The Chicago Bears are 2-3 on the season thanks in large part to an offense that has consistently come up short when the team has needed it most. The past two weeks combined, the offense has just three total points scored in the second half, leading to two straight losses.
Last week, much of the blame can be placed on the offensive line, a unit that allowed four sacks and couldn’t give running back Matt Forte consistent room to run (3.6 yards per carry).
In our fifth installment of the Trench Report, here our grades for Chicago’s offensive line against the Carolina Panthers.
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This was easily the worst performance by the Bears front five this season. Through the first four weeks, the unit never had less than a +8 overall grade, yet they tallied a -9 against Carolina. That is a severe drop off in overall production. Not a single O-lineman graded in the positive, with all five grading negatively as run blockers. RG Kyle Long and RT Jordan Mills were the only linemen to finish with a positive score in pass protection.
The absence of Jermon Bushrod at left tackle was noticeable, as his replacement, Michael Ola, graded the worst of any front-five blocker (-4). As he showed during his three starts at guard, Ola cannot get push in the run game. He was repeatedly out-worked at the point of attack and showed little agility and awareness out in space. Ola was decent in pass protection, although he was partially responsible for two of the four sacks.
The return of LG Matt Slauson was supposed to provide a big boost up front, yet he struggled in his first action since Week 1. He graded -1 overall and -1 as a pass blocker. He graded -3 on the four plays that resulted in sacks, which for Slauson is extremely poor. For reference, he didn’t earn a negative overall grade in any single contest last year. It’s possible Slauson just needs to knock off the rust and he’ll return to form next week but if his ankle isn’t fully healthy, it may limit his production in the short term.
C Brian de la Puente graded negatively in every category, posting one of the worst overall performance of any Bears blockers this season. He’s not powerful at the point of attack and he’s borderline useless at the second level. The Bears ran six screen plays on Sunday and de la Puente graded -2 blocking out in front. Roberto Garza (ankle) practiced last week and if he can return to the starting lineup, it will help to solidify the interior of the offensive line.
Long and Mills were fairly solid in pass protection, grading a combined +3, yet they both struggled as run blockers. Mills was especially poor in that area, grading a season-low -3 in the run game. For the year, he has graded 0 or worse as a run blocker in four of the five contests. He’s improved over last season in pass protection, and is adequate enough to leave on an island, but Mills is a liability in the run game.
Here are the Week 5 ancillary blocking grades:
The offensive line may have struggled but Chicago’s backs, receivers and tight ends all had strong outings.
TE Martellus Bennett led the way with a +3 overall grade, which ties his single-game high this year. After beginning the year -4 overall through the first three games, Bennett has graded +6 in the past two contest combined. Against the Panthers, he was very effective down the field and got great blocks out in front during the touchdowns by both Forte and Alshon Jeffery. Bennett did miss one crucial block on Forte’s 56-yard reception, one that would have sprung the runner for a score, but other than that, he had a very good outing.
The Bears used TE Dante Rosario in the fullback spot for six snaps this week. He graded -1 on those six plays and was hesitant at the point of attack. Rosario is the only option the club has as a lead blocker, so he needs to improve in that area.
Receiver Brandon Marshall and Josh Morgan combined for a +5 grade as blockers down the field. Marshall was especially effective, helping seal the corner during Jeffery’s bubble-screen score.
Matt Forte had three very good blitz pickups, yet he was partially responsible for the final sack of the game, which resulted in a Cutler fumble and turnover.
Here are the 2014 yearly totals for both the Bears offensive line and ancillary blockers:
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Long still leads all offensive linemen in every category and his +27 overall grade is more than double any other front-five blocker on the team.
Mills has graded -7 as a run blocker, the worst on the team, yet his +16 pass-block grade is second highest, behind only Long. Mills has developed immensely in pass protection this year but his struggles as a run blocker have played a big role in Forte’s inconsistency this season.
Ola and de la Puente now grade in the negative as run blockers, with de la Punete perilously close to dropping into the red as an overall blocker.
Eben Britton has played 40 snaps combined the past two weeks but has failed to make much of an impact, grading 0 overall and -1 as a run blocker. If he can raise his level of play, that could be a big boost up front.
For reference, here are the weekly grades from Weeks 1-4:
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.