Chicago Bears starting right tackle Lance Louis, arguably the Bears' most consistent and versatile lineman through the course of this season, struggled mightily in Week 13 against the Chiefs' aggressive 3-4 defensive scheme. Up until this past Sunday, he has ably filled the vacancy created when rookie first rounder Gabe Carimi was lost for the season. He has drawn praise from coach Lovie Smith and offensive line coach Mike Tice for his flexibility and studious approach.
However, the Kansas City contest painted a different picture. Film review shows Louis allowing five of Kansas City's seven sacks – the Chiefs had 13 total sacks entering the game. Unquestionably athletic – demonstrated by his touchdown-saving tackle the previous week against the Raiders and the fact he played tight end at San Diego State – Louis displayed poor footwork and balance, lost his confidence and became a liability.
G Lance Louis & QB Caleb Hanie
Later on, Houston rushed Louis up field before turning inside, using a swim move and stripping Hanie on a play in the fourth quarter that resulted in a sack for Derrick Johnson. Houston, a nightmare for the Bears all day, went on to collect three sacks and a forced fumble. Louis was also whistled for a holding call in the first half against Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson. Fortunately for the team, it didn't result in a safety, as the penalty appeared to occur in the end zone.
Neither the play calling nor quarterback Caleb Hanie helped Louis. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for seven-step drops 10 times in the game. Four of those drops resulted in sacks. Hanie was not stepping up in the pocket when pressure came from the edges on deep drops, which led to hits and eventually sacks.
Louis faces another huge challenge this Sunday when Chicago travels to Denver to face the red-hot Broncos. Rookie outside linebacker Von Miller, the second overall pick in last April's draft out of Texas A&M, is expected back in the Denver lineup after missing last week's game against Minnesota with a minor thumb injury, and will be matched up against Louis. Miller has developed into an explosive rusher in the Broncos' base 4-3 system, piling up 10.5 sacks, third in the NFL entering last week's games. Combined with defensive end Elvis Dumervil (6.5 sacks), the duo has been dubbed as the Mile High City's version of Batman and Robin.
In a game they desperately need to win to maintain playoff positioning, look for the Bears to plot a conservative strategy offensively to try to exploit Miller, who plays strong side linebacker on first and second down and comes off the edge in passing situations. Expect Chicago to use screen passes and dump offs to the running backs to take advantage of his coverage weaknesses and upfield aggressiveness. Louis will need to utilize his athleticism to maintain his footwork, anchor and avoid getting beat to the outside.
During the Bears Insider program earlier this week on WBBM Newsradio 780, Martz mentioned Denver's tendency to overload one side, bringing blitz pressure from several angles and scrambling pass protection. He referenced the old football adage "getting a hat on a hat", but his point underscored the importance of Louis, and the rest of the front five, working in unison and communicating effectively to carry out their assignments. Hanie, and the Bears' 2011 season, could be riding on it.
Jeff Curts has written for the Bleacher Report, Examiner.com, NFL Draft Dog and published The Slant...NFL Draft Newsletter. Curts is a graduate of Sports Management Worldwide, having completed the Scout & General Manager course under the direction of former NFL scout and current Sporting News draft expert Russ Lande. Jeff is founder and publisher of the Web site Bears Claws and hosts the program "Bears Claws" on BlogtalkRadio.