Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2011 Bears Position Reviews: The Offensive Line

It's tough to be a Bears offensive lineman. It really is. Although the sack total (49) certainly makes it seem that not much changed between last year and 2010 (56), the fact is the Bears offensive line made some positive strides last year. As I mentioned before, it's worth noting that the Bears allowed 23 sacks in 10 games with Cutler, and just 5 in the last 5 games, vs. 26 in 6 games of Hanie/McCown. It's also worth noting that the guy who was supposed to be the key to the line's resurgence, Gabe Carimi, played less than two full games, and that Chris Williams, Chris Spencer, and Lance Louis all suffered from injuries at some point throughout the season. The outstanding rushing totals: 2015 yds, 4.4 ypc, 10 TDs are evidence of the fact that they have the bulk necessary to be successful in that department and pave the way for big years for Forte and Bush next year. Finally, no one can overstate just how much of an effect Mike Martz had on the sack totals, since there's only been two seasons in his entire career as an offensive coordinator or head coach when his team allowed less than 40 sacks.

Excuses aside, however, no one is going to pretend that this offensive line doesn't need to improve. The fact is, however, that it's hard to say the answer is to bring in new players, when they have some promising pieces that just need to stay healthy, and some guys who have enough talent that they can't be abandoned yet.

#73 J'Marcus Webb: 16 games, 16 games started, 14 sacks allowed, 8 false starts, 4 holds.
The numbers are godawful. There's no way to hide that. It's sad to see how much of a beating J'Marcus has taken all offseason, because he really isn't as bad as the numbers say he is. He's still a very athletic guy with prototypical left tackle size. Up until Cutler went down, he actually had a Positive rating from Pro Football Focus, and he maintained a positive rating all year long in run blocking, where he's an absolute mauler. His numbers absolutely tanked due to three bad games: week 5, in Detroit, where he false started all over the damn place and had a terrible time with Cliff Avril, and weeks 13 and 14, when Kansas City's stout front seven and the Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil combo, combined with Caleb Hanie's awful pocket presence, led to 11 total sacks in two games (not all on Webb). Again though, it's worth noting that four of the seven sacks in the Kansas City game came on seven step drops, as did several in the Denver game. Although the numbers are what they are, I still don't think there's any reason to give up on J'Marcus. Could they find competition for him? Absolutely, and they should also consider flipping Carimi and Webb if need be, but I think J'Marcus will surprise in 2012. I really do.

The one thing that is entirely on J'Marcus, however, is the penalties, and there's just no excuse for that many. If he can cut those in half, that alone would send his ratings up.

#74 Chris Williams: 9 games, 9 games started, 1 sack allowed, 2 false start, 0 holds.
Chris Williams is a hard luck player if I've ever seen one. For one, it's not his fault that Jerry didn't know about his back injury. For another, I've always felt it was unfair of the team to boot him inside after less than 2 full starts at left tackle in 2010. It's hard to shed a bust label with that little playing time. That said, the move was working out for Chris, as he played very well down the stretch in 2010 and was off to a stellar start in 2011. He allowed just one sack, but his real strength was run blocking, and his ability to swing out was a major factor in Forte's success in the first half. It's no coincidence that Forte started to struggle after Williams went down. There's a possibility the Bears may give Chris another shot at tackle this year if Webb falters, but I think the best thing for the team would be to try and get a full year of continuity out of Webb and Williams together on the left side.

#63 Roberto Garza: 16 games, 16 games started, 1 sack allowed, 0 false starts, 1 hold.
I love being right. It's like a goddamn addiction, and frankly, I'm going to just say that when it comes to the great Garza/Kreutz debate of 2011, I WAS RIGHT. Garza was solid in his first year as a full time center, a vast improvement over Kreutz in pass blocking and a mild improvement in run blocking. He was also capable of snapping in the shotgun, didn't false start, and also didn't retire less than halfway into the season. That's really all I wanted. Thanks, Roberto. I'd say something about his age, but I'm not terribly worried. If Garza declines, they have Spencer on board to take over.

#60 Lance Louis: 14 games, 13 games started, 10 sacks allowed, 3 starts, 0 hold.
Lance's numbers also have to be taken with a grain of salt, since he was playing out of position for most of the year. Even then, however, his numbers were much better before Cutler went down. Louis, like Webb, earned his poor rating mostly through total breakdowns in week 13 and 14, and was a plus run blocker and okay pass protector the rest of the year. A move back in side next year will help. Louis was the best Bears lineman when he was healthy in 2010, and he's still a serviceable guy at guard. I just hope not to see him at right tackle again.

#72 Gabe Carimi: 2 games, 2 games started, 1 sack allowed, 0 false starts, 0 holds.
His knee is always going to scare us, but you'll never find an offensive lineman without knee concerns. He held his own quite well in the preseason and in a tough matchup against John Abraham in the season opener. He may get an opportunity on the left side next year, but he's still got the potential to be a Pro Bowl right tackle. Just stay healthy, Gabe.

#67 Chris Spencer: 15 games, 14 games started, 1 sack allowed, 3 false starts, 1 hold.
Chris was a surprisingly good find last year. Despite the fact that he started 14 games st guard, not his natural position of center, he was the most effective starter the Bears had over the course of the season. He was a solid run blocker, a serviceable pass protector, and he was very rarely penalized. Kudos to Jerry Angelo for one of his last good signings. Even if he doesn't start next year, he's a quality backup along any of the three interior line positions. That's a rarity in the recent history of Bears football.

#70 Edwin Williams: 15 games, 7 games started, 0 sacks allowed, 1 false start, 0 hold.
Edwin Williams, according to Pro Football Focus, was the highest rated player the Bears had on the line all season. It's interesting to note that he's started 10 games over the last two years and allowed just one sack. While he's not a great run blocker (not a terrible one either) he's the only guard the Bears have that's really a good, not just serviceable, pass blocker. Angelo and Tice should get some credit for picking him off of waivers in 2010, as he's a quality back up at the least.

#68 Frank Omiyale: 16 games, 3 games started, 4 sacks allowed, 7 false starts, 0 holds.
You can say all you want about J'Marcus Webb's 14 sacks allowed, at least he was better than Frank could have ever been, considering Frank's 4 sacks and 7 penalties in THREE FUCKING STARTS projects to 21 sacks and 37 penalties over the course of a full season. My God. It's hard to imagine a more worthless player than Frank, or one that got more undeserved chances to start. He was just plain awful in every way possible, and I cannot express the joy in my heart upon hearing that Emery cut the bastard. I hope Carpenter and Okung tear their everything next year and Seattle has to endure 16 games of Frank. I want someone else to know my suffering. Seriously, fuck you, Frank Omiyale.

That's it for now. It'll be really interesting to see how the Bears starting five shakes out next year, because there's a lot of quality depth on the interior in the Williamses, Spencer, Louis, and Garza. If Carimi can stay healthy, the only real question mark is left tackle, and I assume we'll see a competition between Chris Williams, J'Marcus Webb, and a potential rookie to be named later. The fact is, the silver lining in the disaster that was the injury plagued line last year was that many guys got a chance to play, and several of them played well. Other than Garza, there's still youth on their side, as every other lineman on the roster is still south of 30. I know I said this before last season (and it was looking like I was right ten games in), but the Bears really can put together a good offensive line with the talent they have. It's going to take the right combination of health, experience, and playcalling, but they're capable of big things. Sometimes the numbers really don't tell the whole story.