Chicago Bears' Offensive Line Is Cause for Concern and Here's Why
The Chicago Bears' offensive line has been one of the team's major weaknesses for the past few years. Because of the serious lack of protection, Jay Cutler takes a beating unlike any other quarterback in the NFL. He was sacked 12 more times than any other QB in 2010 and was well on his way to the top of the leaderboard again before a thumb injury cut his season short in 2011.
The departure of Mike Martz and promotion of Mike Tice from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator is supposed to pay huge dividends for Cutler and the line this season, but has the problem really been fixed?
Here are four reasons why Bears fans should still be worried about Cutler's protection in 2012.
Struggled Mightily in 2011
After starting the year 7-3, the Bears put an abysmal end to a once-hopeful season. Sure, injuries to Cutler and Forte had a big impact, but the offensive line as a whole was also a key to the downfall.
In his 10 games last season, Cutler was sacked 23 times. Caleb Hanie was sacked 19 times in his four starts while Josh McCown was on the receiving end of seven sacks in his two games played. Of the final six games in the season, the Bears allowed at least four sacks in all but one of them.
The scary part is that Cutler is actually making the offensive line look better than it really is.
The team ended the season allowing the fifth-most sacks in the league, their second consecutive year in the top five. Protecting the quarterback is one of the keys to success in the NFL, and it was proven in 2011. Of the 10 teams that allowed the least sacks last year, seven moved on to the playoffs, including both the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
It's difficult to contend for a Super Bowl when your QB spends a lot of time on the ground. Hanie and McCown were dreadful in their attempt to salvage the Bears season in 2011, but it was the offensive line that set them, and the team, up for failure.
No Real Improvement
The reason to keep the 2011 troubles in mind for this season is because the Bears may be doomed to repeat themselves. There were no key free agent additions to the line and the draft went by without a single pick to help one of the biggest issues facing the team.
The only real change that could make a significant impact is the return of tackle Gabe Carimi. He missed all but two games last season with a partially dislocated right kneecap. The 24-year-old, who was the Bears No. 1 pick in 2011, will try to give a boost to the line and may be one of the keys to a successful offensive campaign this year.
Other than Carimi, all of the players that were the cause of Jay Cutler's nightmares last season are back.
There's no depth to the line either. J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams are fighting for the left tackle spot, then you have Chris Spencer, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis, and Carimi. If someone goes down again this season, it could be a disaster.
For now, let's just hope for an injury-free season on the offensive line. Staying healthy is first and foremost on the list of priorities for 2012.
Left Tackle Issues
Protecting Jay Cutler's blindside is one of the most important jobs any Bears player can have. Unfortunately, projected starter J'Marcus Webb has been having trouble at left tackle and played into the fourth quarter of last week's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos.
When asked if he was sending a message to Webb, offensive coordinator Mike Tice offered this explanation.
The left tackle position, I know some people have said I'm sending a message to J'Marcus. You have to understand how I work. There's no message being sent...I felt Chris [Williams] had a solid game. I didn't feel like the other player was up to par, as far as the standards we're trying to set to protect our quarterbacks.
J'Marcus Webb, or 'the other player' as Tice referred to him, is seemingly unreliable at this point. Chris Williams may be a better option, but how long can the Bears continue to protect Cutler with unproven players?
Either Webb needs to step up in a big way and take the starting job by force or Williams needs to prove himself at the tackle position. Neither of the candidates are impressing thus far.
Schemes Can't Solve Everything
Much of the added optimism in the offensive line coming into this season is the switch in offensive coordinator from Mike Martz to Mike Tice. Martz liked to use seven-step drops, only block with the front five, and wouldn't allow Cutler to use audibles.
Mike Tice will have an improved line simply because Martz is gone. The seven-step drop is eliminated, more tight ends and running backs will stay in to block, and Cutler can finally think for himself. However, there's still no ignoring the fact that the offensive line is the same as it was last season.
At least Jay Cutler is optimistic about his line in 2012.
If we have to keep eight in there, if we have to keep nine in there, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to put those guys in positions where they’re going to fail or I’m going to get hit. We would like them to step up and be able to block 4-on-4, 5-on-5, but we’ll see how it goes.
The issue with more blockers is that there are less options to throw to, but with the addition of star wideout Brandon Marshall and rookie second-round pick Alshon Jeffery, it may be the best route to go.
The switch to Tice will certainly mean Cutler spends less time on his back, but it remains to be seen how improved the offensive line will be this year. With lofty expectations and one of the most dynamic offenses in the league on paper, the offensive line may make or break the Bears season in 2012.
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