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Next Up For the Bears...the Offensive Line?

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The Bears' offseason checklist is remarkably full of cross-outs:

  1. Change the offense
  2. Get a pass rush
  3. Upgrade the secondary
  4. Get Jay Cutler more help
  5. Shake up the front office
  6. Fix the offensive line

Before we can fix anything, we need to know what's broken.

A few months back, I did a comprehensive statistical breakdown of the Bears' offensive line. LINK

Some highlights and lowlights:

  • The Bears were 29th in the NFL in Rushing Yards with 1,492 yards; 93.2 yds/game.

  • The Bears only got 71 1st downs running the ball. Good for 31st in the league. The Jets had 132; the Colts 69.

  • The Bears gave up 35 sacks (19th) and 78 QB hits (17th).

  • Their Power Rank was 25th with a Power Success of 58%. The Bears were successful on only 58% of their running plays on 3rd or 4th down, with 2 yards or less to go for a 1st down or TD. That's the offensive line not getting a good push.

  • According to FootballOutsiders, the Bears were actually an average pass blocking team. Their 35 sacks, yielded a sack rate of 5.9%, which was good for 13th in the NFL.

  • However according to ProFootballFocus, the Bears' were 26th in pass blocking with a rating of -24.3. The Bears' run blocking was slightly better with a ranking of 20th, and a rating of -10.6.

  • Individually, Kreutz (+5.8) and Garza (+5.5) graded out well, and Williams (-18.6), Pace (-26.3), and Omiyale (-6.9) were pretty bad. If we look deeper into Williams' ratings though we see a huge improvement starting in Week 11. He earned positive ratings in 6 of his last 7 games. Frank Omiyale also saw a huge improvement from a horrible start to the season. He had positive ratings in 5 of the last 6 games including very good run blocking numbers.

ProFootballFocus recently published an article ranking teams pass protection (LINK) and ranked the Bears as the 25th best pass blocking team. Here is what they had to say:

No. 25 -- Chicago Bears The Bears were one of the teams that had only a couple of guys play well, whilst the others struggled and left their offense dead in the water. The "couple of guys" in this case were center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza, with the rest being various shades of poor. None was worse than Orlando Pace and it was a huge mistake believing he had much left in the tank (he didn't). By the time he was benched in Week 13, the Bears were already gasping for air. Amazingly, as poor as a right tackle as Chris Williams was, he may end up being a success story if he can keep up his late-season form. Through the first 10 weeks of the season he was dreadful, giving up five sacks, eight hits and 24 hurries and throwing his hat in the ring as one of the worst pass protectors in the league. However, he did well against the Eagles in Week 11, did a reasonable job the next game (in Minnesota, of all places) and was then moved to left tackle to replace Pace, where he performed very creditably indeed.

Other players who have to step up their game are Matt Forte, who stayed in to block a league-leading 152 times but was among the top five worst pass-protecting backs last year (two sacks, a hit and 15 pressures); and Greg Olsen, who may be a decent receiver but struggles with all aspects of blocking. That has to be a huge concern considering the offense Mike Martz is expected to implement.

Well, in response to these concerns the Bears have done quite a few things to improve:

  1. Chris Williams will be the starting Left Tackle from day 1.
  2. Mike Tice was brought in to be the offensive line coach.
  3. Frank Omiyale was moved to Right Tackle, his original position of which he's played his entire career except for last year.
  4. The Bears signed Brandon Manumaleuna to be a primary run and pass blocking Tight End. He will upgrade the running and passing game.
  5. Chester Taylor was signed to split duties with Matt Forte.

Forte's pass protection numbers, as cited above, are pretty poor: 152 pass blocking snaps, 2 sacks, 1 hit, & 15 pressures. Chester Taylor was in for pass blocking on 57 plays and gave up 1 sack, 1 hit, and 3 pressures. Opposing defenses harassed Cutler every 8 pass plays Forte blocked in. For Chester, the ratio is every 11 plays. Not a huge difference, but it is an improvement.

Well that leaves Left Guard. Right now, it's either Lance Louis or Josh Beekman. We know what we have in Beekman, a servicable guard who can move in space; he lacks some size (6' 2", 310 lbs) to be a big time road-grater in the run game. Last season, Beekman played 6 games at Left Guard. His rating was 0.0. Pretty much their definition of average. In 2008, he played virtually every offensive snap at Left Guard and produced some poor run blocking numbers & too many penalties; his pass blocking was good: LINK.

In Lance Louis (6' 3", 305 lbs), we have another smallish guard, but a really good athlete. Notable, high quality Left Guards to compare sizes are Logan Mankins (6'4", 307lbs), Rob Sims (6'3", 310lbs) & Ben Grubbs (6'2", 315lbs). Louis ran a 4.78sec 40, easily the best among all Guards last year or this year.

Louis was originally a TE at San Diego State, but after an ACL injury in the spring of 2006, he moved to Guard for the 2007 season (he did not play much). He then started all 12 games at Right Tackle in 2008. LINK Surprisingly, Louis made the Bears 53-man roster by beating out 5-year veteran Dan Buenning for a reserve line position. Louis showed some nice versatility and athleticism when he was given playing time last preseason. He's only played the offensive line for a couple of years. His learning curve has been very steep, yet he has ascended it nicely. He is an intriguing option for the Bears this offseason; he'll be given a lot more playing time & hopefully some great coaching. If he makes as big a leap as he made from 08 to 09, we could see nice things from Lance.

My prediction: The Bears stand pat on the offensive line. They will go to camp with Chris Williams at Left Tackle, Olin Kreutz at Center, Roberto Garza at Right Guard, Frank Omiyale at Right Tackle, Kevin Shaffer at swing tackle, and Josh Beekman & Lance Louis as the two going after the Left Guard spot. Lance Louis will win the job. That's 7 lineman. We'll keep 1 more lineman on the roster as a development tackle who will be inactive most of the season.