Commentary

Caleb Hanie's poor debut

If teams are going to focus on stopping Matt Forte, Bears could miss postseason

Originally Published: November 28, 2011
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders
Caleb HanieJason O. Watson/US PresswireCaleb Hanie had a rough debut as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Coming into this weekend, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and led the league in yards from scrimmage. The Oakland Raiders were able to stifle Forte's production on their way to a 25-20 win, though. It was the first game for the Bears with Caleb Hanie at quarterback in place of the fallen Jay Cutler, and the loss showed that with Cutler out of the lineup, opponents won't be afraid to throw their entire defense at Forte, the league's most dangerous dual threat. Chicago will need to find another weapon if it's going to make the playoffs. Fortunately, the weapon it needs may already be on the roster.

Forte's numbers -- 84 yards from scrimmage on 4.9 yards per carry and six receptions -- don't accurately reflect how the Raiders neutralized him. The bulk of his rushing yardage came on two runs, a 33-yarder in the first quarter and a seven-yard gain on second-and-6 in the third. Outside of those two plays, he averaged just 1.9 yards per rush, and his longest carry was a worthless five-yard gain on third-and-6.

He didn't fare much better as a receiver. He had the six catches but gained just 25 yards. Worse, Forte failed to catch four other balls, including all three of Hanie's interceptions. By the end of the game, Hanie was barely even looking for Forte. Of Hanie's 16 fourth-quarter throws, only two were targeted at Forte -- and one of those led to a 6-yard loss.

So where was Hanie throwing as he led the Bears on a late rally? Johnny Knox had five targets in the fourth quarter, more than anyone else on the roster, and caught three of them for gains of 16, 19 and 81 yards. Knox finished the day with 10 targets, his highest total of the season, and though he caught just four of them, he showed the kind of big-play ability (he also had a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter) that the Bears need right now.

Knox may not be the most reliable receiver in the world, but he's among the most dangerous. Of 85 qualifying receivers in 2010, Knox ranked 68th in catch rate, but he ranked sixth in yards per catch and ninth in DVOA (Football Outsiders' exclusive metric analyzing play-by-play data. More information can be found here). In the first 11 weeks, Knox averaged 4.1 targets per game. He should double that rate for the rest of the season if opponents are going to keep focusing on Forte.