Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times says that the problem that the Bears have on the offensive line has no easy solutions. He’s got a good point:
“When the Bears had a quarterback issue, they turned to Nick Foles.
“When wide receiver Anthony Miller’s production dipped, they turned to rookie Darnell Mooney.
“With rookie tight end Cole Kmet still getting acclimated to the offense, they turned to Demetrious Harris.
“But an underperforming offensive line is much more problematic. A team-within-a-team, the issues are often hard to define. They take turns contributing to the problem — Bobby Massie gets beat on one play, Cody Whitehair the next and Charles Leno the one after that.
“And you usually can’t just plug one new guy in and fix it. In fact, that can create as many problems as it solves, given the chemistry and unspoken communication it takes to develop an outstanding offensive line.”
According to offensive line coach Juan Castillo, the Bears think that the solution is simply getting a better performance out of the men they have:
“It’s about fundamentals. It’s about doing something over and over so that you are able to make that block. This is what, five weeks? We still have a few left. The important thing for us, it’s a progression. We’ll get better every week.”
I have my doubts.
Fans clamored for better players along the offensive line all season. But the Bears put themselves in a bit of a bind. They’ve handed out big contracts to Whitehair, Massie and Leno that they can’t walk away from without taking a serious hit to their tight salary cap situation.
According to overthecap.com the Bears had roughly $44 million invested in Massie before 2020 and the cap hit would have been $12.1 million if they had cut him. Similarly, they had $46 million sunk into Leno and cutting him would have resulted in a $7.5 million cap hit. And that’s not including the price of replacing either or both with starter quality players. The cap hit after 2020 for both is more reasonable.
I wouldn’t have been impossible to move on from these players. But it would have been tough, especially in Massie’s case. They chose instead to invest in Robert Quinn, someone they badly needed, and to put their faith in Castillo.
There is also the problem that general manager Ryan Pace has a bad habit of stubbornly overestimating his talent at obvious positions of need. He did the same thing last year, sticking with the tight ends he had when fans called for more help at the position. The result was a disaster.
Standing pat on the offensive line isn’t looking like it was a much better decision this year.
In any case, no matter how good Castillo is, there’s only so much he can do with mediocre talent. And it’s evident that’s what the Bears have.
I’ve heard it said repeatedly by, among others, Potash himself that the Bears haven’t invested enough first round picks in the offensive line. I’m not sure that’s the issue. Though they haven’t been taking linemen with first round picks, both Whitehair and James Daniels were second rounders.
No, the problem isn’t a lack of investment in high picks. It’s where those picks have been invested.
The Bears and Pace have inherited their offensive line philosophy from the organization that he spent 14 years with before he was hired by the Bears, the Saints. They believe, rightfully I think, that the most important part of protecting the quarterback is keeping the pocket clean in front of him so he can step up. They have, therefore, invested in the interior part of the line with Whitehair and Daniels to go with, until recently, Kyle Long.
But the problem with that is that you are left with mediocre tackles. In pass protection, that apparently works for them. They currently rank 12th in the league with 8 sacks allowed.
But when it comes to the run game, offensive tackles who can win one-on-one blocks are important. And, no matter who the coach is, the Bears don’t have the talent there to play with the top half of the league.
That’s very unfortunate because the Bears have chosen to make the play action pass a major part of their game plan. In order to do that effectively, it helps to run the ball successfully.
True, it’s far more important to keep the opposition honest by continuing to try to run whether it’s successful or not, something Nagy has been continually criticized for not doing.
But if you don’t turn those run plays into yards, you continually end up in third and long. And that is exactly what has happened to the Bears. They currently rank 30th, converting third downs at a 33% clip.
Unfortunately, as Potash points out, there are no easy solutions for the Bears right now. And it is becoming increasingly evident that offensive tackle is going to have to bubble up to the top of Pace’s offseason list of positions to address.