All week the talk has been about Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler and how the Eagles secondary will attempt to contain the Bears' explosive passing attack. The real engine of the offense, however, is running back Matt Forte, and it has been that way since his rookie year in 2008. While his smooth, workmanlike, efficient style might leave him out of the spotlight in comparison to the power of Adrian Peterson, elusiveness of LeSean McCoy and speed of Jamaal Charles, his array of talents and overall effectiveness are not lost on opposing coaches and players.
"He's just such a multi-dimensional player," head coach Chip Kelly said of Forte. "He can do everything. He's maybe as good a running back as there is in pass protection, he's a mismatch at times in the passing game depending on who you get matched up with him and he's a big, physical presence when he's running the football."
"He's all around just a really good back," echoed linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "He's solid in pass protection, does a good job of running the zone plays, getting outside, making guys miss. He's a strong runner who'll also run guys over. He has good hands. He's just all around really a complete back."
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has said before that the main priority for the defense is to stop the run and make offenses one dimensional.
Yardage-wise, Forte is in the midst of his best three-game stretch of the season, racking up 120 rushing yards on 23 carries against the Minnesota Vikings, 102 yards on 20 carries against the Dallas Cowboys and 127 yards on 24 carries against the Cleveland Browns – that's 5.2 yards per carry in that span. He also had his best game of the season as a receiver against the Cowboys, catching seven passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Even if the Eagles limit Forte on the ground – the only 100-yard rusher the defense has allowed this season is Oakland's Rashad Jennings, who passed the century mark (barely, with 102 yards) in the final minutes long after the game had been decided – they must be cognizant of his ability to make plays out of the backfield. Forte is second to Darren Sproles among all running backs in receptions since 2008, with 333. Although, unlike McCoy, Forte has yet to record a game this season in which he had more receiving yards than rushing yards, and his long reception went for 34 yards.
While stopping Forte as a rusher will be a collective effort of the entire defense, only one player will be tasked with covering him out of the backfield. That responsibility likely falls to Mychal Kendricks, the team's fastest, most agile and athletic linebacker, in what will be his first career matchup against Forte.
"I haven't played Matt Forte yet," said Kendricks, "but I've seen what he can do. He's a great back. He's a 'spitter,' he likes to 'spit' out (to the perimeter and into the flat) and has pretty good speed around the edge and likes to turn the corner. He's a physical runner, he's an all-purpose type of back, he has great hands. He can do a lot of things."
On the season, Forte ranks third in the league with 1,200 rushing yards, including seven touchdowns, on 258 attempts (4.7 yards per carry also ranks third). He is also tied for first among running backs with 66 catches and third with 522 yards, including two touchdowns. In four career games against the Eagles, in which his Bears are 3-1, Forte has 71 carries for 327 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and 14 receptions for 101 yards (7.2 yards per reception), though he has not scored a touchdown.
The Eagles went up against the league's best passing offense in Denver, but Knowshon Moreno, despite his career season, is not the same caliber talent as Forte. The Arizona Cardinals were without their dynamic rookie running back in Andre Ellington, while the Detroit Lions lost Reggie Bush in pre-game warmups and saw their prolific passing game neutered by extreme weather. For those reasons, this matchup against the Bears could be the toughest the defense faces all season, and anything less than its best effort won't get the job done. While Marshall, Jeffery and Cutler dominate the headlines, just remember that Forte figures to be the player Davis and his charges are focused on stopping first and foremost.