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NY Jets: Forte Ozymandias

Look on his workload, and despair?

Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Those words of the sonnet Ozymandias were written by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and published in 1818, the same year his wife Mary Shelley published the iconic novel Frankenstein.  Ozymandias, with its twin themes of the foolishness of human hubris and the inevitability of decline and decay, may hold a lesson for the Jets.

Matt Forte is the Jets' shiny new toy, which they apparently can't resist playing with over and over and over again.  In Forte's first two games as a Jet he has amassed 52 carries and 59 touches.  Forte has been something of an indestructible workhorse in his career.  He has racked up more yards from scrimmage in the eight plus years he has been in the league than any other running back in the NFL.  In his eight plus years Forte has missed only eight NFL games.  He has rightfully earned a reputation for durability bordering on indestructibility.  His heavy use in the first two games of the 2016 season are therefore a non-issue.  Or so the narrative goes.  Perhaps it's true.  And yet...

Matt Forte is a man. Like any other man, he is subject to nature's relentless laws.  Men grow to maturity, they enjoy a brief moment at the top of their game, and then they decline. So it is, so it has been, so it will will always be.  The age of 31, which Forte will reach before the end of the current NFL season, has not been kind to NFL backs.  The enormous physical punishment of years of violent collisions inevitably take their toll on every running back, and they decline.  For the vast majority of those getting as many touches as Forte has over the years, by age 31 the body simply is not prepared to keep up the onslaught, never mind up the ante.  Yet the Jets have seen fit to up Forte's ante.

Those 52 carries Forte has taken in the first two games of the year?  They represent the most carries Forte has ever had in any two game stretch in his career.  The 59 touches are tied for the most touches Forte has ever had in any two game stretch.  The 30 carries Forte got on Thursday are the most carries he has ever had in an NFL game.  Prior to Thursday Forte had never carried the ball more than 27 times in a game.

If Forte were to continue on his current pace of 26 carries a game (hint: he won't), he would tie former Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson for the most carries ever amassed in a single season at 416.  Carrying this workload at any age would be a bit concerning. Doing it at the soon to be age of 31 is hubris.

In all of NFL history there is but a single running back who has ever amassed more than Forte's 59 touches in the first two games of his age 31 season. That would be Curtis Martin, who got an insane 70 touches for the Jets in the first two games of his age 31 year, and would go on to have the finest season of his career.  A year later an ineffective Martin would suffer a career ending injury.

Two other running backs in NFL history have managed as many as 59 touches in the first two games of their age 31 or older seasons. John Riggins did it for the Washington Redskins in 1982 at the ripe old age of 33.  Walter Payton did it for the Chicago Bears in 1986 at the age of 32.  And that's it: the entire roster of NFL running backs who have ever started an age 31 or older NFL season carrying as much of a load as Matt Forte has in the first two games of the 2016 season for the Jets.

There is an important distinction between Martin and Payton on the one hand and Forte on the other hand.  Martin and Payton both were accustomed to the workload.  Martin had seven prior years with 300+ carries prior to his age 31 campaign.  Payton had nine 300+ carry seasons under his belt before his 1986 campaign.  For these two toting the rock so many times was something they did year in and year out.  Forte, on the other hand, has had just a single season in the NFL with more than 300 carries, and that came in his rookie year when he was young and spry.  Taking on a massive workload now, at the soon to be age of 31, for the first time since he was a rookie seems like a dubious bit of denying the inevitable. Even for Payton and Martin, the huge workload at an advanced age seemingly took its toll.  Martin was out of football within a year, and was having one of the worst years of his career before his career ending injury.  Payton also was out of football within a year, and also had the worst year of his career in an injury shortened campaign his next and final year.

On the other hand, Riggins took on the massive workload for the first time in his career at age 32, and went on to repeat it for the next two years.  He was a very different kind of back than Forte, who is much more like Payton and Martin.  Riggins at the end of his career was a massive, slow battering ram of a power back, nothing at like those other guys.  Still, he did manage to carry the load on a massive basis well into his thirties, so it is not unprecedented.

Is Forte's unusual workload at the start of the 2016 campaign a concern?  Is he tempting fate?  Is it hubris to think he won't end up on the scrap heap of history under the strain of this huge workload?  Or will he prove to be a durable Forte?  Will Jets fans eventually look on Forte's mighty works and despair at the hubris of the effort?  Time will soon tell the tale of Forte Ozymandias.  It won't be long before his career lies in decay, covered by the sands of time.  The only question is, is it already later than the Jets think?