Bears running back Matt Forte celebrates after scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run during the first quarter Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
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If Matt Forte's career-best 132 rushing yards were important against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday in the controlled climate of the Edward Jones Dome, imagine how vital the rookie running back will be to the Bears' postseason hopes when they play three straight games at Soldier Field in December's chill.
"It's important every game," Bears center Olin Kreutz said of the running game. "Whenever we're running the ball like that, they say we establish the line of scrimmage. Running the ball is big for us."
In the Bears' 6 victories, they've run the ball more than 30 times four times. Only once in their 5 losses did they run 30 times or more.
Not to diminish the importance of the defense, and especially the front four, but they haven't demonstrated the ability to get off the field or dominate against a good offense, so they need the Bears' offense to control the clock.
Forget the Rams game; their offense needs a federal bailout more than the Big Three automakers and Citigroup combined.
The Bears' defense is designed to play fast, create takeaways and make big plays. It is not designed to spend long stretches of time on the field.
The more Forte and the offensive line can control the ball, the more rested and efficient the defense will be. And that means fewer opportunities for a porous pass defense to be threatened.
During the three-game homestand in December, the Bears will be facing opponents extremely capable of exposing their flaws on defense.
First up will be the Jacksonville Jaguars, possibly the NFL's most disappointing team. But four days later the New Orleans Saints come marching in for a Thursday nighter.
Anyone who watched Monday night's Saints-Packers game must be concerned after MVP candidate Drew Brees dissected a Green Bay pass defense that is far superior to the Bears'.
Brees leads the NFL with 3,574 passing yards and is on pace to shatter Dan Marino's NFL record of 5,084 passing yards in a season. He's fourth in the league with a 99.9 passer rating and has already thrown for 320 yards or more in eight games this season.
There's no reason to think he won't do the same against the Bears if he's given enough opportunities.
After that game, the Bears get 11 days to prepare for revenge against the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had a 103.5 passer rating against them in the 37-3 rout on Nov. 16 and is 10th in the NFL with a 90.5 passer rating.
That's where Forte and the offensive line can make the difference by holding the ball, eating up the clock and keeping the big guns shivering on the sidelines.
Unlike some of his more well-paid teammates on defense, Forte doesn't only turn on the talent and effort when the mood strikes him.
"Matt's played well every game he's played for us," coach Lovie Smith said. "Some games he's had more yards than others, but you get the same player each week - a steady player that can beat an opponent whether he's catching the ball out of the backfield or running the ball."
Forte has shown no indication of diminishing production or of hitting the rookie wall, even though he leads the NFL in touches.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said he wasn't aware that Forte had more combined carries and catches than anyone in the league, but he's not concerned.
"We're going to get the ball in his hands as much as we can," Turner said, "and over the next five weeks, we're going to have to get it in his hands a bunch."
That's the Bears' best formula for winning in December and playing in January.