages, and he gets the ball and usually has one guy to beat for the first down. They have so much confidence in him.”
That confidence is certainly well founded. Since he started with Chicago in 2008, Forte has played 10 games against the Lions. In eight of those he has racked up 100 yards of total offense, and in five of them he put together at least 100 yards solely rushing. In 2010, Forte torched the Lions for 201 yards altogether, 50 rushing and 151 receiving.
To limit Forte, well, the Lions need to tackle him, Cunningham said. The other part of the equation, wide receiver Nate Burleson pointed out, comes from the Detroit offense. If the Lions can take an early lead, everything gets more difficult for Chicago.
“We’ve got to put [Forte] in a position where he can’t get comfortable back there in the backfield, running in between the tackles and screen plays,” Burleson said. “They even use him as a wide receiver. We’ve got to pigeonhole that offense. We’ve got to get up on the scoreboard. Then we know what to expect. Every team is more powerful when they’re in the lead and they can do what they want, so for us, it’s being able to control the game from the defensive side of the ball.
“If we’re up on the scoreboard, it’s going to be harder for Forte to get going,” Burleson concluded.