A sticking point with Bears fans since the draft has been "but what about the offensive line?" Where's the help been? Was signing that Chilo Rachel really going to be difference maker for a terrible offensive line? Well I decided to go back and watch the highlights, check the box scores and see if I can settle exactly how many games the Bears' offensive line cost the team last season. This could be a litmus test for how little to no change to the men upfront could effect the Bears 2012 W and L columns.Now obviously the easy answer could be "none" because the offensive line cannot possibly be the only sole factor in a loss in what is the ultimate team sport. There are 22 positions on a football team, a measly five guys cannot win or lose games alone. However, most coaches and analysts would say that yes they can. You've surely heard the phrase "the game is won in the trenches" or "it all starts up front."
So while the offensive line might not throw the back-breaking interception in crunch time or give up the game-breaking 70 yard TD pass to the opponent, it can have a factor in sustaining drives and how much of a rhythm a quarterback and his receivers can get into.
That said, let's get into it. Exactly how many games could you say the Bears offensive line cost them in 2011? I'd say at least three.
First though, there were a couple games where the offensive line played poorly enough that I would argue that the Bears won in spite of their offensive line:
Week 17 at the Vikings: The Bears got sacked seven times, with J'Marcus Webb getting burned for 3.5 sacks alone. How they were able to get this win, I still am not sure.
Week 1 vs. Atlanta - Jay Cutler started off the season eating Soldier Field turf five times. It was not not pretty at times but the Bears crushed the Falcons and most fans figured the line would improve.
Now, which games would I say the Bears were cost by their offensive line?
Week 5 at Detroit - This is a game Bears fan still don't like to remember. Cutler did absolutely everything he could to overcome a terrible line and put the Bears in a position to win but it was too much. He was helped by the penalties of Kellen Davis and Webb, either.
Week 2 at New Orleans - Cutler got sacked six times on the road. He was under pressure all day and couldn't get comfortable.
Week 13 vs Kansas City - Caleb Hanie got taken down seven times in this game. Sure he held the ball too long at times, but he was still under constant pressure. Now this game is one that was ultimately cost by the offense as a whole because they couldn't find the endzone despite a great effort by the defense, but the o-line didn't help.
So there you are, the three games that much of the blame can be pointed to the guys up front. The other game that was a close call was the week 12 match up at Oakland, but after re-watching the highlights I realized that game was solely on Hanie. His interceptions did not come on plays where pressure forced him into bad throws, he was merely forcing the ball to the defense.
So despite the seven sacks the Bears gave up that day, the line was not the major culprit.
So if the offensive line costs the Bears three games in '12, then what? Well a lot of people already see 13 wins on the schedule, so then three losses plus an addition three is still 10 wins. However, the Bears still have to face Jared Allen twice, the Lions' front twice and the Packers spent their entire draft trying to improve their pass rush. So the Bears better hope that Mike Tice and Co. can get something more out of the line and improved protection schemes, otherwise the team is going to be looking at more winnable games lost to a bad o-line.