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Offensive Line Needs Are Overstated

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Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

One frequent theme of the offseason was the state of the tackles. Massie and Leno were considered by some to be riffraff, perhaps better than J’Marcus Webb but clearly not high-quality players. A number of fans and pundits considered the state of the tackles to be a pressing need for the Chicago Bears.

Now, obviously, improvement in any position is good, and if any position merits constant attention and an effort to upgrade, the offensive line is a good choice. However, the Bears’ offensive line is (by most measures) fine. Depth might be an issue, but even here, the Bears added Tom Compton (11 starts and 60 games played) while drafting Jordan Morgan, described by NFL.com as follows:

Morgan could become a solid NFL backup with eventual starter potential if he improves his balance and stops lunging

First, there’s the eye test. Our own Lester Wiltfong has weighed in, and found the line adequate.

It’s all relative, but I think the Leno / Massie tandem will be fine if that’s how they start the season. On the offensive side of the ball, I’d list QB, TE, and WR as bigger needs than OT.

Next, there’s the simple numbers and rate measures. Per NFL.com, the Bears allowed the 7th-fewest sacks (28) and the 9th-fewest quarterback hits (73) in the NFL for 2016. According to SportingCharts, they were 8th in the percentage of pass attempts (4.8%) they allowed sacks on.

The line didn’t protect the quarterback purely at the expense of the running game, either. SportingCharts tells us that the Bears were tied for 4th in rushing yards per attempt (4.6), and tied for 11th in terms of what percentage of their rushing plays were stuffed at or before the line of scrimmage (8.7%).

Finally, there are also more advanced metrics, like those provided by the folks over at Football Outsiders. They tell us that the 2016 Bears were 8th in the NFL in their “Adjusted Line Yards” stat (4.17), 7th in adjusted sack rate, and 1st in power running success rate. That’s right, the Bears were actually “the most” something and it was a good something.

Some of the run success if probably due to the presence of Jordan Howard, but also remember that Kadeem Carey and Jeremy Langford had nearly 25% of the team’s rushing attempts, so it can’t all be Howard. More importantly, the three quarterbacks the Bears featured were not Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan, so there’s a limit to how much credit we can take from the line and place on the shoulders’ of the QBs.

However, it is easy to say “improve the offensive line.” In fact, I submit that the general disdain for the Bears’ offensive line is not a product of actual need so much as it is three factors working together.

First, it’s easy to attack any position group on a 3-13 team. Second, the Bears have had needs on the offensive line in the past, and so it is easy to simply assume that this need continues; it’s the same sort of lazy analysis that said Mike Glennon was not good enough to be a long-term solution at starter, but then generated shock when Pace drafted someone to take over from Glennon. Third, from a fan’s perspective, it is easy to want a better offensive line.

However, by the eye test of an expert, by raw statistical measures, and by advanced metrics the offensive line is actually one of the strengths of the team. In fact, if the rest of the team was as solid as the offensive line, the Bears would probably be in the running to make the playoffs.

The O-line is fine. The D-line, on the other hand...