Larry Mayer at chicagobears.com answers your questions:
“You recently stated that wide receiver is the Bears’ biggest offseason need. However, with the Bears being near the top of the league in sacks allowed again, wouldn’t the offensive line be a bigger concern?
Ryan , Illinois
“The Bears certainly allowed too many sacks for the second straight season, but I personally think it had more to do with the offensive scheme and the plays that were being called than the ability level of the offensive linemen. I think everyone is going to be shocked at how much better the line will look in 2012 (even with the same players). New coordinator Mike Tice no doubt will put a big emphasis on pass protection in terms of keeping more players in to block, chipping defensive ends with running backs and tight ends and getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker via three- and five-step drops.”
Mayer is hardly alone in this opinion. Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune and Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times have both expressed it. But I’m absolutely appalled by Mayer’s reasoning.
I expect this kind of thing from national writers who are covering 32 teams and can’t stay on top of the Bears alone every week. Many of those writers probably never saw a full Bears game beyond early season match ups with the Saints and Lions. But for anyone who knows what he’s talking about and who presumably saw every Bears game to say that the performance of the offensive line was the fault of Mike Matz‘s scheme is absurd. Mayer may have had a point early in the year. But his description is in no way representative of how the Bears actually played offense after that.
Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner expresses an opinion that’s closer to reality. Via Jensen:
“‘I think the most impressive part was the combination of Mike adjusting what they were doing because of all the struggles early in the year,’ Warner said, referring to a run when the Bears won five games in a row and the offense scored 32 points per game. ‘In my opinion, outside of Jay [Cutler] and Matt Forte, they don’t have any superstars on offense. They don’t have any go-to receivers. That guy who can separate themselves or gives you a match-up problem. They just don’t have that guy. So Mike had to adjust to the limitations.’”
Those adjustments included running the ball a great deal. Anyone who was actually watching will also note that most of the time, Martz kept extra guys in to chip and help the line, again, particularly late in the year after those first few games.
The real question isn’t whether the adjustments were made but why they were made and how much Martz had to do with it. How much of it was head coach Lovie Smith forcing the issue? Marz admittedly had “philosophical differences” with Smith. Did Smith force him to run the ball more than he wanted? Possibly.
In any case, there can be no doubt that the adjustments were made. And there can be little doubt that the Bears offensive line was absolutely miserable despite them. Jensen gives the statistics:
“According to Pro Football Focus, J’Marcus Webb was the worst full-time starting left tackle in the NFL this season.
“Webb had a rating of minus-24.7, which ranked 67th among offensive tackles, according to PFF.”
“For the second consecutive season, their offensive line ranked last in the league, according to STATS [, Inc.].”
The bottom line is that despite being given what I consider to be a great deal of help, the Bears offensive line showed itself for what it is – one of the worst, if not the worst, groups in the NFL. And the Bears badly need an upgrade there.