Biggs: Has Forte outperformed Benson with Bears?

CINCINNATI—When the Chicago Bears gave away Thomas Jones to the New York Jets after he helped lead them to Super Bowl XLI—it’s a giveaway when all they got in return was a trade up in position in the second round of the 2007 draft—they turned their running game over to Cedric Benson.

Benson, the fourth pick in the 2005 draft, couldn’t beat Jones out for the job, so the Bears cleared the path for him by getting rid of Jones, who was entering the final year of his contract. Jones had made noise about a new deal a year earlier and general manager Jerry Angelo said he wouldn’t make any promises, but if Jones kept his head down and worked hard, he’d tried to find a way to accommodate him. That way proved to be sending him to the Jets, who gave him a new contract (one he would like to replace now, but that is another story).

It was a mistake. Jones had only 1,119 yards in 2007, but exploded for a career-high 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns last season when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Jones is off to another strong start this season even though the Jets are mired in a three-game losing streak. He’s rushed for 481 yards and six scores, averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

The Bears have not had that kind of production, and Benson certainly hasn’t matched that kind of output. Angelo covered himself by drafting Matt Forte in the second round in 2008, and he quickly stepped into a starring role after the Bears ran Benson off in June 2008 following a second booze-related arrest in Texas (he was cleared on both charges).

How much better has Forte, who set rookie franchise records last season for yards rushing and yards from scrimmage, been than Benson? You might be surprised. Forte and Benson square off vs. one another this afternoon as Chicago plays Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium.

Let’s look at their career numbers with the Bears:

Matt Forte 402 carries, 1,532 yards, 3.81 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns

Cedric Benson 420 carries, 1,593 yards, 3.79 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns

That’s pretty close to identical. But Forte has been more productive when you factor in his ability as a receiver out of the backfield.

Matt Forte 81 receptions, 606 yards, 7.5 yards per catch, 4 touchdowns

Cedric Benson 26 receptions, 180 yards, 6.9 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns

The Bears’ running game has come into focus this week, especially after Forte experienced a career-low 23 yards on 15 rushes last Sunday at Atlanta, but things really aren’t that far off the pace the team had last season. The Bears averaged 3.9 yards per rush last season. They’re at 3.8 this year with Forte down a notch at 3.4. The difference is quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears are throwing the ball more than they did with Kyle Orton, a quarterback who was more prone to checking it down to Forte.

We’ll see which running back, the Bear or the ex-Bear, can claim bragging rights for a day.

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