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10 Most Important Bears of 2017: #7 Will the offensive tackles hold up?

For the 9th straight year, I'm bringing you who I believe will be the ten most important Chicago Bears for the upcoming season. At #7, the offensive tackles.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

While I’m not as concerned as some with the starting offensive tackles of the Chicago Bears, that’s not to say that I don’t value their importance for the 2017 season. Starting right tackle Bobby Massie, and starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr., are serviceable players at this point in their careers, but you only have to look at the players behind them to understand just how important they are.

The 25 year old Leno started all 16 games last year (in fact, he didn’t miss an offensive snap), and I had him down for allowing 5.5 sacks in my Sackwatch. The Washington Post had him down for allowing 4.5 sacks, and Pro Football Focus had him down for allowing 5. This just goes to show how this “stat” is as subjective as grading players. Sacks allowed, as well as pressures, are often tough to determine unless we know exactly what the blocking scheme is the team is running. Also, a missed read by a running back, wide receiver, or quarterback could make it look like an offensive lineman missed a block, when in reality, he did his job.

One of PFF’s signature stats is their Pass Blocking Efficiency, which is determined by a formula that takes into account the number of times pass blocking, sacks allowed, and pressures. Leno checked in fairly well in PBE according to PFF.

At this point in his career, Leno’s pass blocking is better than his run blocking, but he’s improved during his two years starting for the Bears. Another offseason working on his strength at the point of attack, and Leno will be in position to cash in as a free agent after this year.

Even though Leno has room to grow as a run blocker, the Bears were pretty damn good running to his side last year. Yes, a big part of that was Jordan Howard playing at a Pro Bowl level, but it wasn’t all Howard.

Football Outsiders has an Adjusted Line Yards metric they track, and according to that, the Bears had their most success running off left end (4.66 yards per) and off left tackle (4.46). Those two ranked 8th and 7th in the NFL respectively.

Dan Durkin of The Athletic, charted the Bears’ runs last season, and he had their most successful points of attack as follows. Runs through the left side B-gap went for 7.3 yards per carry, right A-gap 5.9, left D-gap 5.7 and left C-gap at 5.6 yards per carry.

As you can see from the diagram above, runs at or near Charles Leno Jr. did all right.

The Bears are primarily a zone blocking team, so they are often blocking an area instead of a specific man, but they still need to be strong at the point of attack. The Bears did pretty good on outside zone runs last year according to PFF.

On outside zone runs, the tailback is reading the last man on the line of scrimmage, which is either the offensive tackle or tight end depending on formation. If Leno or Massie can’t get any movement on the edge, the outside zone run won’t be very effective.

Both Bears’ tackles did OK last year.

But back to that Football Outsiders metric. The Bears averaged 4.22 adjusted line yards per carry off right tackle, and 4.06 off right end. Both were 9th in the NFL.

Massie is a better run blocker than a pass blocker, but I had him down for allowing fewer sacks than Leno last year. Sackwatch had him pegged for 2.5, but the Washington Post had him down for allowing 4. Last year Massie struggled out of the gate, with the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles in the first two weeks of the season, but he settled down as he became more familiar in the offense.

The 27 year old Massie is about to enter his 5th year as a pro, and he’s a what-you-see is what-you-get player. I’m not saying he can’t improve — anyone can hone their technique and gain comfort in the offense, which will make them better — I’m saying what we saw last year from Massie is probably what we should expect again in 2017. If he gets his hands on the defender, with a good base under him, he’ll keep his block, but the speed rushers will give him some trouble.

The Bears did try and upgrade at right tackle this offseason, but Ricky Wagner ended up inking with the Detroit Lions. Their fallback plan was to add a couple journeyman tackles in Tom Compton (10 starts in 60 career games) and Bradley Sowell (21 starts in 68 career games). Which ever player ends up winning the swing tackle job, the Bears better hope he doesn’t play much, if at all, in 2017.

If you consider Massie the weak link on Chicago’s offensive line, then you don’t want to see Compton or Sowell pressed into action. Need I remind you how bad last year’s swing tackle, Mike Adams, looked in his one game in place of Massie. I had him down for allowing 2.5 sacks in that game.

The Bears need Leno to take another step in play, and at the very least, they need Massie to stay consistent.