Looking back – and ahead – at Bears offseason: Unsettled O-line needs time together


Looking back – and ahead – at Bears offseason: Unsettled O-line needs time together

In the final edition of a three-part series, takes a look at the Bears offensive line heading into training camp.

The Bears enjoyed a 2013 season with the same five offensive linemen starting all 16 games, contributing to reaching an 8-6 peak in the first Marc Trestman year before the defense allowed 87 points over the final two games to miss the playoffs.

Last season the Bears started the same five linemen for as many as three straight games only once. And four of those five (tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills, center Brian de la Puente and guard Michael Ola) were not starting as the final minicamp concluded; de la Puente is no longer on the roster.

Meaning: Absolutely nothing beyond left guard Matt Slauson and presumably center Will Montgomery seemed settled during minicamp, and what the line looks like on Aug. 1 when the pads come on in Bourbonnais will be only temporarily resolved in the next few weeks.

[MORE BEARS: Decision on Kyle Long involves more than just Long]

“I've told the players: You've got to start somewhere,” coach John Fox said. “It's not where you start the race, it's where you finish. I can't predict what's going to happen at camp. I know we will move people.”

Kyle Long’s movement has been amply documented and debated; right tackle, left tackle, right guard. Vladimir Ducasse was signed from the Minnesota Vikings and took all of the No. 1 snaps at right guard through minicamp. Charles Leno spent time at right and left tackle. Mills was out with an appendix problem. Bushrod did not practice in minicamp, although his pairing with Slauson has been a strength on a line without many, and Slauson was able to start just five games last season because of two different injuries.

Quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end are set for at least the beginning of camp, pending wideout Kevin White’s expected elevation to the No. 1 offense. But the offensive line has yet to practice together in what is a clear No. 1 unit and that cannot be the case by the time the Bears get into the preseason games at Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the season, Bears fans!]

“Whether you’re zone blocking or man blocking, gap blocking, draw blocking, as long as you’re on the same page, it always should be coordinated,” said offensive line coach Dave Magazu. “Sometimes the defense dictates that you’re not going to look so smooth. If they’re moving around, they can get you out of synch a little bit. But there’s where ‘zone’ helps you a lot, because folks are coming to you. Sometimes that looks a little more smooth.”

And “smooth” only comes from working together as a unit.

Previous: Looking back – and ahead – at Bears offseason: Who anchors D-line? 

Previous: Looking back – and ahead – at Bears offseason: LB competition  

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

USA Today

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

During the critical fourth-quarter Oakland Raiders drive for a game-winning touchdown, one former Pro Bowl’er and NFL observer remarked to this writer that he was surprised to see a lot of hands on hips and mouth-breathing by members of the Bears defense – two common signs of being gassed.

Critiquing conditioning – or lack of – is problematic the way judging pain tolerance is. And if the Raiders score were an isolated incident, the question likely doesn’t come up.

But something is amiss. While the Bears defense remains among the NFL’s best, at least statistically, a shadow of concern is falling over the defense and its ability to close out games that it has within its reach.

The Bears held fourth-quarter leads over Denver and Oakland and allowed go-ahead touchdowns. They were rescued by Eddy Piñeiro’s 53-yard field goal in the final second. No such rescue in London.

Fully half of the eight touchdowns scored by Bears opponents in 2019 have come in fourth quarters. (The Bears themselves have not scored a single TD in any fourth quarter this season, but that’s a separate discussion.) By contrast, last season the defense did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of the final five regular-season games.

The temptation is to look only at the numbers, which are in fact positive. Even with the 24 points the Raiders scored against them in London, the Bears ranked second only to New England in scoring stinginess (13.8 ppg.) and fifth in yardage allowed (312 ypg.).

But the Bears have 17 sacks as a team; only three of those have come in fourth quarters.

Opposing quarterbacks have passed at an 81.3 rating in first halves; they are throwing at a 91.4 clip in second halves.

The defense has allowed 16 first downs in first quarters; 21 in seconds; 20 in thirds.

In 2019 fourth quarters, 34 first downs allowed.

Pulling the camera back for a wider view, extending back to include the disturbing 2018 playoff loss:

Vs. Philadelphia
Eagles drive 60 yards in 12 plays and nearly 4 minutes to score game-winning TD with :56 remaining. Cody Parkey’s double-doink overshadows fact that Bears defense forces Eagles into only two third downs and allows winning score on a fourth down.

Vs. Green Bay
With the Chicago offense sputtering all game and in need of a short field, Packers go on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:33 to set up a field goal to go up 10-3 deep in the fourth quarter.

At Denver
Inept Broncos offense scores 11 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-3 Bears lead, driving 62 yards in 12 plays, converting two fourth downs and a two-point conversion. Denver’s second-half drives: 41 yards, 56 yards, 84 yards, 62 yards.

Vs. Washington
Bears build 28-0 lead before one of NFL’s worst offenses scores a pair of largely meaningless second-half TD’s.

Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Drive 92 yards in 13 plays for TD before Bears stiffen to stop two-point PAT and next Minnesota possession.

Vs. Oakland (London)
Raiders win game with 92-yard drive that includes fourth-down conversion on punt fake run despite Bears leaving No. 1 defensive unit in, anticipating fake.

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

USA Today

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

Remember that time when the Bears tried out like 47 kickers and put them through a wide variety of arbitrary tests all while fan favorite Robby Gould was using the team's desperation as leverage to become the NFL's highest-paid kicker? Classic! 

It's been like three months since those totally-sane summer days, and reader, things have not gone so hot for Gould: 

Meanwhile, Eddy P is not only 8/9 on the season, but is already well on his way to becomming a fan favorite. We're already calling him Eddy P! After 5 games! 

That said, we won't truly know if the Bears made the right decision until Piñeiro beats out several Hall of Famers -- including someone credited for literally starting the NFL -- on the path to winning an offseason bracket-style fan vote.