Football

There is no other position on the football field that is judged more by the eye test and the offensive line. The QB was sacked from the left? Blame the left tackle. The inside run was stuffed out? Blame the guards. The center got called for holding? He sucks, bring in a new center. It’s a meathead’s paradise and we are all guilty of doing it.

Thankfully, offensive line statistics are available and provide us with actual proof that our eyes are not entirely tricking us into thinking someone sucks – they often do.

It’s not a surprise that the 2019 Chicago Bears O-Line was bad. Both visually to any fan of the team, and through the following stats that up the garbage up front.

Overall

  • Average Yards Per Rush = 3.7 yards (Ranked 28th of 32 Teams)
  • Rushing Touchdowns = 8 (28th of 32)
  • Sacks Against = 45 (12th most in the league)
  • QB Hits Against = 86 (18th most)

When Rushing To The Left Side

  • 1st Downs = 40 (8th of 32)
  • Negative Rushes = 13 (18th most)
  • 10+ Yards Rushes = 17 (18th most)
  • Power Rushes (Percentage of rushes on 3rd or 4th down with two or fewer yards to go that achieved a first down or TD. Also includes rushes on 1st-and-goal and 2nd-and-goal from the opponent’s 2-yard line or closer.) = 38 (Ranked last in the league)

When Rushing Up The Middle

  • 1st Downs = 16 (30th of 32)
  • Negative Rushes = 4 (29th most)
  • 10+ Yards Rushes = 5 (31st most)
  • Power Rushes =27 (Ranked last in the league)

When Rushing To The Right Side

  • 1st Downs = 29 (22nd of 32)
  • Negative Rushes = 13 (17th most)
  • 10+ Yards Rushes = 6 (Last)
  • Power Rushes =82 (6th most)

In taking a macro look into these numbers, you can see the 2019 Bears O-Line had the most trouble getting production from the center and both guard positions. James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, and Rashaad Coward are responsible for most of the damage, with Kyle Long and Ted Larsen also taking a portion of the blame.

James Daniels was a 2nd round pick from Iowa. This season was his 2nd with the Bears and I’m pretty sure this is yet another early pick by Ryan Pace that has yet to live up to the expectations set by being the 39th pick in the draft. Everyone likes to say that these young guys need experience, and that is true sometimes, but you expect a 2nd round pick to come in, play immediately, and improve dramatically in his second season. I am not sure we saw that improvement from Daniels.

Cody Whitehair is fine. He is Bears good, which makes him just OK on most other teams. His ability to play both guard positions is valuable as is his durability since 2016. Unbelievably, Whitehair had played in 99% of the team’s offensive snaps since becoming a Bear. Whitehair is a reliable guy who you can build an O-Line off of. Aside from Eddie Jackson, Whitehair has been the best Bears draft pick during the Pace regime.

If the Bears want improved play from the front-five, then Rashaad Coward is a guy who has to go. When you have a QB who needs time to get through his progressions, Coward is the last person you want protecting him. At best, he is a journeyman lineman who would be best serving as a 7th lineman that can play guard or tackle.

A year ago, Charles Leno was coming off a season in which he played in 99% of the team’s offensive snaps and did not commit single penalty. Fast forward a year later and Leno, who played the same amount of snaps as last year, committed 12 penalties. 12. With one more year remaining on a $38M contract, 2020 is a huge season for Leno, but only if he will be back with the club.

After a career in which he has played in every game from 2014-2018, Bobby Massie has gotten old quickly. Massie played his 7th season in 2019 and managed 10 starts. I believe Massie will be back against next, but this is due more to his pass protection than his run blocking. The tackle was called for only two penalties in 2019, which, as you know, was 10 fewer than his bookend tackle Charles Leno.

Offensive Line 2019 Grade: D

Football

Tony: Wes, I’ve been spending a lot of sleepless nights since last Thursday wondering about how the ground game for the Packers lines up against the run defense of our Bears. I wake up, clutching the pillow in my buddy’s guest room wondering if the Bears could patch up the defense enough to take away the combo of Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams. The last time these two teams met in week 1, the Bears held Green Bay in check, but now they are missing several key pieces that will have an impact.

Both starting inside linebackers in Chicago’s 3-4 front are out for the season, and the hope is that Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis fill in without a significant drop in production. Kwit has looked good, and Pierre-Louis graded out as the 6th highest individual player last week from PFF, going against a stout Cowboys rushing attack. There is still hope. Akiem Hicks returns this week too, which should not only open up run stuffing lanes for the backup linebackers, but hopefully will also free Eddie Goldman to show up on a stat sheet and possibly be on the field for more than 50% of snaps again. This defense stops the run best when Hicks clogs the middle and lets Leonard Floyd do what he does best: setting the edge in the run game. In spite of Floyd’s lack of consistent pass pressure, he has done fairly well in the run game based on the eye test alone.

Hicks is the secret to stopping Green Bay’s rushing offense, since the defense didn’t allow 100 team rushing yards in the beginning of this season with him anchoring the line. His presence opens up everything for everyone else, and the hope is they can build off of holding Dallas to 82 ground yards and shut down the Pack.

Green Bay averages 107 yards on the ground per game this season, but it’s been uneven. For every 47-yard game, they can go off for 120 or more depending on the match up. However, the Bears aren’t Carolina, or Washington, or Detroit. This is a tough match up for the Packers on the ground, and they might be looking to target the Bears secondary that should be missing at least one starter. However, if the Bears shut down the run game, it allows the pass rushers to pin their ears back (a phrase I’ve never understood) and with Hicks in the lineup even Leonard Floyd might find himself in the backfield again.

The two teams meeting on Sunday are far different than the ones that met in the first game of the season. This game is the second time this year we will have seen a Chuck Pagano coached Bears defense go against a divisional opponent for their second match up, so it will be interesting to see if the game plan changes or if the Bears can finally score against Green Bay’s defense and put their own D in a position to win.

Wes: Man, I am excited to see Akiem Hicks back in the center of that line come Sunday. I’m also excited to see what the new old look Bears offense can do on the ground against a suspect Green Bay rushing defense.

The Packers come in allowing 122 and change on the ground for the season, including a few 150+ yard efforts. That 150 number is fitting, as the Bears are coming off a 151-yard rushing effort in Week 14 – easily their best of the season. Can they keep it up against the Packers that clearly have problems with the run? TO THE MOUNTAIN TOP.

As you noted early with the Green Bay running game on offense, the defense is equally as up and down. They’ve held a few teams under 90 yards, but they’ve also given of some huge days on the ground with team totals over 150 in nearly half their games. The last time these two met, in Week 1, the Packers held the Bears to a scant 46 yards on the ground. Take out that effort as we all know Matt Nagy abandoned the run completely, and the Packers are probably a few notches lower from their already poor ranking.

The Bears have finally been moving the pocket and using more motion and play action, to positive results from Mitchell Trubisky, David Montgomery and the rest of the Bears rushing attack. Mitch was vocal about not doing enough of what he likes a month or so ago, and it’s coincided with an uptick in his own rushing and paying dividends for a three game win streak. Mitch turned in his best overall effort of the season, possibly of his short career, including 63 yards and a TD on the ground. All that movement helped to shuffle the Cowboy linebackers pre-snap, allowing Trubs and Monty to stay away from Jaylon Smith as often as possible.

The Bears would be wise to continue this effort, though the players they’re likely to try and avoid are OLBs Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. The Smiths were the Packers big off-season signings, costing a ton of money but showing out as well worth it in their first seasons in Green Bay. The two have been great at getting into opposing backfields, combining for 93 tackles, 21.5 sacks and 23.5 TFL through 13 games. Chicago could use the movement and also pull guards to run right by either edge as they look to fly around the Tackles and into the backfield.

The Bears coaching staff has praised recent O-Line plug in Rashaad Coward over the last few week, and he can solidify his place on this team and into 2020 with another big performance Sunday afternoon. Getting Tarik Cohen involved a little more in these types of plays, running delays or misdirection right by one of the EDGE rushers, could also pay big dividends for the Chicago offense.

Chicago should easily blow past the 46 yards gained in Week 1, and have a legit shot to steal a game in Green Bay and keep the slim playoff hopes alive. Nagy just has to not be too proud and stick with what’s gotten him here by committing to the ground game no regardless of a slow or sluggish start. Here’s to hoping he’s learned from his early season mistakes.

Football

vs

Saints (5-1) at Bears (3-2)

TV: FOX 32, 3:25 PM (GAME OF THE WEEK™)

Radio: WBBM 780 AM/105.9 FM

Aaaaaaand we’re back. The Bears come out of the bye and welcome the Teddy Bridgewater-led Saints into Soldier Field with a lot to prove.

The Saints arrive winners of four straight, games that can best be described as “winning ugly” – but wins nonetheless. New Orleans holds a slim lead in the NFC South on the back of this steak, but they’re no juggernaut. They rank middle of the pack in DVOA on offense and defense and really don’t do anything great, but they’ve done enough in most of their six games to eek out victories. Bridgewater is getting a lot of love for his play since Drew Brees went down, but it’s not exactly warranted. 41.2 QBR, 217 yards/game but seven TDs against two picks and only 10 sacks in a little under five full games. He’s protected the ball and moved the offense juuuuuust enough to get the job done, winning all four of his starts by one score.

Bridgewater looks like he’ll be without some of his better supporting cast on Sunday as Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook have both missed practice all week. The two rank second and third in targets, but team leader Michael Thomas will still suit up for what will be a tough matchup against Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller. The Saints boast one of the most under-appreciated weapons in the league’s best punter Thomas Morstead, recent special teamer of the month of September and the honor for last week after having five punts downed inside the 15-yard line. The Saints keep winning the battle of field position, and without some key offensive weapons that will be important on Sunday.

The Bears should be ready for all this, having two full weeks to prepare and get themselves in order after the semi-shock loss in London to the Raiders. And it’s really time for Matt Nagy to show everyone what he’s got. The 2018 coach of the year spent all off-season saying this offense was all set to hit a new gear, ready to score at will and produce touchdowns while running a special defense out every week – a championship contender in every sense. The results thus far leave a lot to be desired, injuries or not. Mitchell Trubisky is back, albeit with a restrictive sling on his non-throwing shoulder, and he has as much if not more to prove than his play-caller.

Will we see the inventive offense that was promised? Don’t expect fireworks out the gate, though it’s fair to think that the offensive line should be improved after the merciful IR-ing of Kyle Long. In comes Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars to save the day, or at least save the running game some space at the line of scrimmage and, hell, maybe even getting to the second level now and then. There have been a great many plays that appeared dead before the ball made it to a running back or the QB had finished his drop back. The Bears had to know as soon as the game ended in London that the switch from Long would be made and it’s fair to expect some immediate results against an up and down Saints defensive front. The key will be executing on first and third down, and Nagy spoke to the former earlier this week. Making first down plays count, run or pass, to keep themselves out of third and long will dictate success. It’s really that simple.

Chicago’s defense and Chuck Pagano will be ecstatic to see Kamara sidelined, but Latavius Murray (remember him?) has been solid in his own right playing backup, averaging 4.3 yards/carry in his limited role. There’s plenty to be concerned about after letting Josh Jacobs run wild seemingly all over England, but containing the run game and making Bridgewater try to beat them through the air is likely to lead to success. The loss of Akiem Hicks definitely hurts, but this is where Pace can show his drafting/signings are worth it with the depth he’s created.

This is the Show Me game for Chicago and Nagy. Show me you’re that Coach of the Year, and not a Juron-esque fluke. Show me you can game plan for your young, struggling QB to be successful. Show me you can clean up the lapses on defense and stop an NFC leader on your home turf.

SHOW US WHAT YOU GOT!

Prediction: Bears 19, Saints 10