Bears

Moon: Bears' O-line improved, can it last?

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Moon: Bears' O-line improved, can it last?

Friday, Jan. 14, 2011
Posted: 12:48 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The offensive line that will face off against the Seattle Seahawks in a few days will be far different from the one that went against Seattle back in October. Or at least the Bears certainly hope it is.

How much better it is could well determine whether the Bears playoff run lasts one game or continues deeper into the second season. The offensive line is better than it was in October. But the bigger issue now is whether it is good enough.

The Bears clearly believe that the offensive line has indeed been at the center of the turnaround that saw them win seven of eight before the slip-up in Green Bay.

For the most part, you cant say enough about what our O-line has done, said offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. Those five guys have been together and settled in, and its not a coincidence that our run game has been going the way it has, and our third downs. It all starts with those guys, and theyve done a great job of coming together.
A closer look

In the 23-20 loss to Seattle on Oct. 17, quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked six times. He was hit officially an additional 10 times. The result was perhaps the worst single day of the season for the Bears offensive line, on the scale of the 10-sack game less than two weeks earlier against the New York Giants.

What elevated (or lowered) the Seattle game in the dubious rankings was the fact that Seattle was nowhere near the pass-rush threat that the early season Giants were and also that the Bears had clearly not fixed their myriad problems.

The personnel was changing. Center Olin Kreutz was in his customary spot when the Seahawks arrived, but Williams was making his first start at left guard, rookie Webb was making his second at right tackle, and Frank Omiyale was making his fourth at left tackle after spending all offseason at right. Edwin Williams was making his second and next-to-last start at right guard before Garza returned from knee surgery after the off week.

Seattle had their free week prior to the Bears game, time to scheme, and they did. Of the Seahawks 6 sacks, 4.5 of them were by defensive backs, i.e. blitzes.

Dubious progress?

But the extent of real progress is still unclear. The New York game dropped the Bears to 32nd in sacks per pass attempt and the Seattle game, along with a 6-sack game against Green Bay and three 4-sack games, kept them securely there through the final 10 games of the season.

Still, if you look at the last 10 weeks, for the most part, we have protected better, said tight end Greg Olsen, who is involved in the Martz blocking schemes. Yes, weve given up sacks, but its not as clear as people make it out to be.

READ: Dilfer lays into Cutler

The Bears averaged 4.1 yards per carry or more in three of their first six games with the still-shuffling line. They hit that mark just four of nine times after the off week when the final personnel decisions were made.

But the Bears have had just one game with fewer than 100 rushing yards and Matt Fortes rushing average has risen steadily from below 4 yards per carry at the break (including 1.4 per rush vs. Seattle) to a career-best 4.5 per carry for the full season.

Having the same group intact since the break has been the key.

Its important mostly for them because they kind of get used to what each others going to do, Forte said. They jell together and they have to communicate with each other on what they see and how theyre going to block certain plays. Theyve got to communicate and if the same five are there together, theyre going to communicate better.
Difficult learning
Ironically, the complexities of the Martz offense, with its extensive use of different and shifting formations, was causing defensive coordinators to devise creative responses. That required even more adaptation by the line, on the fly.

Our offense gets a lot of different looks because of the formations we give and motions, and no one really replicates that, Kreutz said. You cant really see that on film until we play guys.

Once we learned more what the coaches wanted out of us, that was the turning point. The off week helped a lot. We kind of figured out who we were and who we wanted to be. We just learned how to execute the plays called better.

With the second season on the line, will the line have learned enough better?

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Is Adam Shaheen finally starting to live up to his potential in Bears offense?

Is Adam Shaheen finally starting to live up to his potential in Bears offense?

"Where is Adam Shaheen?"

It was a fair question and one that was uttered often by Bears fans through the first 11 weeks of the season.

The rookie tight end — a second-round pick (45th overall) this spring — had little impact on the 2017 season through 10 games, playing only around a quarter of the team's offensive snaps.

But Sunday's loss at the hands of the Detroit Lions marked the best game of Shaheen's young career. He caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown.

That total doubled his season yardage line, and his four catches were more than he had in the first nine games combined (three). Two of those three catches — and 39 yards — came in the Week 10 loss to the Green Bay Packers, one game prior to Sunday's.

He even made an impact as a blocker, too:

"These last two weeks, playing with the starters has been a big confidence-builder for me," Shaheen said. "Getting those early catches. Hopefully continue to build on it."

Shaheen has gotten his chance to show what he can do in a Bears offense that's missing veteran tight ends Zach Miller (out for the year with a knee injury) and Dion Sims (who missed Sunday with an illness), and he's taken a common sports trope — "next man up" — to heart.

"I feel like I've gotten better every game in the receiving role," Shaheen said. "Taking advantage of the opportunities I've been given.

"The more you rep it in games and the more you're actually out there running around, catching the ball, you build up some confidence."

And with that confidence comes more comfort in the offense and on the NFL gridiron for a raw tight end who played Division-II football at Ashland.

It's a cycle the Bears need to continue as the year moves on and delves into a focus on the future with the 2017 playoffs an extreme longshot at this point.

Even with Shaheen's big game and a clear rapport developing with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the rookie tight end wasn't in the game on the final drive when the Bears were running their two-minute drill.

Why?

It still comes down to how raw Shaheen is, along with fellow inexperienced players (running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen).

"In a two-minute situation, not everybody on the team knows all of that," Bears coach John Fox said. "We have Adam Shaheen, we have Mitchell Trubisky, we have Tarik Cohen — they are playing in their eighth games in their NFL careers, as rookies.

"They have a lot on their plate as it is, and they can't do everything. They're definitely good, young players, for sure."

View from the Moon: Bears 'siestas' continue, leaving progress difficult to find, but it’s there ... somewhat

View from the Moon: Bears 'siestas' continue, leaving progress difficult to find, but it’s there ... somewhat

Consider this a connect-the-dots exercise, with the end game being to figure out what the overall picture is. Because the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions was many things, a couple actually very good, but too many of them kinda-to-very bad...

The overarching point of the 2017 season, per senior Bears management, is progress. Not just on the part of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who had a fourth solid performance in six NFL starts; but on the Bears as a whole. A week after showing anything but, the Bears showed something that could masquerade as progress.

How real is it? The Bears in the past eight days have given few reasons to trust it.

Because while coming close against a respectable Lions (6-4) team counts for something, the Bears are still 3-7 at the end of the day and 3-13 under John Fox against the NFC North – a division winning percentage of .188, which would be lower than that of the Marc Trestman Bears (.250), who managed to win their three NFC North games in two seasons vs. Fox’s three.

As concerning perhaps, the loss left the Bears 3-9 under Fox in games decided by three or fewer points, the hallmark of what simplistically can be ID’d as “losing” teams.

“We’ve had a lot of close games, and it’s just finding a way to close those out,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to work towards that, and figure it out for sure.”

What makes “progress” difficult to see, though, is that the Bears do not play like a team either coached to be or with the proven ability to play at a professional level all the time. Teams with that problem typically make coaching changes at the ends of seasons, since the conclusion usually is that the talent can be there, just that the coach in hand, fair or not, can’t get it out of the roster.

“We’ve shown spurts and moments, like we have for some time now,” Fox summarized. “But we have lulls. We have siestas. We just don’t do it for 60 minutes. ... People have ups and downs. Well, we’re in a stage as a football team where we have those moments in games. We have to do a better job of coaching it and we have to do a better job of executing it in games.”

The Green Bay Packers were one kind of measuring standard last week, and the 3-7 Bears were embarrassed against a foundering team that had been soundly beaten by the Lions the week before the Bears faced them, and buried 23-0 at home Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens.

The Lions were a different kind of quiz, a real offense putting up more than 27 points per game. The Bears allowed the Lions their requisite 27 points (seven of those coming on a touchdown return of a Trubisky fumble), but put up nearly 400 yards and 24 points of their own in a game that ended on a Connor Barth missed field goal from 46 yards, Barth’s fifth miss in 11 attempts from beyond 40 yards.

(Barth’s miss may have been particularly bitter for Fox, after watching Detroit’s Matt Prater win the game from 52 yards – the same Matt Prater who kicked for Fox in Denver in 2011 when Fox’s Broncos beat the Bears in the Marion Barber Game with Prater field goals from 59 yards to tie with 3 seconds left, and from 51 yards to win in OT.)

“All these games in the NFL – they’re hard games – but when you have a game like this that you should win, you just have to win those games,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright. “I think with us, when we win one of those close games, it will help us get over the edge and we’ll start stacking them up on top of each other.”

Then again...

The Bears seemed to lose their compass in the third quarter, with one rushing yard on four attempts. But they finished with 222 yards and the way they amassed them mattered: 125 and a touchdown for Jordan Howard; 53 for Trubisky, a number of them on designed runs; and 44 plus a TD for Tarik Cohen – all combining to average 7.4 yards per carry.

Bigger picture, the Bears were in the position of having at least a chance to tie because Trubisky managed to drive the Bears 55 yards in the final 1:32 from the Chicago 17 to the Detroit 28. This would constitute something shiny lying there in the mud, and make no mistake: This is a big deal.

To put Trubisky in some kind of context: Rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman, the fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, replaced Tyrod Taylor in the Bills starting lineup Sunday, against a Los Angeles Chargers defense allowing opponents to complete more than 64 percent of their passes. Peterman completed 11 of 14 in the first half, about 79 percent. But – five of the Peterman “completions” were to Chargers.

DeShone Kizer has been in and out and back in the starting lineup for the Cleveland Browns, suffering through a rookie season with one of the worst teams arguably in NFL history. But – Kizer, with 12 interceptions vs. four TD passes, is one of the reasons the Browns are in various “worst ever” discussions.

Trubisky threw 30 passes without an interception on Sunday, and 65 without a pick over his past two games. He’s thrown 145 NFL passes with just two interceptions, an INT rate of 1.4 percent that ranks ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan and a list of others. Critics of his development can have their points, but the kid has learned ball security at an early NFL age even while averaging 32.4 pass plays per game.

The next step is getting his team over the top, because he is still completing just 53.1 percent of his passes and was missed badly on a number of throws on Sunday. His deft TD pass to tight end Adam Shaheen in the first half was NFL-perfect (where his guy or nobody catches it), but his throw low and behind running back Benny Cunningham at the goal line in the first quarter forced the Bears to settle for a field goal in a game decided ultimately by three points.

Trubisky clearly gets the big picture, too, pointing the thumb and not any fingers. He paused before answering a question about his rookie learning curve:

“I think adversity is a great teacher,” he said. “Overcoming the struggle is a great teacher. There’s no rookie excuse. You don’t get a freebie because you’re a rookie.

“My teammates trust me and they have confidence in me, so I’m preparing as I should. Coaches have me prepared and my teammates have my back. New situations are going to arise every time, but there are no excuses. I’m just looking at these opportunities as chances to overcome, and not dwell on it.”