And now we get to the most... ahem, interesting positions for the Chicago Bears, as well as throughout the NFC North. The 2011 Bears might have turned in one of the worst offensive line performances in the history of the NFL, but one would be hard-pressed to say that any of the division's lines are at the top of the NFL.
So where do the 2012 Bears stack up? Hit the jump and let's discuss.
2012 Probable Line: Chris Williams / Edwin Williams / Chris Spencer / Lance Louis / Gabe Carimi
Really though, let's just go with "Who the hell knows." Every position here could be different, especially if Carimi's knee doesn't hold up, and I could be wrong on all five starters given how training camp competitions and such wind up. Either way, the last two years have been horrifically bad times to be a Chicago Bears lineman, as at times these guys probably had to ask Saints and Lions fans for their paper bags as they left the stadium. Will they be that bad? We can only hope not. But if they continue to give up 40-sack seasons, whatever the cause, we might have to decide that Mike Tice isn't the offensive line genius we thought. Or we can blame it on new actual offensive line coach Tim Holt. But until any actual improvement is shown, I'm sure each and every one of us will be sitting here crossing our fingers with knots in our stomachs.
2012 Probable Line: Gosder Cherilus / Rob Sims / Dominic Raiola / Stephen Peterman / Riley Reiff
Again, probably wrong on at least one account, depending on if Backus shows enough to hang on as the starter for one more year. According to Pro Football Focus, last year's Lions were the third-best pass-blocking unit in the NFL and the 21st-rated run-blocking line. Cherilus and Backus both started all 16 games and both rated out slightly negative in pass blocking, Backus was rated neutrally and Cherilus had a decidedly negative run-block rating. Peterman and Sims both were rated decently positive, and Raiola overall showed as a decent pass-protector, but not a run-blocker. Which makes sense, considering how bad this team was at running the ball last year. Plugging in Reiff at right tackle for Cherilus, at the minimum, should provide a slight bump over there.
2012 Probable Line: Andrew Datko / TJ Lang / Jeff Saturday / Josh Sitton / Bryan Bulaga
The Packers are pretty much exhibit A in why you shouldn't look too strongly at sacks to determine if you're a Super Bowl contender. In 2009, the Packers allowed 51 sacks, finished 11-5 and had the league's 3rd-ranked offense (and lost in the playoffs because they only scored 45 points while allowing 51). In 2011, they tightened up the number of sacks to 38 and had the league's 10th ranked offense, but won the Super Bowl thanks in part to their now-second ranked defense. And en route to 15-1 last year, they allowed 41 sacks. In contrast, the Bears only gave up 35 sacks in 2009, their last year before the Martz era. Just some food for thought - would we rather have the line that gave up 35 sacks on 555 pass attempts in 2009, or 41 sacks on 552 pass attempts, as the Packers did last year?
2012 Probable Line: Matt Kalil / Chris DeGeare / John Sullivan / Geoff Schwartz / Phil Loadholt
The Vikings added Matt Kalil, regarded as pretty much the only surefire offensive tackle prospect in the draft, to a line that allowed 49 sacks spread between Donovan McNabb (16), Christian Ponder (30) and Joe Webb (3), good for an 8.8% sack rate. Furthermore, the line also lost seven-time-Pro-Bowler and five-time All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson as well as sixth-year starter Anthony Herrera, if this is any indication what kind of transition the Vikings' offensive line is in.
As far as ranking the units now, at four I'm going to put the Bears. They had the most sacks allowed in the division last season (tied with the Vikings) and even though we've gone over the myriad of reasons the line has been so bad or could easily improve, until they actually do improve, they've still turned in a horrible 2010 and a bad 2011. Third, I'll put the Vikings, as even though they allowed the same number of sacks as the Bears, they had an outstanding 5.2 yards-per-carry (due partly to Adrian Peterson, but also partly due to their ability). The Packers will go at two, meaning the Lions in my opinion have the best offensive line in the NFC North - even though they have such a hard time running the ball with whoever they signed off the street that week, their 36 sacks allowed are the fewest in the division and, coincidentally, also leads to the lowest sack rate.
Where do you have the Bears' offensive line ranked in the division?