Chicago Bears Sackwatch 2013: Week 6 vs. New York Giants

Look at that nice clean pocket... - Jonathan Daniel

If you've been following the Sackwatch since its inception in 2010, you have to be pleased with the pass protection so far through six games. The improvement is a combination of a better scheme, smarter quarterback play, and a better offensive line. Let's see exactly where we stand so far...

Last year the Chicago Bears allowed five sacks in their 6th game of the season against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. It was week seven, immediately following their bye week, and Chicago eked out a 13-7 win.

This year their 6th game was again in prime time, but on Thursday Night Football, and the Bears eked out a 27-21 victory against the New York Giants. The Bears didn't allow a single sack for the second time this season, so let's take a look at their pass protection progress through six games.

Sackwatchcutler_medium

Sackwatch after 6 games
2010 - 27 (Martzfense)
2011 - 19 (Martzfense)
2012 - 19 (Mike Tice O)
2013 - 9 (TCO)

Zero sacks allowed could make for an easy Sackwatch, but...

Since I have no sacks to break down, this will be a good time to look at the pressures and hits that the Bears have allowed thus far. We'll peek at the statistical breakdowns of Pro Football Focus to help us out.

We'll look at their Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) stat for the last four years. This stat only takes into account the five offensive linemen, and not the overall team's pass protection.

The Pro Football Focus "Pass Blocking Efficiency" rating measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed.

With PBE, the higher number the better. This season the Denver Broncos lead the NFL with an 87.2.

Here is the Chicago Bears' PBE the last four seasons.

Year Passing Plays Sacks Allowed Hits Allowed Hurries Allowed Total Pressures PBE
2013* 236 4 12 66 82 73.5
2012 557 28 27 116 171 75.7
2011 550 27 22 134 183 73.8
2010 551 32 26 138 196 71.9

*through 6 games

In 2010 the Bears were dead last in PBE, in 2011 they were 30th, in 2012 they were 27th, and this season through six games they are 22nd.

The first thing that jumps out at me are the number of sacks, the Bears have obviously allowed more than four sacks this year, but much like I categorize sacks in the "Sacks Happen" category, they leave some sacks uncredited. Also remember that PBE only takes into account the five offensive linemen.

PFF actually has the Bears allowing five total sacks, leaving four unaccounted for, while I was able to pin seven of the Bears' nine sacks on someone, leaving two as "sacks happen".

I have two sacks allowed on Jay Cutler, and one each on Matt Slauson, Kyle Long, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett, and Jermon Bushrod. PFF has pinned two on Bushrod, and one each on Bennett, Slauson, and Long. Again, there is no wrong or right way to grade, so some discrepancies are bound to happen.

One reason the PBE is higher than last year, yet it seems like Cutler has had a much cleaner pocket, is the types of plays the Bears are running. Last year Mike Tice basically took the Mike Martz playbook and reworked it to something that he was comfortable calling plays from. So some of the 5 and 7 step drops remained, as did some of the longer developing plays.

You may think that after having Mike Tice call plays last year, that the TCO this year would lead to a better PBE, but the pass protection under Trestman is anticipating shorter drops and the ball getting out quicker. So the offensive linemen are setting up at a different angle, and pushing defenders past where their QB should be. Shorter drops and a tighter pocket, leads to less chances that a defender can beat the protection back to the middle, but the edge rushers are able to get around the tackles at some point, and that's by design.

For example, if Chicago RT Jordan Mills knows the called pass play is a 3 step drop, he'll set up at an angle so that his man must take an outside rush. He knows that he can't be beaten inside with a quick pass play on, so he induces his man to only go around him. Some coaches call this "opening up the gate", so the edge rusher wants to go outside.

If a deeper drop is called, a tackle has to set up more honestly, to stop his defender from an edge rush or a move back to the inside. With more space between the defender and the point the QB is supposed to stop on, it means more moves a tackle has to anticipate seeing from a rusher.

But if I know as a tackle that my QB is going 'one, two, three, throw', then I'm opening the gate, and pushing him about 5 yards deep and around my QB.

On some of the hurries that the Bears tackles are allowing this season, the ball is set to come out at or near the time of the hurry anyway. It's still being credited, and rightfully so, as a hurry, but Jay Cutler has options in the pass game that are running shorter routes. If he had no quick outlet to check down to, those hurries we're seeing in 2013 could have been sacks in previous years.

Please don't think I'm giving the Bears o-line a pass, because they still have room to improve.

Let's look at free agent acquisition Jermon Bushrod's PBE this year through six games. PFF has him with 22 total pressures, and a PBE of 92.9. Last season's left tackle, J'Marcus Webb, ended the year with a PBE of 94. Part of the reason is the different offenses the two players played in, but it's also because Webb wasn't as bad last year as many thought.

Chicago's right tackle, rookie Jordan Mills, has a PBE of 91.1, with 28 total pressures. In Webb's rookie year ('10), he finished with a PBE of 90.3, playing in the Martzfense.

One of the problems with Webb, was when he was bad, he was really bad, but when he wasn't he was a pretty average tackle. The hope with both Bushrod and Mills, is that they can be more consistent than Webb.

A quick Webb tangent; I've been consistent in my thoughts on Webb. I wrote that I thought he was a lock for the team in my Position Battles series, and I wrote that keeping him on the team was the smart move way back in my Roster Turnover series. But something clearly changed.

He went from a player that was making baby steps every year, to a player that clearly regressed in preseason. Maybe it was physical. Maybe he lost focus because he was more concerned with his Nation. Maybe it was the pressure of being in his contract year. Maybe he lost confidence when he moved to the right side after Bushrod was signed. Maybe his confidence was shook when he was asked to take a pay cut, a pay cut that would still reward him on performance mind you. If it was any of the latter, do you really want a player so shaken by the mental aspect of the game on the roster anyway?

Webb was benched by the Bears, signed by Minnesota, and he is yet to play for the 1-4 Vikings. The potential is there, but I'm reminded of an old coaches' saying. "Potential will get you fired."

End tangent.

The PBE for the other Chicago Bears linemen are as follows, right guard Kyle Long is at 95.1, left guard Matt Slauson is 96.4, and center Roberto Garza is at 98.4.

PBE aside, I'm sure we can all see the improvements in the pass protection under Marc Trestman. Getting the ball out quicker is one thing, but having more options in the passing game helps too. Also having an accomplished play caller that is able to keep his offense in a rhythm during a game is a plus too.

The revamped offensive line seems to be working in cohesion more than I can recall. I'm not seeing as many mental mistakes as in years past, and with four new guys on the line I'm surprised by that. The O is still a work in progress, but they are only a few months into the scheme. Hopefully they'll keep improving as the years winds on.

Pro Football Focus is just one of many sabermetric sites out there taking a Moneyball approach to the game of football. Football Outsiders has the Bears offensive line ranked 5th best in pass blocking. Advanced NFL Stats has the Bears offensive line ranked 24th. And Cold, Hard Football Facts has Chicago at number seven in their Offensive Hog Index, which is clearly the coolest sounding category from any of these newfangled sites.

What are your impressions of the pass protection through six games?

Remember that pass protection is more than just the O-Line, it's scheme (TCO), it's play calling, and smarter QB play.

More from Windy City Gridiron:

Let this be a warning to some of you, I did bring up J'Marcus Webb for comparisons sake, so this comment thread could evolve into a J'Webb Nation argument.

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