FOXBORO — When Bill Belichick sees Matt Forte on tape, he sees one of this favorites types of players in the NFL – someone who can make something (or even more) out of nothing.
Forte enters this week’s game in Foxboro as the most prolific running back since the start of the 2008 season, gaining even more yards from scrimmage than Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. Forte’s 10,469 yards from scrimmage are 173 more than Peterson and 181 more than Johnson.
This season, the 28-year-old Forte has been passed by the sensational season being enjoyed by Dallas’ DeMarco Murray and the upstart Le’Veon Bell. But still, his 884 all-purpose yards ranks him third in the NFL. But Forte is doing much more than running the ball.
No one in the NFL has caught more passes this season than Forte, as his 52 receptions are two more than Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. That’s a lot for Belichick and his coaches to prep for.
“Very challenging. He’s a threat every time he steps on to the field in a number of different ways: passing game, running game. Any time he gets the ball in his hands he’s a good solid player,” Belichick said. “He’s tough, great vision, great balance. He definitely has the ability to turn nothing into something in a hurry and he can turn something into a lot in a hurry too. Hard guy to tackle, does a good job of creating space for himself and finding openings, getting to places where there are fewer defenders and then taking advantage of it.
“They can run the ball. They’ve got a great runner and one of the best backs in the league, maybe the best back in the league. He’s certainly been an impressive guy to watch, both in the passing game and in the running game. [He] breaks tackles, has good quickness, good balance, good vision, excellent hands, smart and aware in the passing game. He doesn’t just catch the ball well but he knows how to get open.
“But even when he’s boxed in or guys get a shot of him, he still makes yards. He’s a terrific player; couldn’t say enough good things about him. He’s very good. He gets tough yards, gets yards in space. Catches short passes, runs downfield routes. He’s a very, very complete player.”
Belichick is not classifying Forte specifically as a receiver or running back.
“He’s leading the league in catches so in that respect they get the ball to him a lot,” Belichick added. “I think you have to treat him as what he is, let’s put it that way. There are times when if you didn’t have any numbers on the jerseys, if you just watched the play, you’d say, ‘This looks like a receiver.’ But I’d say most plays he’s a back ‘ a good back, but [he] doesn’t do some of the things that a receiver would do scheme-wise. I’m not saying he couldn’t do them, he probably can. But they use him as a back as opposed to using him as a receiver.
“Now, there are some times when I’d say he kind of runs a receiver type of route and in those cases, you have to defend him, but you don’t always know when those are. I’d say he’s a back more than he’s a receiver, even in the passing game. I mean, obviously in the running game but even in the passing game, I’d say his role is more as a back than as a receiver. So, screen plays, checkdowns, wide routes, crossing routes from the backfield, that’s where he gets most of his plays as opposed to running wide receiver type patterns or split out in empty and that kind of thing. They do it, not as much as they do the other things.”
Here are some more takeaways from Belichick on Wednesday:
BB: Obviously we’ve had a little bit of extra time to get to know the Bears this week and that’s been good. It’s a team that we’re not very familiar with ‘ a lot of new personnel and a lot of good players. This is a team that’s, again, got a very good front. They rotate seven, eight players through there on a regular basis; very disruptive. They’ve done a real good job of being disruptive in the passing game, batting down balls and putting pressure on the quarterback; tough team to run against. They do a good job taking advantage of offensive mistakes, turning the ball over with interceptions and again, tipped balls, things like that. [They're] a hard team to score on; do a good job in the red area. Offensively, it’s a real explosive group obviously with the receivers, the tight end, the running back, the quarterback.
“They had their offensive line back against Miami for the first time really since the opener. I’m sure that was good for them. Robbie [Gould] is obviously one of the top kickers in the game ‘ tremendous consistency, accuracy. It looks like he’s going to break all the Bears’ records this year. So, [they're] strong in the kicking game. They do a good job with [Santonio] Holmes and obviously like I said, with Robbie. Good coverage units ‘ fast, disruptive, have a couple big guys there that are hard to handle. We have a lot of work to do here this week to get ready for them in terms of mental preparation and scheme and also naturally execution and being able to handle some of their key players on the field. [We are] back at it today.
Q: The Bears have reworked their offensive line since the last time you saw them. What are your assessments?
BB: The left side of their line ‘ our left side, their right side ‘ has been consistent this year. They had [Brian] de la Puente at center when [Roberto] Garza was out. Garza is back and then [Jermon] Bushrod came back last week and [Matt] Slauson came back a couple weeks ago. So, [Michael] Ola played left tackle and left guard while those two guys were out. They’ve really played seven players ‘ two centers, two right guards and two right tackles. But the backup right guard and right tackle are the same guy. I mean, good line. Good offense all the way across the board. They’re experienced. [Kyle] Long is obviously a good player. But they’re experienced. [Jay] Cutler certainly looks for him. The offensive line has been solid.
Q: How much does it help for you to have someone like Brandon Browner when you go up against a team like Chicago with such big receivers?
BB: He’s one of the biggest corners in the league. It’s a hard matchup to ‘ I’d say not many teams have guys like that. We’re fortunate we do. I think that’s a big plus for him. It’s how he’s had a lot of success in the league ‘ his ability to match up with bigger players. It’s hard for them to get bigger than him ‘ taller anyway.
Q: When you guys are determining how much you use a player over the course of the season, do you think at all about how the player might feel at the end of December or is it all just about winning the game in that moment? How do you balance that?
BB: It’s a balance. I think it is a balance, yeah. No, we definitely think about it and talk about it. Sometimes talk about it with a player, about what the kind of plan is. Sometimes you’re able to stick to the plan that you want to have. Sometimes you have to adjust it. Sometimes you may feel like you have made the right decision and need to adjust it one way or the other, more or less depending on how it goes, depending on how your team is and depending on what the challenges are week to week. Certainly every week is not the same. So no matter what the plan is it changes every week based on the team that you play and the circumstances surrounding that individual game ‘ where we are, where they are and so forth. I think that’s always something that’s in transition or something you have to evaluate on a weekly, at least a weekly basis. But we look at it. I think we try to be aware of it. But it’s hard to always get it perfectly the way you want it. Sometimes you’re closer than others. Sometimes you look at the end of the season and say, ‘This was about right,’ or sometimes you say, ‘Well, we were hoping for this, but didn’t quite work out that way for whatever the reasons were.’
Q: What’s the balance you have to strike as a coaching staff between acquiring a new player like Ayers and trying to make adjustments in what you’re doing when you lose players to injury?
BB: That’s the NFL. That’s the way it is every week usually somewhere along the line, some positions, some situation. That’s something you deal with weekly. Look at every team we’ve played ‘
they’ve had something. Look at us ‘ we’ve had something to deal with every week. I’d say that’s the National Football League.
Q: You said that’s the way the NFL is. When injuries happen, do you feel like it aggravates you when your guys get injured or is it more, ‘Geez, we can’t get a break?’
BB: I think you just do the best you can with whatever the situation is. That’s the way it is every day. We deal with that in training camp. You don’t ever have every player out there in training camp either. You still have to try to have productive practices. Get the players who are out there practicing to have the most productive day that they can have, whatever that consists of. It’s week to week. Like I said, it’s the National Football League. We’re not talking about some breaking story here, are we? It’s been like that for 40 years for me. You hate to see it happen. You hate to be without any player, there’s no question about that. But every week there’s something like that that you have to deal with. I can’t think of too many where it wasn’t like that.
Q: Rob Gronkowski was talking about picking up the tempo in the Jets game at times. Do you feel like this group, because of the adjustment and rotation of bodies on the offensive line, is more comfortable and able to do some of the stuff you’ve done in the past in terms of no-huddle and tempo?
BB: We’ve been doing it since the first day of training camp. We’ve been doing it all spring. I think if we feel like we can gain an advantage doing it then we can do it. If we don’t, then we try to gain advantages other ways. It’s part of our offense, sometimes a bigger part than others; sometimes not as much. But I don’t feel like we’re hindered because we can’t do it. I think it’s more on our terms of when we want to do it or don’t want to do it.
Q: What have your first five months with Dominique Easley been like?
BB: Good, good. Works hard; into football.
Q: He has good work ethic and everything behind the scenes?
BB: Yeah, works hard and loves football. He’s around here a lot. [He's] trying to get better ‘ on and off the field, classroom, weight room. [He] works hard.
Q: Is Brandon Marshall still the spectacular receiver you saw in Denver and Miami? No change in what he does?
BB: He’s a hard guy to match up on. He’s got great size, big catch radius, big hands, strong hands. [He's] a tough guy to bring down because of his size; strong runner. Yeah, he presents a lot of challenges. They have a lot of other guys too, so you can’t just focus everything on him. You’ve got a great running back, you’ve got a productive tight end, you’ve got some other productive receivers. They have a good offense, good system, good group of players, good skill players, veteran offensive line. They give you a lot to deal with. It’s not just one guy out there.
Q: You’ve had some dependable guys play that third down back role for you over the years in Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead. What kind of peace of mind does it give you and Tom Brady to have a guy like Shane Vereen back there?
BB: Shane’s done a good job for us. Did a good job for us last year and really when he’s had an opportunity to play, he’s been a productive guy for us. Smart, runs he ball well, has good vision, good in the passing game, good in blitz pickup. Smart receiver, he’s made plays out of the backfield, split out. With the ball in his hands, [he's] been dependable. So, yeah. That’s the kind of guy you want back there in those situations.