A lofty ranking for Bears' offensive line? Film doesn't lie
There was an eye-opening report published by ESPN.com earlier this month. A ranking of the NFL's offensive lines had the Bears at No. 11.
Skepticism was a natural reaction, and not everyone agreed. Pro Football Focus rates the Bears' offensive line No. 31 out of 32 teams.
Granted, it's been tough to tell how this group might eventually shake out, since veteran tackle Riley Reiff just arrived and center Lucas Patrick is sidelined, reportedly by a broken right thumb, with a return date unknown.
But let's check the game film from two preseason games and see if there's reason to be optimistic about the Bears blockers this fall, using the small sample size that is NFL preseason.
Change had to come:
First off all, it was pretty clear why the Bears decided to try Teven Jenkins at right guard last weekend in Seattle. Michael Schofield had a rough outing in the first preseason game against Kansas City.
On the Bears' second play, Schofield and center Sam Mustipher couldn't execute a slide off the nose tackle and ended up leaving a linebacker unblocked. On the third snap, Schofield was beaten for a sack by Chris Jones.
The last play by the first-team offense in that game was a third-and-6 run. Schofield whiffed on defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth, who dropped Khalil Herbert for no gain.
The pass protection was decent at times against the Chiefs. But during the Bears' third drive, which started inside the 10, Justin Fields was hit on consecutive plays. The first time, left tackle Braxton Jones was straight-armed and shoved into Fields' lap by George Karlaftis, the rookie from Purdue. On the second one, the Bears failed to pick up a blitzer.
Fortunately, that was the play when Tajae Sharpe made an incredible catch along the sideline for a first down. The Bears followed with a Fields 10-yard scramble, end around to Equanimeous St. Brown, then an 8-yard run by Herbert that was the best-blocked (first-string) play of the day, with Jones and Cody Whitehair collapsing the left side.
One thing that's popped up in each of the two games is Fields showing some impatience and looking to run, sometimes before he needs to. This could be the sign of a QB that doesn't trust the pass protection, but things could change when the real games begin.
Run and done:
During the first unit's single drive in Seattle, the Bears ran one planned run play and initially, it didn't go well. Jenkins was shoved backward by defensive tackle Al Woods. It looked like tight end Cole Kmet was supposed to curl behind the line and lead block through the hole, but he couldn't get there because he ran into Jenkins.
Still, Herbert gained 7 yards on this play because Whitehair executed a beautiful slide block to the linebacker, Braxton Jones handled his man and there were good WR blocks from Darnell Mooney and Velus Jones.
The next play was Fields scrambling for a yard on third-and-3. Seattle sent five rushers and had the Bears on their heels, but the linemen reacted well.
Right tackle Larry Borom made a quick decision to slide outside and take the blitzer, and Jenkins made the adjustment. The play didn't look like a designed QB draw, but Fields might have decided to run as soon as he identified a blitz. The Bears had some slow-developing routes and Fields ended up running up the back of Whitehair, who was blocking well, then getting tackled from behind.
During the Seattle game, the 19-yard pass play to Kmet was the type of execution Bears fans have dreamed about. While Fields ran the play-action bootleg, Kmet ran right past the Seattle linebackers who had their eyes in the backfield. Will it work against a good team? Too soon to tell.
On the play before this, the Bears had just picked up a first down when the Seahawks jumped offside. It looked like they were trying to go deep, keeping two tight ends to pass protect. Jenkins got beat by defensive tackle Poona Ford, while Borom waited for an outside rusher that never arrived. Fields ended up dumping it to Herbert for 4 yards, so not terrible.
I was scrambling to figure out who was making some good blocks on the edge in the Kansas City game. Turns out it was Rysen John, the Canadian tight end who has already been cut and erased from the Bears roster. Thought they'd found the next J.P. Holtz for a second there.
The right guard spot is definitely a concern. The rest of the Bears blockers can hold their own, but there are bound to be mistakes if they stick with rookie Jones and second-year pro Borom as the starting tackles. We also haven't seen much movement among these linemen, whereas ex-Bear James Daniels was very good as a pulling guard. Also, the re-retired Jason Peters was probably the best run-blocker last season.
This will not be the 11th-best group in the NFL. But sometimes offensive lines find a good chemistry. That was certainly the case for the Bears early in 2018, and late in 2020 when Whitehair, Mustipher and Alex Bars started playing together.