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Four Downs: Forte latest Bear to go down

12/4/2011

With starting quarterback Jay Cutler on the shelf for perhaps the rest of the season, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith made it clear how his team would alter the offensive game plan: The Bears would rely more on star running back Matt Forte. Well, that plan won't be in action the next few weeks, at the least, as Forte suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee early in Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Forte is expected to miss two to four weeks, a large problem for a sputtering Bears team that managed a pitiful three points at home Sunday, and for fantasy owners starting the playoffs in Week 14.

Forte entered the week leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage and sixth among running backs in standard fantasy scoring. He was active in 99.6 percent of ESPN standard leagues -- second only to Ray Rice -- though it's important to note Forte was hardly thriving; he hadn't reached as many as 13 fantasy points since Week 7. Many a fantasy playoff team will wonder why this injury had to happen now, but in a way, things could be far worse. Now fantasy owners don't have to play the guy "that carried them" to this point, because he had stopped doing so, and focus ahead on Week 14 producers. Forte was struggling, he's been ceding goal-line carries to Marion Barber for months and new quarterback Caleb Hanie was abysmal Sunday, throwing three interceptions and producing a minus-one in fantasy.

Barber is an obvious fantasy addition for Week 14 -- he's owned in 17.1 percent of ESPN standard leagues -- when the Bears travel to play the Denver Broncos, but he's hardly a lock for success. On Sunday, Barber ran for 44 yards on 14 carries; he's not only averaging fewer than 4 yards per rush but he's caught all of three passes all season. He's not Forte, even the struggling version. UCLA product Kahlil Bell ran four times for 34 yards Sunday, looking quicker than Barber on a 26-yard scamper, but with Hanie at quarterback there's little reason for opposing defenses to fear this passing game. Forte fantasy owners should keep the running back in case he recovers quickly, but don't be so quick to plug Barber into lineups. The Bears are a mess. Stay away from the mess.

Second down: While Forte is down and out, New York Jets disappointment Shonn Greene picked a fine time to help his fantasy owners. Active in 52.3 percent of ESPN standard leagues, presumably as a flex choice for most, Greene ran for 88 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Washington Redskins, a 28-point fantasy performance in standard leagues that paced all Week 13 running backs entering the Sunday night game. Greene entered the week nursing a rib injury and 31st in standard scoring among running backs. There's sentiment that Greene ramps up his game late in the season, but the truth is Greene has been a reliable January player for the NFL playoffs, not a December star for fantasy owners. In eight prior December games, Greene had scored one touchdown, and topped 70 rushing yards once. In other words, don't get too excited about Greene's Week 14 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Greene should be good for seven or eight fantasy points, but he's just nothing special.

Third down: In one of the bigger weeks of the season for running backs, with six players topping 20 fantasy points and seven others reaching 15 points (entering Sunday night), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ace LeGarrette Blount seemed one of the safer bets with the horrific Carolina Panthers run defense pending. Blount rushed for more than 100 yards in Weeks 11 and 12; the Panthers were allowing the most fantasy points to running backs, nearly 25 per game. Well, guess what happened? Blount was the No. 11 running back in terms of being active in ESPN leagues (82.8 percent), and he rushed 11 times for 19 yards. That's one fantasy point in the easiest of matchups when Blount had totaled 27 fantasy points the past two weeks. Epic fail. Certainly the absence of starting quarterback Josh Freeman (shoulder) didn't help, as Josh Johnson (not the Florida Marlins pitcher) struggled, but now fantasy owners will re-examine their love for Blount. He's likely more flex option than sure starter for Week 14, and now the Week 16 rematch at Carolina seems less appealing as well, unless you own Cam Newton and/or Jonathan Stewart, who really enjoyed tearing up the Buccaneers (second most fantasy points allowed to running backs).

Fourth down: Meanwhile, Houston Texans stud wide receiver Andre Johnson continues to tease fantasy owners. He caught four of his nine targets from rookie quarterback T.J. Yates on Sunday, including a 50-yarder, gaining 97 yards. It was a great sign that Johnson was able to produce nine fantasy points with a third-string quarterback (whom you shouldn't be relying on individually). Alas, Johnson left early with a left hamstring injury, describing it as nothing near the right hamstring injury Johnson suffered in Week 4 that caused him to miss six games. We'll find out more about the severity of the injury Monday, though fantasy owners seemed oddly lukewarm in using him anyway; Johnson was active in 54.6 percent of leagues, ranking 23rd. Johnson is good enough that if he is able to play in Week 14, he's a borderline top 10 wide receiver, and certainly worth using in a fantasy playoff matchup.