Bears’ offensive line acknowledges it needs to improve
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2011 11:22PM
Updated: November 9, 2011 4:53PM
No one should be complaining after the Bears demolished the Falcons in every phase during a 30-12 win on Sunday at Soldier Field, although had it been known the Bears would allow five sacks, few would’ve predicted victory, let alone total domination.
One game is hardly an accurate sample size, but it’s worth noting that the offensive line everybody agreed was the team’s biggest concern heading into the season is on pace to allow 80 sacks, which is 24 more than their league-leading total from last season.
The performance of the unit that will largely determine the team’s fate was acceptable if only because players readily acknowledged how much they must improve.
“I felt we took a step today,” veteran center Roberto Garza said. “We did a great job of communicating out there. Obviously, at times we unfortunately took a step back but overall we did a great [job]. It’s one game. We have to take it as that, learn from it and move forward. We had a great first half. The second half we didn’t finish as strong as we could have but we all got better today.”
Continued improvement from the offensive line, especially young tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi, is essential because the Bears will face stiffer tests than they did Sunday. The Falcons ranked 20th in sacks last season. They added veteran defensive end Ray Edwards, one of the most consistent defensive ends on the free-agent market, but division rivals Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit should all field stronger front fours, meaning Sunday’s effort might not be good enough against New Orleans and the Packers in coming weeks.
Not that every sack was the offensive line’s fault, mind you. Jay Cutler held the ball too long at least twice and any criticism must also be cushioned by Mike Martz having enough trust in the line to let Cutler throw the ball downfield more often then he did after the offensive coordinator emphasized the running-and short-passing games during the bye week last year.
After watching Olin Kreutz play for the Saints against the Packers on Thursday night, Garza might be in improvement at center. Right guard remains a work in progress although Chris Spencer was an adequate replacement after starter Lance Louis left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. Guard Chris Williams still looks lost at times when pulling and needs to be more physical.
Carimi was as advertised. The rookie was solid against the run but was beaten for a sack by Kroy Biermann early in the second quarter when he overextended, lost his balance and was shoved out of the way. All in all, not bad for his NFL debut, especially considering he was moved from left tackle to right tackle in training camp.
Webb had a tougher time of it. Working against John Abraham, who was tied for fifth in the league last season with 13 sacks, Webb played well on the first few series before the veteran began to make adjustments. By the end of the day, Webb was twice beaten to the outside and gave up sacks. He was also flagged for holding twice in the second half.
The good news is the mistakes Webb and Carimi are making have to do with footwork, balance and leverage and should be correctable.
The running game isn’t where it needs to be, either, but Martz stuck with it and it improved in the second half. Still, there’s a difference between ripping off a long run or two to make the stats look better and having a consistent running game.
“Both guys have gone out there and been professionals,” Garza said of Carimi and Webb. “They have worked hard every single day and gotten better. Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go still but those two guys are out there communicating and getting the job done and that’s impressive.”
It’s amazing how much better the Bears offense looks when Brian Urlacher has the ball under his arm and is racing toward the end zone. Averaging 3.3 yard per carry isn’t a major concern when Charles Tillman is ripping the ball away from an opposing running back. The offensive line surrendering five sacks isn’t as worrisome when the defensive line has five of its own.
But that isn’t always going to be the case, which is why the best thing Bears offensive linemen did Sunday was acknowledge how much room they have for improvement.