The Chicago Bears announced a couple of last minute changes to their offensive line just before kickoff on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, but I doubt it caught the Pack off guard. As was expected all last week, the Bears kicked pro bowl right guard Kyle Long out to right tackle and inserted journeyman backup Vladimir Ducasse in at right guard.
I went to the tape to ascertain what my eyes told me during the game, and that was that neither player had a very good performance.
I was wrong.
Ducasse played better than I thought, but Long was even worse.
Before I get into my specific grades I wanted to discuss grades in general. Fans need to keep in mind that my grades, the grades from Pro Football Focus or other sabermetric sites, the grades from the beat writers or the national analysts, are all wrong.
Yep we're all wrong.
We'll try our best. We'll pull from what we were taught about football through the years. We'll watch, rewind and watch again on numerous occasions, but ultimately, we're just guessing.
The only grades that are actually 100% right, are those done by the individual teams when they grade their players. Because only the coaching staffs and scouts know every assignment for every player. They know the contingency plan for each player, depending on the pre and post snap look from the opposition.
I would love to get a hold of the grades done by Bears o-line coach Dave Magazu, but teams simply don't reveal their grades, for obvious reasons.
With that being said, I'm confident in the grades I give for the offensive line, and I'll stack them up against anyone else grading.
But there are always a few plays during every game where I'm not sure where to give my plus and where to give my minus. I give it an educated guess, but remember, only Coach Magazu knows for sure. And speaking of my plus/minus grading, it's a simple system. You do your job, you get at "+", you don't and it's a "-" for you.
I'll touch on Ducasse's day first, with a few general observations.
I thought he was solid when working up to the 2nd level, showing good athleticism and tenacity. The first play of Chicago's 2nd series he quickly checked his A gap, to make sure he didn't need to help his center, then moved to the 2nd level and completely locked on to a linebacker, shielding him from the play.
His pass protection was better than I anticipated too. He anchored ok against the bull rush and he seemed to be OK as long as he got his hands on a defender.
The first minus I gave Ducasse, besides the 1st series false start, came on the 3rd play of the 3rd series on a 3rd and three. Matt Forte took the ball around the right side for an 8 yard gain, aided by a good Kyle Long effort (more on that later), but Ducasse failed to cut his man off from the play. He was trying to execute a reach block on the defensive tackle, but he couldn't get his feet around. It would have been a tough block, but one he has to make.
Overall I graded Vladimir Ducasse on 74 plays, he had 2 penalties and I gave him a +67/-6.
Now on to the grade you've all been waiting for.
I had Kyle Long with a +55/-17 on 72 total plays. Keep in mind he was facing a future Hall Of Famer most of the day, and Long will improve. He's too hard of a worker and too good an athlete not to.
I've actually graded 6 other games from Long, all at right guard, and he was never as low as 76.4%.
Long had a lot of technique issues on the day. Hand placement, over extending, over setting, elbows too wide, but all expected from a guy making his first professional start at tackle. I've talked about the differences between playing inside and being left on an island at tackle in the past. Some technique problems you can overcome at guard due to strength and athleticism, but that doesn't fly at tackle.
Tackles need to be more precise, because defenders have more room to operate. Take a look at the picture of Long blocking Julius Peppers above. He has his elbows in, which is good, but he allowed Peppers to get inside of his hands, which isn't.
The very first play of the game I gave Long a minus. He fired out too aggressively, got out in front of his feet and the defender was able to slip the block.
I also gave him negatives on both sacks the Bears allowed, but more on those plays later on in the first Sackwatch of 2015.
Here's a quick clip of the 8 yard run by Forte that I described above. Long was out on front of the play walling a defensive back out of the way.
You may notice Matt Slauson getting spun around from his left guard spot.
Another common mistake by Long on the day was him taking too flat of an angle on his pass protection. It was almost like he was really worried about getting beat around the edge, but by him overcompensating to shut things off to his right, he was allowing his man to dip back inside.
On the big 4th and goal play on Chicago's 6th series of the day, quarterback Jay Cutler got almost immediate pressure in his face. The Packers were blitzing and Long stuck with the defender to his outside, instead of squeezing down into his B gap. On a blitz, the quickest way to the QB is inside, so Long should have allowed the edge rusher the free lane, while stopping the man inside.
Even though Long struggled, he still is the prototypical type of player to be at tackle. He'll improve, I just wish he wasn't learning on the job against such good defenses. Peppers and Clay Matthews was a tough opener for anybody, but he has the always aggressive Arizona Cardinals this week, followed by the Seattle Seahawks in week 3.
I could see the Bears eventually moving Kyle Long to the left side, but let's hope he has an offseason to ready himself for the switch.
2016 at the earliest OK?
For those of you wondering how I graded Long in the past, here are the grades and links to my past articles.
First game as a rookie starter against the Benagls, +56/-5.
Rookie year week 5 against the Giants, +58/-8
Week 14 rookie year vs Dallas, +67/-4
His 2nd year against the Miami Dolphins, +46/-5
Last year against the Cowboys, +63/-5
Preseason 2015 against the Dolphins, +15/-1