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Chicago's Pass Protection

Wcg_thumb_xo_mediumIn the NightLink last night I looked at a Brad Biggs article that touched on, among other things, blitz pick ups.  More often that not when you see a QB get sacked fans quickly jump to the conclusion that one of the offensive lineman blew an assignment. 

While that may be true, it's not always the fault of the specific lineman that was beat on the sack.  Seeing as how I'm not privy to the actual O-Line meeting for the Bears at Halas Hall, I'll just make my educated guess on some of the things going on with their pass protection.

Pre-snap Olin Kreutz will call out if protection will slide to one side or the other or which linebackers he wants to be a priority for his fellow offensive linemen.  Kreutz makes all the line calls to cut down on confusion.  When facing a 3-4 defense this is particularly important as there are only 3 down defensive linemen, so you know someone else (or 2 or 3...) will come on a blitz.  After Kreutz makes his calls Jay Cutler will start his cadence and/or make more last second adjustments.  If Cutler spots a DB creeping over showing blitz and he has time on the play clock to make an adjustment he'll do so.  This could be as simple as keeping a TE or RB in on that side or as complicated as having the entire O-Line slide protection to the potential blitzer.   You can see how these pre-snap changes to the pass protection schemes could be problematic when on the road in a loud environment.

If there isn't time on the play clock Cutler will then have to throw to his hot route.  Every pass play in the NFL has a short route (or an option route) just in case the defense brings some heat.  Sometimes where the blitz is coming from will cause a QB/WR route adjustment.  If a blitzer is vacating the area for a WR quick slant, the WR better make the adjustment.  A blitzer is leaving the middle open for a quick TE crossing route, he better be on the same page as the QB.  So many decisions are expected to be made on the fly in a matter of seconds, you can see why there is so much talk about team chemistry.

Other pass protection adjustments are made in the week leading up to the game in the film room.  If the Bears see a particular look from a defense, such as an OLB on the left edge next to a DE in a 3-4 defense, the Bears may automatically have left tackle Orlando Pace kick out to the OLB with left guard Josh Beekman sliding to the DE.  This blocking scheme leaves an offense vulnerable to a middle blitz, as both the T and G are fanning out to block, and with Kreutz having a nose tackle head up on him he has to stay on his man.  With this look you can expect a back to be responsible for any middle blitzers.  Some teams when facing that same defensive front will elect to keep the LT on the DE and have the LG kick out to the OLB (with the back still responsible for a middle blitz), while other teams will keep the LT on the head up DE, and have the back responsible for the OLB.  The variable in all this, of course, is which other defenders are showing blitz.  The entire pre-snap read could drastically change once the ball is snapped and players showing blitz drop off while other blitz. 

A play action, roll out, bootleg, or sprint out pass could also lead to changes in the pass protection, with many times the furthest defender being left unaccounted for with hopes the QB can roll out and deliver the ball before he is chased down.  With the mobility of Jay Cutler we should be seeing more of these types of out of the pocket passing plays.  Many times a puling lineman will be a personal protector for the QB, looking to pick up any unblocked defenders on the play side. 

Last week Dane Noble, the artist formerly known as GeauxBears, touched on another Brad Biggs article looking at who was responsible for the sacks the Bears have given up.  One thing to remember is it's not always so cut and dry with who's giving up sacks.  Were they put in the right position to get to a blitzer?  Scheme wise were they supposed to block down?  Maybe Fan out?  Did an O-Lineman miss an assignment leaving a back to pick up a blitz? 

When a lineman is beat one on one, there is no excuses, he lost the individual match-up.  But when a defender comes free, or a lineman has to chase or lunge at a guy, my bet is the protection that was called was the wrong one...  either that or the lunging lineman missed an audible, and was out of position due to his own incompetence.

I'm not writing this as an excuse for the job the Bears O-line has done so far, I think they've been the weak link, but keep some of this in mind when watching the game this week.