Even though the Chicago Bears pass protection kept Jay Cutler off the Soldier Field sod, that doesn't necessarily mean they were exceptional against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings went into the week 11 game against the Bears with 30 sacks on the season, the 3rd most in the NFL, so pass protection had to be a major part of the preparation that week.
I thought the game plan put together by Marc Trestman and his offensive staff was focused on limiting the chances the Vikes had to harass Jay. There were plenty of quick passes, a lot of play action and Matt Forte had the 2nd most rushing attempts in his career.
Before we get into my thoughts on the game and some figures from our friends over at Pro Football Focus, here's where the Sackwatch stands after 10 games.
Sackwatch after 10 games
2010 - 37 (Martz)
2011 - 23 (Martz)
2012 - 34 (Tice)
2013 - 16 (Trestman)
2014 - 24 (Trestman)
The Bears are still out in front of last season's pace, but they still have some work to do to keep that number down to respectable levels.
I was a bit surprised at the praise heaped on the Bears offensive line, in particular their pass protection, just because they didn't allow a sack. Various Chicago sports radio hosts talked about how good the pass pro was. Comcast Sports' Moon Mullin called Sunday's performance one of their best this season. The water cooler chatter was skewing to the positive side as well.
Of the few places I looked, only our own Sam Householder and the usually critical Hub Arkush had negative things to say about the pass protection from Chicago's line.
I thought tackles Jermon Bushrod and Michael Ola had a rough time with the speed rushers. Left guard Brian de la Puente had some issues as well. The Bears did a solid job staying with stunts and picking up blitzes however.
Cutler scrambled four times for 20 yards and he was moving well in the pocket to buy time when needed.
"I thought Jay played a great game," left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "He was getting the ball out on time, picking his spots to run with the ball and making good decisions."
Speaking about getting the ball out on time, PFF actually puts a stopwatch to a quarterbacks time in the pocket. So far on the 2014 season Cutler checks in at 2.43 seconds before attempting to pass the ball, which is 22nd in the NFL. Against Minnesota that number was down to 2.28 seconds. A split second may not seem like much, but I can assure you it makes all the difference when a defender is trying to take you down.
To further illustrate the quick pass game plan from Sunday; so far in the 2014 season, 50.6% of Cutler's pass attempts came at 2.5 seconds or sooner. Against the Vikings Cutler threw 29 of his 43 pass attempts at 2.5 seconds or less, which was significantly higher at 64%. The quick passing game can definitely frustrate a pass rush.
Another way to stymie a pass rush is to run the ball effectively and throw off play action. So far this season Marc Trestman has dialed up a play action pass play for Cutler 20.4% of the time. Against the Vikings that number grew to 34.8%.
Hopefully this is the game that will get Trestman, Cutler and the Bears' offense out of their funk. They still need to score more points, but the game plan for this Sunday's game against Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be similar to the one we saw them execute against he Vikings.
What were your thoughts on the pass protection from the Vikings game?
Here's how I have the Sackwatch after 10 games.
Jordan Mills - 4.5
Jermon Bushrod - 4
Sacks Happen - 3
Michael Ola - 3
Matt Forte - 3
Brian de la Puente - 2.5
Matt Slauson - 2
Dante Rosario - 1
Eben Britton - .5
Jay Cutler - .5