Charles Leno

Bears All-Decade Team: Kyle Long, Charles Leno anchor O-line

Bears All-Decade Team: Kyle Long, Charles Leno anchor O-line

The Chicago Bears wrapped up their 100th season of football in disappointing fashion, but the 2010s provided Bears fans with some fun moments and personalities to cheer for.

In this nine-part series, we'll name our Bears All-Decade Team.

We've already covered linebackersdefensive linemenedge defenderscornerbackssafeties , wide receivers, quarterback and running backs. Next up: offensive line and tight ends.

Offensive Line

Kyle Long (guard), Roberto Garza (center), Charles Leno (tackle), Cody Whitehair (center/guard), Josh Sitton (guard)

The Bears haven't exactly been blessed with elite offensive line play in the 2010s, but they've managed to field five players over the last 10 years who each warrant recognition on this all-decade squad.

The first and most obvious is Long, who's been Chicago's vocal leader on and off the field since he arrived as a first-round pick out of Oregon back in 2013. He took the NFL by storm and was considered one of the best young linemen in the league after his rookie season; he was named to the All-Rookie team that year and was selected to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15. 

Injuries have gotten the best of Long since his last Pro-Bowl year and he hasn't managed more than nine starts in any season since 2015. Regardless, he's been the Bears' best offensive lineman of the decade.

Garza isn't far behind Long when it comes to the most memorable linemen of the 2010s. After beginning his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, Garza joined the Bears in 2005 and became a fixture in the starting lineup until 2014. He started 78 games in Chicago from 2010-14 and finished his career as a Bear with 145 total starts. He never received any all-star accolades or awards, but Garza was a huge part of the Bears' foundation for 10 years.

Leno, Jr., one of two players on this list who will likely enter the new decade as a starter, ended the 2010s as one of the Bears' most pleasant surprises. Leno was selected by the Bears with the 246th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, a draft slot that usually results in a player being a career backup, at best. Instead, Leno has developed into one of the most important players on the roster and one of the more competent starting left tackles in the NFL. He's started 78 games for the Bears and was selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl.

The other new-decade starter is Whitehair, who's been arguably the Bears' most valuable lineman when it comes to positional versatility and quality of play. Whitehair has started at both center and guard and has played both positions at a high level. The former second-round pick of the 2016 NFL draft has started all 64 games of his career and was selected to the 2016 All-Rookie Team and 2018 Pro Bowl. It's hard to imagine what the Bears' offensive line would be like if Whitehair wasn't in town. One thing's for sure: the offense would be in a lot of trouble.

Last but not least is Sitton, one of GM Ryan Pace's better free-agent decisions during his tenure with the Bears. Sitton signed with the Bears in 2016 after an eight-year career with the Green Bay Packers and immediately elevated the offensive line's toughness and effectiveness. His presence was short-lived (he started only 25 games in Chicago), but his impact was long-lasting. He made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Bears and was a key part in running back Jordan Howard finishing second in the NFL in rushing that year.

Tight End: Martellus Bennett
2013-15

Bennett played three seasons for the Bears, started 41 games and put up remarkable numbers at a position that's plagued Chicago since the days of Mike Ditka.

In 2014, Bennett caught 90 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that coach Matt Nagy could only dream of from a tight end in his offense. By the time Bennett's run in Chicago was over, he caught 211 passes for 2,114 yards and 14 scores. 

Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson at the heart of complete offensive performance

Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson at the heart of complete offensive performance

Allen Robinson posted his fourth-lowest receiving yards total and third-lowest reception total of the year in the Bears' potentially season-defining victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday.

His impact wasn't omnipresent — in a game where Mitch Trubisky, the runner, was completely unleashed and the Bears' defense, without four starters, locked down a talented Cowboys offense, there was much to cheer at Soldier Field.

But the plays Robinson made seemed to matter the most.

Early in the second quarter, it was a game-tying touchdown snare on a five-yard slant, delivered on-time and on-target by Trubisky. Then, two third-down catches on a drive that put the Bears ahead 17-7 at the half. The second of those catches was also his second touchdown of the game — with a first-and-goal from the eight yard line, the Bears had just run two futile jump-ball plays for Javon Wims.

Stagnation in goal-to-go situations has been a common lament for fans and pundits frustrated with an offense that, until the last three games, had appeared to drastically regress this season. Tonight, it was Robinson to the rescue. It's been that way all season, even without overly-gaudy receiving figures every single week. He is perhaps the most talented and accomplished skill player on the offense, and a bona fide safety blanket for his third-year quarterback.

So it's no surprise that in Trubisky's best game of the year (when factoring in the skill of the opponent and leverage of the situation) Robinson was at the heart of so many meaningful plays.

"I think for us [he and Trubisky] by having almost two seasons together, we're just trying to continue to work on whatever we can," Robinson said. Referring to the second touchdown, a play that Robinson saved from disaster by wrenching the ball from Cowboys LB, Jaylon Smith: "I knew it would be a bang-bang play. You know, that's something that we worked on all week and we knew that it would be bang-bang."

For Trubisky, it was a play that demanded and displayed the level of trust that he and Robinson have built. He, after all, had thrown an interception the quarter before into traffic on the Cowboys' side of the field.

"Just playing free. Just trusing my instincts, really trusting Allen," Trubisky said. "Really just trusting 12 [Robinson]. When I put it up in his area, he's going to come down with it."

"Those two got a connection right now... Let 'em keep doing it," Charles Leno said with a chuckle, of Trubisky and Robinson. "They look like they're just playing backyard football right now."

That must continue for the Bears, heading into a crucial stretch of the season that they've conjured from the jaws of collapse. The prevailing mantra for many in the locker room after the game was simple: One week at a time. 

Well, next week the Bears travel to Lambeau Field. In the team's debaculous defeat at the hands of the Packers on opening night, Robinson was a lone silver lining (see what I did there?), hauling in seven catches for 102 yards.

"We're definitely on the verge of going up right now," Robinson said. "We're finding our groove."

It certainly appears so, and it comes just in the nick of time. 

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Is the Bears' inconsistent run game fixable in 2020?

Is the Bears' inconsistent run game fixable in 2020?

The Bears identified David Montgomery as the centerpiece of their run game overhaul earlier this year, trading up in the third round to draft him with the 73rd overall pick. Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, then, didn’t envision Montgomery averaging just 3.5 yards per carry a dozen games into his rookie year. 

But that’s where the Bears stand with Montgomery, who’s rushed 172 times for 594 yards as the Bears enter the final four games of 2019. It feels like Nagy trusts Montgomery, but not the Bears’ run game. 

“I’m very happy with where he’s at,” Nagy said last week. “Love the kid to death and I think he has a really bright future.”

But the Bears need to get more production out of Montgomery, whose three best games have come against bad and depleted defenses (Washington, the Chargers, the Lions). He’s averaged fewer than three yards per carry in five games this year, leading Nagy — who has a quick trigger finger with going away from the run anyway — to have games like Green Bay and New Orleans where he shows no trust in the run game at all. 

But the Bears’ positive assessment of Montgomery is grounded in reality. All the things he did at Iowa State have showed up in the NFL — the shiftiness, the toughness, the patience, the vision, etc. It’s how he was able to turn this...

And then this...

... Into a 10-yard gain and a first down on the Bears’ game-winning drive against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. The stop-start ability, patience and toughness to grind out five extra yards after contact are all reasons why the Bears wanted Montgomery, and felt comfortable trading Jordan Howard — who, based on his running style, would’ve been stopped at the line of scrimmage — to the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Plays like that one are why Nagy, in the game, said he felt like the Bears were gaining five yards per carry (Montgomery averaged 4.7) — a feel which helped him open up his playbook and call more running plays. 

“It makes it a lot easier, because it’s open to what the next play call’s gonna be based off of second-and-3, second-and-4, second-and-5,” Nagy said. “It’s way easier. You felt that. Now, every week is different, because there’s some weeks where you play a defensive line or a defensive front that’s totally (different). 

“You can’t just put on Tecmo Bowl and all the sudden be playing this front on arcades. … It’s different every week, so we’ve gotta try to scheme things up as much as we can. But last week felt good.”

The question, then, becomes: How do the Bears get this out of Montgomery on a consistent basis, and not just against sub-optimal run defenses missing guys like Damon “Snacks” Harrison?

Part of it, certainly, is Nagy’s scheme and playcalling. Montgomery is the kind of back who can wear down a defense with his physicality, even if he’s only gaining three yards per carry over the first two or three quarters. There needs to be a greater long-term commitment to getting Montgomery touches. 

Of note: It does not necessarily mean running more under center. Montgomery is averaging three yards per carry when the Bears are under center (91 attempts) and four yards per carry from the shotgun (81 attempts), though that latter number is skewed thanks to a 55-yard run against the Chargers in Week 8. Even removing that run from Montgomery’s shotgun runs, he’s averaging 3.3 yards per carry in those — still higher than his under center average. 

But there’s a larger issue in play here, and it’s the Bears’ offensive line. 

It’s a problem that pre-dates Montgomery and Nagy’s scheme and playcalling, too. Pulling from Football Outsiders’ offensive line database:

2017
3.65 adjusted line yards (28th)
58% power success (26th)
26% stuffed (28th)
1.2 second level yards (11th)

2018 
3.92 adjusted line yards (28th)
67% over success (18th)
20.5% stuffed (22nd)
0.96 second level yards (31st)

2019 (through Week 12) 
3.61 adjusted line yards (29th)
46% power success (30th)
21% stuffed (24th)
0.73 second level yards (32nd)

The pattern here: The Bears have not been efficient running the ball with different schemes and running back depth charts, though they've largely had the same personnel on their offensive line. Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long and Bobby Massie have accounted for 66.8 percent of the snaps played by Bears offensive linemen in the last three years, serving well as pass protectors but not as run blockers. 

The addition of James Daniels in 2018 did not help improve the Bears’ run game, nor has replacing Long with Rashaad Coward in 2019 under the watch of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. 

And the Bears have little wiggle room for changes to this unit in the offseason. Massie and Whitehair signed new contracts in 2019 and aren’t going anywhere. Leno carries a dead cap figure of over $7 million in 2020. Daniels’ cap hit is a shade over $1.5 million next year, too, making him a valuable asset for a team lacking gobs of cap space. 

Effectively, you can expect all four of those players to return in 2020, with the only question being where Daniels and Whitehair play on the interior. At this point in their careers, Leno, Whitehair and Massie are all who they are, for better or for worse (Whitehair, to be fair, is still one of the Bears’ best players). So expecting significant improvement from that group may not be fair, Daniels aside. 

That leaves right guard as the position up for grabs, with Long likely to be cut and Coward likely to slide into a reserve role in 2020. But how much improvement, realistically, can the Bears get out of one addition to their offensive line room?

Washington’s Brandon Scherff is the top guard free-agent-to-be, but the Bears would have to get creative — and not address other holes on the roster — to sign him to, say, a five-year, $65 million deal with $35 million or so guaranteed (he might even command more than that). Someone like New Orleans’ Andrus Peat, a former top-10 pick who’s currently out with an arm injury, could be a less-pricey — but still pricey — option, given he was a Pro Bowler in 2018. 

The Bears could also target a guard with one of their two second-round picks, seeing as they used one on Whitehair (2016) and Daniels (2018). 

It feels like the Bears need a physical brawler to play right guard, sort of along the lines of what Long was in his prime. But those guys are not necessarily easy to find, especially with limited resources. 

This is the root of the Bears’ run game problems. An offensive line consistently generating a run push would give Nagy the confidence to call more running plays, giving Montgomery more opportunities to carve out a consistent four or five yards per carry. 

But finding the solution to this problem does not appear easy. And that may mean the Bears go through 2020 without an effective run game, again. 

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