The Chicago Bears Retool: Offensive Line

It’s time to resume our retool of the Chicago Bears, this time focusing on the offensive line. Their second loss to the Green Bay Packers this season stung a little more than most (outside of 2010) because it officially eliminated them from playoff contention. It also showed that the issues we saw for most of the season were real, not the recent win-streak.

Several of the key figures in the loss have already been addressed in our retool process. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky needs to at least be challenged, if not outright replaced. His receivers cleaned up their errors and while the running backs were less productive this year compared to last, they were also impacted by the quarterback, coach, and offensive line.

Retooling the Chicago Bears Offensive Line

Out of Line

Injuries hit the Bears offensive line before the season even started when they lost off-season addition T.J. Clemmings, their projected swing tackle, for the season. Guard Kyle Long only lasted four games before landing on injured reserve too and probably should have been shut down sooner. And starting right tackle Bobby Massie just got shut down as well.

Chicago’s other tackle, Charles Leno, has had 11 penalties enforced against him, nearly doubling his total from all of 2018 of six. He’s been tagged for five holding calls; not only stopping plays but taking away positive yardage as well. He’s in year three of a four-year deal that will likely keep him here through the 2021 season so he needs to bounce back.

Massie’s deal allows a little more wiggle room and he can be cut after next season. Long has almost certainly played his final down for the Bears and possibly in his career. He has a club option for 2020 that will likely be declined. Rashaad Coward has been filling in and has been bad. But the team might not need to go far for a replacement.

Cody Whitehair began the season at guard after spending 2018 at center. James Daniels was the inverse. Head coach Matt Nagy had to switch the two back after struggles in protection. Whitehair has issues with shotgun snaps; just to paint a picture of how poorly the initial arrangement worked. It’s quite possible the Bears need a center and play both at guard.

Scheme Scene

The personnel was the same as last year but Chicago’s switch from a power blocking scheme to a zone-based one may have exposed the tackles. It is a switch they were always expected to make after Nagy brought in Harry Hiestand with him to Chicago. But so much effort went towards convincing us Jordan Howard was the issue and they extended Massie.

Howard was enjoying a renaissance with the Philadelphia Eagles before suffering a shoulder injury. He showed more burst than he did last year while his replacement, rookie David Montgomery looked timid and indecisive to start the year. Most important is Montgomery’s production, or lack thereof, has highlighted how poor the blocking has been.

Chicago’s offensive line ranks 31st in run blocking, per Football Outsiders. They were 28th last year so there has been some drop-off there but it hasn’t been massive. But their pass protection plummeted from seventh in 2018 to 20th this year. That kind of drop will sink any offense but the Bears had offensive challenges last year when the line played well.

An article from suggested it could simply be that Leno and Massie aren’t athletic enough for this scheme. Coward is mentioned too but that isn’t all too surprising from a converted defensive lineman. The assertion may be true, but they were at least solid in pass protection the year before. How did they get so much worse there?

Bears Retool: Offensive Line

Whatever the Bears do to retool this team, they have to include upgrading the offensive line. It’s going to be tough because of the contracts of their tackles. If they can only upgrade one, it will likely be Massie. Leno was in the top-10 in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate for the majority of the season. Massie was among the bottom-10 and Cornelius Lucas has been better.

Chicago might opt for adding another guard instead of playing both Whitehair and Daniels there. They need to add at least one new offensive lineman either way and should probably find a way to grab one on the interior and at tackle. That’s going to be tough with limited draft capital cap space given their various other holes. But they’d regret ignoring this group.

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