In the first game of last season, the Chicago Bears' offensive line gave up four sacks against the Detroit Lions. In Week 2, just one sack, but Cutler was hurried for most of the first half and was knocked down five times. In Week 3, three sacks to the Green Bay Packers.
Yet everything came to a head in the Week 4 matchup versus the New York Giants. In a nearly unprecedented display, the Bears' line allowed nine sacks on Cutler in the first half. He suffered a concussion on the eighth sack and missed the game's second half, as well as the Carolina Panthers game the following week.
In the second half, the line again was miserable. Backup Todd Collins was knocked out of the game in the fourth after getting blindsided by linebacker Michael Boley. Third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie was thrown into the fire with about three minutes left to play, and was promptly sacked.
QB Jay Cutler
Alan Maglaque/US Presswire
The 10 total sacks the Chicago offensive line allowed were just two short of an NFL record. The team would go on to lose two of its next three games, giving up 13 more sacks in the process. If not for Lovie Smith's sit down meeting with coordinator Mike Martz the following week – in which the head coach basically mandated the team run the ball more – the front five could have potentially broken many unwanted records. As it was, the Bears finished 2010 with 56 sacks, the most in the league and six more than any other NFL team.
There's a common belief that permeates most Bears conversations, in which much of the credit is given to offensive line coach Mike Tice for molding something out of nothing last season. Indeed, the team only gave up 25 more sacks after the Week 8 bye, but that's still more than Indianapolis, Atlanta, New England and the Giants gave up all season. The fact Cutler ended the year with an 86.3 QB rating – a point better than Eli Manning – and just 16 interceptions – less than both Eli and Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees – is a testament to his natural talent and toughness.
Yet this can't go on if the Bears are to have any realistic hopes of making the Super Bowl. Tice is not a miracle worker.
Pro Football Focus recently applied a formula to each NFL offensive lineman with at least 200 snaps last season. The formula equates a quarterback hit or hurry to 0.75 of a sack. The result is what they call the Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) number:
((Sacks + (0.75 * Hits) + (0.75 * Hurries)) / Pass Pro Snaps) * 100
In this formula, the lower the number, the better. The top left tackle from 2010 was Miami's Jake Long, with a 2.71 PBE.
Drop all the way down to the bottom part of the list and you find Frank Omiyale, who had a 7.18 PBE, good for fourth worst in the NFL. It's amazing to consider he was even worse as a left guard in 2009.
On the other side, it's even uglier. Rookie J'Marcus Webb was the absolute worst right tackle in the league. His 9.18 PBE was the worst rate on the right side, and the second worst of any tackle regardless of which side they were stationed.
Given these numbers, it's not surprising the Bears invested a first-round pick in former Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi. He'll obviously bring some needed fire, strength and nastiness on the outside, whether it's on the left or right end. And even if he turns into a total bust, it's hard to imagine him doing any worse than Omiyale or Webb.
OT Chris Williams
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
As far as guards go, it doesn't get much better. Left guard Chris Williams (4.72 PBE) was eighth worst in the NFL, while right guard Roberto Garza (4.26 PBE) was 17th worst in the league.
For this reason, it only makes sense for the Bears to go after a big-name free agent guard. They've partially upgraded the tackles, now they need to address the interior. Don't be surprised if Chicago makes a hard run at guys like Carl Nicks (2.34 PBE, 12th best), Davin Joseph, Harvey Dahl (2.23 BPE, ninth best), Justin Blalock or Daryn Colledge.
The one bright spot from last season was Olin Kreutz. I have given him a hard time the past two years because of an apparent drop off in production. Many of my past "X and O Show" columns have called him out for his poor play. But as a whole, he still seems to be performing at a high level. His 1.77 PBE was the ninth best of any center in 2010.
While he is on the downswing of his career, he still has some game left in him, which is why it should be a top priority for the front office to re-sign Kreutz, who is currently an unrestricted free agent. He's a stabilizing force in the middle, something that cannot be overlooked.
If the Bears can bring in one more interior lineman, coupled with the addition of Carimi and re-signing Kreutz, expect the front five to be vastly improved next season. Remember, when you're the very worst, the only place to go is up.
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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