Under any metric you'd care to measure, the Chicago Bears' offensive line has been a complete and total disaster this season. The Bears have surrendered 27 sacks in 2010 -- the Philadelphia Eagles rank second with 20. Jay Cutler(notes) has been under constant siege, with the two most notable implosions coming in a nine-sack first half against the New York Giants, and a complete embarrassment against the Seattle Seahawks last week in which the ‘Hawks were able to bring free blitzers at will to take Cutler down.
Some experts are blaming Cutler, saying that he doesn't get rid of the ball quickly enough. Some are blaming offensive coordinator Mike Martz, because it's the general practice of a Martz offense to sacrifice protection for production. Some are blaming the linemen themselves, but the lack of continuity along that line is an equal problem; moving Chris Williams from left tackle to left guard last week was just the most obvious indication of desperation in that regard.
When you look at Chicago's line, the primary problem appears to be a total inability to adjust to changing circumstances; the protection calls that are obvious to most teams seem foreign to the Bears. Merrill Hoge brought this up on Sunday's edition of ESPN's NFL Matchup show.
The root of that issue was pointed out in the preseason, and the man responsible was offensive line coach Mike Tice. Apparently, Tice uses as many as 37 different line protection calls, but he wasn't going to "unleash" them early on, frequently leaving Williams in one-on-one situations he couldn't handle. Why? Um ... after this explanation, we're still not sure.
As an offensive line, you have to be embarrassed as a unit. You struggle just identifying some of the most elementary blitzes in all of football. When people are outside the box it is like it's the Kentucky Derby. All five guys have got blinders on and all they see is their lane.
"You have to carry a lot of protections, because you really think you know what the other guys are going to do, but sometimes you don't know what they are going to do," Tice said. "You have to have ways to adjust to that. It could be you throw a protection out on a certain day and say let's not do that, even though that was one of the ones you worked on and it was a major one in your plan. Sometimes you need to go to protections to help other players that might be having an off night. [You may say] let's major in this protection so we can keep the tight end in. All of those things come into play, so you need to carry that many protections."
But with all those allegedly advanced concepts in mind, Tice's choice to not teach and not use the calls in preseason games, and to not give to help to Williams when he faced Julius Peppers(notes) in training camp ... those decisions are coming back to bite the Bears. Part of the reason that line continuity is is important is that linemen need to know how to work together on protection calls. If you want to dig down and get to the source of Chicago's blocking issues, it's that above Martz, Cutler, or the lack of talent. Mike Tice handicapped this line before the season even started.
- Mike Martz