Relieving the Pressure

Numbers don't normally lie. Such is the case with the Bears' offensive line, which gave up the most sacks in the league in 2010. Can Gabe Carimi cure what ails this front-five unit?

Besides turnovers, sacks have the largest impact on the outcome of a game. Sacks often stall drives, shift momentum or knock opposing offenses out of field goal range. A sack can completely turn a game around for either team. It's the reason left tackles, most of which are charged with blocking the quarterback's blindside, are arguably the most important players on the field – and paid so accordingly.

Last season, Chicago's offensive line surrendered 56 sacks to opposing defenses – easily the most in the NFL. The front five gave up a whopping 10 sacks in just 60 minutes of play against the New York Giants in Week 4.

Pressure – defined as a hurry, knockdown or sack – can derail an offensive game plan and put enough fear in a quarterback's head so as to render him ineffective throughout the course of a game. If a signal caller is preoccupied with what's going on in front of him, he'll never be able to focus downfield where plays have to be made.

So it was for the Bears last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago's offense allowed pressure on 46.3 percent of Jay Cutler's drop backs in 2010. The polarizing passer takes a lot of heat for his decision making, yet it would be difficult for any quarterback to post gaudy numbers with a defender in his face on nearly every other pass play. The fact he was able to toss 23 touchdowns compared to just 16 interceptions – less than both Peyton Manning and Drew Brees – is a testament to his ability to put bad plays behind him.

The Bears offensive line accumulated 3,327 total pass protection snaps last year. As a unit, they were responsible for 223 pressures, or 6.7 percent. That was the highest percentage in the league. When one looks at how poorly the group played, it's amazing the team had such a successful season.

OT Gabe Carimi
Al Messerschmidt/Getty

Much of that credit can be given to offensive line coach Mike Tice, who molded the unit into serviceability by the second half of the season. In essence, he created something out of nothing.

With the recent drafting of offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, Tice has a new toy to play with, one that should immediately provide an overall upgrade. Yet Carimi is known more for his prowess as a run blocker. So much so that, even though he played four years at left tackle in college, many consider him a better fit on the right side. Whether or not he's athletic enough to man the weak side at the NFL level remains to be seen.

Carimi will definitely give running back Matt Forte's numbers a boost, but will he do the same for Cutler? To answer this question, one needs to take a look at the collegiate film of the former-Wisconsin product.

What many fail to realize is that, while playing in the Big Ten, Carimi went up against many of the top defensive linemen in this year's draft. He had the opportunity to face Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, as well as having to face his former teammate J.J. Watt in practice every day.

In nearly every one of these matchups, Carimi came out on top. In the 2010 Ohio State matchup, he took down Heyward to spring running back John Clay for a 16-yard, first-quarter run to the OSU 14. On the next snap, the left tackle rode Heyward inside and away from Clay, who took the handoff and went 14 yards for a 14-0 lead five minutes into the contest. On 3rd and 10 from the OSU 24, QB Scott Tolzien used a kick-out block by Carimi that stymied Heyward and paved the way for the passer to score on a bootleg.

In the Iowa tilt, Carimi set up two power runs by Clay around the left corner by locking out Clayborn on both plays, setting up a UW 33-yard first quarter field goal. Clayborn did manage to sack QB Scott Tolzien for a 14-yard loss in the second quarter, but the left tackle pounced on the ball after the passer had fumbled it. In the third quarter, Clayborn was simply flattened by Carimi's scramble block that paved the way for a 2-yard touchdown run by Clay between his left tackle and guard. Clayborn finished with two tackles (1 solo), a 14-yard sack and one QB pressure.

Against Purdue, the left tackle had touchdown-resulting blocks against Kerrigan on both of the team's scores on the ground. On 4th and 1, Carimi's lift into Kerrigan gave him the leverage needed to see Clay run for a 1st down. On the next snap, QB Scott Tolzien rolled left, where Carimi's slip block on the Purdue All-American allowed the Badgers' passer time to connect with Jarred Abbrederis on a 7-yard touchdown toss to give Wisconsin a 13-10 lead at the start of the second half. Kerrigan finished with two tackles (1 solo).

In three matchups versus defensive ends taken in this year's first round, Carimi excelled. He gave up one sack total and overmatched his opponents in the run game. Based on what he accomplished in these games, odds are he'll be able to step right in and perform well at the next level. As a run blocker, he should be a dominant force. And it looks as if he has quick enough feet to protect Cutler's blindside as well.

Tice will obviously make the final decision as to where Carimi will play, but all indications are he'll be a boon to the passing game, which should allow Cutler to develop even further.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider

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