Bears All-22 Lab: O-Line Struggles

We use coaches tape to analyze the main area of concern for the Bears’ offense going forward: an offensive line whose production this season has declined in accordance with its injuries.

This past Sunday, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 30th-ranked scoring defense, the Chicago Bears scored zero points in the first half. It was the third time in the past five contests the Bears have been shut out in the first half.

Chicago’s defense forced three turnovers in the second half and the offense capitalized on the short fields. Those turnovers were crucial as it’s unlikely the offense was going to suddenly pull out of its season-long funk.

After reviewing the game film, it’s clear the offensive line was by far the biggest reason for the embarrassing first-half performance. The front five allowed three sacks in the first two quarters, which never allowed the passing attack to find its groove.

Let’s analyze All-22 coaches film to find out where the breakdowns occurred and what can be done to fix it.

PLAY I: McCoy’s Strip-Sack

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy (blue) is lined up in the B gap, to the outside of LG Brian de la Puente.

McCoy uses a swim move at the snap and he’s immediately around de la Puente, who ducks his head and gets pushed aside. Notice both C Roberto Garza and RB Matt Forte are concerned only with the right side of the line. Neither pays McCoy any attention.

As de la Puente struggles to regain his balance, McCoy has a clear path to the quarterback. Forte and Garza are blocking no one.

QB Jay Cutler gets obliterated from behind and the ball is jarred loose. The Buccaneers recover the ball in Bears territory.

Analysis: The lack of technique by de la Puente on this play is startling. He plants his feet, lowers his head and lunges at McCoy, who brushes him aside with ease.

Yet why were both Garza and Forte so concerned with the right side? McCoy is one of the most disruptive interior pass rushers in the game and is second in the league in sacks amongst defensive tackles. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler who eats up one-on-one blocks, yet Garza left de la Puente, who was starting just his second career game at guard, on an island. Even Forte paid no attention to McCoy, who has 7.5 sacks this year.

So to recap: that’s horrible technique by de la Puente, poor coaching by coordinator Aaron Kromer to not game plan for McCoy, and poor awareness by Garza and Forte.

PLAY II: Ola Bullied

The Bucs are showing blitz but will rush just four down linemen. The key will be DE Jacquies Smith (blue) rushing off the edge against RT Michael Ola (red).

Here is where first contact is made. Both of Ola’s feet are outside the hash mark.

Ola is immediately driven backward after contact. A split second later and he has one foot a yard inside the hash.

Because of the bull rush, Cutler is forced to throw the ball early. As he releases it, notice Ola’s entire body is two yards inside the hash. Smith is able to get a hand up and, because he’s right in Cutler’s face, tips the pass.

The ball floats into the hands of LB Mason Foster (yellow) yet he drops the easy interception.

Analysis: On the play, WR Alshon Jeffery lined up flanker right and ran a 12-yard in route. He created separation out of his break and was in position for a first-down completion. Yet the tipped pass nearly forced a turnover.

Ola was solid at left guard earlier in the year but he doesn’t have the lower body to anchor on the edge. On this play, Smith leverages into Ola’s chest and drives him four yards backward in less than a second.

PLAY III: Stunt Double

On this snap, Smith (blue) and McCoy (yellow) will cross off the right side.

RG Kyle Long rides McCoy to the outside, yet he doesn’t initially see Smith slanting inside.

Long is late on the switch and Smith is able to leverage inside.

Garza eventually helps on Smith but at this point, he’s right in the quarterback’s face. As a result, Cutler short-arms a pass that falls a yard incomplete.

Analysis: I asked Kyle Long earlier in the season about their switch calls on cross stunts like the one the Buccaneers ran on this play. He said they change the keyword every game and as soon as one lineman sees the stunt, he’s supposed to call out the keyword to indicate the switch.

On this snap, Long is shielded from Smith right away due to McCoy’s penetration. On the edge, Ola saw Smith stunt inside right away, yet Long is far too late in releasing McCoy. That indicates Ola was late in making the call, which nearly got Cutler sacked.

PLAY IV: Saloon Doors

Here the Bears have set up a screen pass to Forte (black). All four defensive linemen (yellow) have penetrated behind the play and Forte has two blockers (red) out in front.

As Forte catches the ball, Garza and de la Puente approach LB Mason Foster for a double-team block. At this point, the Bears have two blockers for two defenders. If both guys are picked up, this play goes for big yardage and possibly a touchdown.

Foster immediately bursts through the double team. De la Puente then peels off for the trailing linebacker Danny Lansanah.

As Forte clears midfield, Foster has gained outside leverage on Garza and attacks the ball carrier. Behind Garza, notice de la Puente lining up Lansanah for a block. The problem is, de la Puente has lowered his head and is staring at the ground, not the defender.

Forte is able to break Foster’s tackle attempt, yet he’s left with nowhere to run, as Lansanah is now closing in. Notice de la Puente (red) blocking no one.

Lansanah knocks Forte out of bounds after just a five-yard gain.

Analysis: This play should have picked up at least 25 yards and had touchdown potential. Yet de la Puente and Garza couldn’t pick up either linebacker, which destroyed a well-designed play.

PLAY V: Grass Grazing

On this snap, Forte (black) will run off-tackle right. The right side of the offensive line will crash inside, with de la Puente (yellow) pulling from the backside for a kick-out block on Smith (blue).

Here is the point at which de la Puente should be knocking the defender on his heels. Yet Smith just sidesteps the block, which immediately throws de la Puente off balance, forcing him to make a last-second lunge at the defender.

Notice de la Puente eating grass behind Smith, who is closing in on Forte in the backfield.

Analysis: I think this one speaks for itself.

GOING FORWARD

After allowing just 30 sacks all of last year, the Bears have already allowed 26, and there are still five games left to play. This is a problem, as Matt Slauson won’t be returning until next year.

Jordan Mills should return to action this week, which will slide Ola back to left guard and get de la Puente off the field, so that will help. Yet this is a front five that seems to be getting progressively worse this season.

If this unit has a repeat performance on Thursday against the Detroit Lions, who boast one of the most-disruptive defensive lines in the league, the Bears’ playoff hopes will be squashed before you’ve had your first helping of turkey.

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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.

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