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NFC North Roster Comparisons: Offensive Line

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How do the Chicago Bears compare to their division rivals up front?

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

This one feels a little redundant, as I have recently written about the Bears’ offensive line. Lester recently brought you an outside review of the Bears’ offensive line. However, because the goal of this series is to put the team into the context of its divisional rivals, this analysis will try to dig out extra details for the sake of completeness. First, regardless of opinion to the contrary, by any reasonable measure the 2016 Bears had one of the top two offensive lines in the NFC North.

In the run game, they were 12th in the NFL and 1st in the division, seeing only 8.7% of their runs stuffed at the line of scrimmage (just ahead of the Packers who were 16th at 9.9%), per Sporting Charts. The Vikings (27th and 12.1%) and Lions (32nd and 13.4%) were some distance behind. This is consistent with the relative ranks from Football Outsiders on O-line running, with the Bears (8th) leading the Packers (19th) and the Vikings (30th), with the Lions (31st) at the end.

Likewise, the Bears and Packers have a lead over the rest of the division in other metrics. Per NFL.com’s tracking, the Bears were 9th in the league (1st in the division) at allowing quarterback hits (Green Bay was 11th in the league, followed closely by Minnesota at 13th). Detroit again brought up the rear at 26th. These relative places within the division hold when looking at sacks, as well. However, these are raw stats, and because Green Bay’s offense stayed on the field more, they had more opportunities to allow pressures and sacks and such.

Things get slightly more interesting when looking at “QB Abuse Rate,” a nifty stat by the folks at Unconventional Stats that adds together various forms of abuse and divides it by total passing attempts. Here, for the first time, Green Bay slips ahead of Chicago with an abuse rate of 9.04% compared to Chicago’s 10.75%. Minnesota is 18th overall (and, stop me if you’ve heard this before, third in the division) with a 10.84% abuse rate. And, once more, Detroit is last (but 25th overall) at 13.12%.

As far as quarterbacks feeling pressure, Football Outsiders reports that Brian Hoyer was the least pressured quarterback in the NFL last year (only 37 pressures on 206 attempts), and Barkley was 12th with a pressure rate of 24.7%. That’s only one spot worse than Minnesota’s Sam Bradford (24.5%), and is well ahead of the 28.1% Rodgers faced or the 28.5% Stafford faced. Jay Cutler did not have enough attempts to qualify.

Okay, that’s enough for the metrics. What about the eye test? Well, the eye test folks over at PFF leave some room for doubt, because in one article they ranked Green Bay’s offensive line 5th in the NFL (1st in the division), ahead of Chicago (15th). Minnesota (19th) and Detroit (29th) occupy familiar territory. However, as Lester has already shared, in another article they disagreed.

As for “personal eye test” measures, it’s hard to change the mind of a cynic. There are some people who will never be convinced. A lot of what this is going to come down to is personal satisfaction. I submit that how individual fans feel about an offensive line is indicative of how they feel about the team in general. Whether a given fan chooses to focus on the strong moments or the failures is sort of the NFL Rorschach test.

By objective metrics, the Bears have the edge on Green Bay, especially in the run game. By eye test, some prefer what the Packers’ line was able to do. Perhaps the tie can be broken by looking at what different teams done to improve their lines in the offseason.

The Bears will be getting back All Pro and Pro Bowler Kyle Long, who missed 8 games due to injury. They will also get back Hroniss Grasu, who at this point will likely just provide depth. They have added a fifth-round draft pick. That has to be seen as improvement. However, the team that probably invested the most in the O-line during the offseason was Minnesota.

The Vikings took Pat Elfin in the third round and Danny Isadora in the fifth. Minnesota also picked up Riley Reiff in free agency. They made an under-the-radar pick up in undrafted free agency when they brought in the promising but incomplete Aviante Collins. By contrast, Green Bay spent a 6th rounder on Kofi Amichia out of South Florida. Perhaps more significantly, they picked up former Pro Bowler and All-Pro Jahri Evans at guard. This helps to balance out the loss of their own Pro Bowler (TJ Lang) to the Detroit Lions. There was some other churning around the division in terms of developmental free agents and such, but for all the speculation, it’s hard to see Detroit having done enough to move out of the basement, and there’s simply not enough known about the other moves to predict whether or not Minnesota was able to move out of third.

While it might be jaded of me, for now I am going to give the edge to Green Bay when it comes to pure offensive line play. I think some of the Bears’ run numbers are inflated by the quality of Chicago’s running backs, and I think that when the number of pressures allowed are combined with Glennon’s immobility, the synergy won’t be there. That means that these are the overall ranks I have on offense for the Black and Blue Division:

NFC North Offenses

Team QB WR TE RB OL
Team QB WR TE RB OL
Packers 1 1 1 4 1
Vikings 3 2 3 2 3
Bears 4 4 2 1 2
Lions 2 3 4 3 4

Note that if all position groups were equal, this would have the Bears with the third-best offense coming out of the offseason. I just don’t believe that, and it’s because all positions are not equal. All it takes is to put a little bit of weight on the quarterback, and it’s obvious that the Lions’ offense should be ahead of the Bears and maybe even with that of the Vikings.

The Bears need some of their offensive gambles to pay off, because right now they are trailing the rest of the NFC North. Things will look slightly better on the other side of the ball.