Anyone that claims the 2013 version of the Chicago Bears pass protection wasn't the best they've seen from them in a long time, obviously wasn't watching very closely. Even rookie Jordan Mills, who was clearly the weakest of the five starting offensive linemen, had a good rookie season.
A lot has been made of the amount of quarterback hurries that Mills has allowed according to Pro Football Focus. They have Mills allowing a league leading 62 hurries, but only 3 QB sacks. It's something I addressed much earlier this season, and it's something that the Bears coaches have talked about as well. Here's what Bears offensive line coach / offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer had to say about the PFF hurries stat when asked by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
"I've seen some of the analytics and I disagree with what they are saying," Kromer said. "When they know our system, they will know whether to grade him with a plus or a minus."
"As an offense trying to get used to each other and how deep the quarterback drops and how deep the tackle sets, when the live bullets come it's a little bit deeper and a little bit faster than you want sometimes. So, the times that the quarterback drops back and he has to step back up (in the pocket), it's by design a lot of times. As I read it, and as I see the analytics of some companies, they say, ‘Well, that was a hurry and it made the quarterback move.' That can be a design of the offense. There are plenty of those that were pluses for us in our grades when they gave him a minus."
To further illustrate the point, there was a recent Q&A on Reply All, that featured Sam Monson, a writer for Pro Football Focus, and Arizona Cardinals right tackle Eric Winston. At the time of the Q&A, Winston was the 72nd ranked tackle in the NFL after being one of the better tackles -- according to them -- in the NFL the previous 4 years. He brought up some interesting points about the grading system.
I do know however in the Seattle game, PFF had me down for 8 or 9 hurries I believe but my coaches had me down for 2 or 3. Well let's look at the first problem: what is a "hurry". Is it forcing the QB to step up because of short corner? Is it a forced throw? Is it moving the QB of his "spot"? My point being advanced stats get into murky waters due to the lack of universal definitions.
On another point. I don't know if football will ever be at the same level as other sports. This is the ultimate team game for a reason. If a WR runs the wrong route, that directly effects my performance. That's just one example out of literally the 1000s that you could easily think of right off the top of your head. With baseball and basketball (to lesser degree) there aren't nearly the variables and possibilities.
While I think it is awesome PFF and other sites have people more and more involved, fans hold these stats to be 100% true and there is no wavering from it. I just don't think you can grade an Olineman (for example) without being in the meetings and especially knowing what the play call is and whose responsibilities everyone really has.
So now I wonder how many of those 62 "hurries" that PFF gave Jordan Mills, were on Mills actually missing a block, and how many were on him guiding his man right past the stepping up quarterback by design.?
I'm not bringing this up to discredit what PFF does, because as I've said in the past, I really enjoy their work, I just want to point out that it's not always so black and white. Especially in grading an offensive lineman.
Let's take a look at the Sackwatch tally after the final game on the 2013 season.
Sackwatch after 16 games
2010 - 56 (Martzfense)
2011 -49 (Martzfense)
2012 - 45 (Mike Tice O)
2013 - 30 (TCO)
The trend continues!
But under Marc Trestman, we're seeing an actual commitment to pass protection from the Chicago Bears. The first rule of the West Coast Offense is to protect the quarterback. If it takes keeping in a tight end or a back to pass block that's what you do. If it takes inserting an extra offensive lineman to protect, then that'll be in the game plan.
A good passing game can only be effective if you have time to pass. Whether it's a quick 1, 2, 3, throw, or a longer developing play action pass play, a good offensive coach will figure out how to give his QB time. Marc Trestman believes in this, and that philosophy trickles down through his offensive staff.
Here's the breakdown on the final sack allowed from the 2013 season.
Sack 30 - Second Quarter 7:49 Andy Mulumba
The Bears run a fake to tailback Matt Forte on this 1st and 10 play, and hindsight makes me wish they had handed it off. The Bears o-line does a good job in creating a crease for Forte to get through before he runs to the sideline.
As to the play called, the five offensive linemen do a good job working in unison to stop the pass rush, but tight end Martellus Bennett who is lined up on the left side, allows his man to sneak past him. Check out the clip below.
Bennett does two things wrong on this play, 1st off he remains too stationary and ends up catching the pass rush of Andy Mulumba. He doesn't make his first significant move until Mulumba is on top of him.
The second thing he does wrong is he stays too parallel to the line of scrimmage (LOS). Often times you'll see offensive tackles begin their kick step to induce the pass rusher to their outside, this is how they create the pocket for their QB to throw from. It also makes it more difficult for a defender to slip inside. When pass blocking you never want the defender to get through your inside gap. The quickest way for a pass rush to get to the QB, is through the inside gap.
Since Martellus Bennett waits on the rush, he is jolted backwards. Then since he didn't induce the rusher to his outside, he allows Mulumba a path back inside his block.
Jay Cutler fakes to Forte, then starts to climb the pocket looking for one of receivers to break free. Had Bennett kept his butt pointed at the pocket, it would have either forced his man to keep going around, or it would have left him in better position to slide and cut off Mulumba's move.
Needless to say this sack is on Bennett.
Here's my final breakdown on each of the 30 sacks allowed. For further detail be sure to peruse the Xs & Os section to see each of the 17 weeks of Sackwatch.
Final Sackwatch Totals after 16 games
Besides the pass protection improving from the o-line, the tight ends and the backs, I also saw an improvement from Jay Cutler. I've been critical of him in the past for taking unnecessary sacks, failing to throw the ball out of bounds when outside the pocket, and for holding the ball too long. He's obviously listening to his head coach, because he's more aware of this stuff during the game.
He still has his moments where he's holding the ball too long, but on a 3rd and 15 in the 4th quarter, sometimes you need to squeeze an extra second out of your protection to make a play. He seems to have picked his spots better this season on when to throw it in the dirt, and when to keep a play alive to allow his receivers to get free.
I'll get it on record now in saying I believe the Sackwatch will take another dip in 2014.
What were your final thoughts on the Sackwatch?
- Bears preseason stat projections revisited
- The Bears Den: January 06, 2014 - Chicago Bears news & notes
- Bears' Offseason Hinges on How Phil Emery Addresses the Defense, And Addressed Jay Cutler
- Windy City Gridiron Stream Talks Jay Cutler and Other Contracts
- What is Jay Cutler's signature win?
- This must be a joke, Green Bay's Eddie Lacy over Chicago's Matt Forte on the 2013 All Pro Team