Offensive improvement for Chicago Bears hinges on development of offensive line

If the Chicago Bears are going to improve on offense the team's talented offensive line must gel rapidly, beginning this week against the Philadelphia Eagles.

In the regular season opener, Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler was sacked five times, while the team's running backs average 3.4 yards per carry. 

The struggles on offense doomed the Bears in a very winnable game, one in which they led 14-13 after three quarters. The second-half collapse was painfully reminiscent of recent inept Bears offenses, which has left a horrible taste in the collective mouths of Bears fans. 

"We went against a pretty talented [defensive] front," head coach John Fox said yesterday. "They’ve been together, they obviously have created some havoc over the last few years. All-in-all we got our quarterback hit more than we’d like and we need to clean that up and I think we will.”

Keeping Cutler off the ground falls squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line, which struggled mightily at times during the opener. LT Charles Leno and RT Bobby Massie were each beat by Texans OLB Whitney Mercilus, giving up a sack apiece, while C Cody Whitehair failed to recognize a cross stunt, which allowed Houston LB John Simon a free run at the quarterback. Whitehair also had a botched snap on a 4th-and-1 play that led to a turnover on downs.

“We just have to keep grinding," Whitehair said after the game. "We know it’s a long season. We’ll get better every week. Obviously, we didn’t come out the way we wanted to in the second half. But, we’ll get that fixed and we’ll get the ball rolling again.”

Whitehair, a rookie, may not realize that the NFL season actually isn't that long. In fact, it's so short that if the offensive line doesn't improve rapidly this week, the odds of the Bears making the playoffs this year drop off a cliff. 

Between 2007-2014, only five of the 66 teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs. That means if Chicago's offensive line plays as poorly as it did in the opener, the Bears will likely fall to 0-2, giving the team an 8-percent chance of making the playoffs.

In reality, if it's another horror show on offense on Monday Night Football, Bears fans, as well as Whitehair, can pretty much kiss the season goodbye.

Yet there are plenty of reasons for hope.

The edge pressure was a problem, with Leno and Whitehair each giving up a sack, but the Eagles do not feature an edge rusher of Mercilus' caliber -- he had 12.0 sacks last season. The Bears also won't have to worry about J.J. Watt, the best defensive lineman in the NFL.

The Eagles have talent up front, particularly DT Fletcher Cox and DE Connor Barwin, but the Texans are on another level so things should get easier for the Bears front five this week, albeit only slightly.

Additionally, the unit that started in Week 1 had never before taken a meaningful snap together, with LG Josh Sitton having signed just a week ago. Sitton and Long have six Pro Bowls between them, and Whitehair is a consensus second-round talent, so the interior of the offensive line should show dramatic improvement this week. 

Finally, during practice last week coordinator Dowell Loggains said he was excited to see what he had on offense. Now he knows what he has and what he doesn't have. It's clear that putting Massie on an island will create problems, as will a predictable run game. If Loggains is a flexible and intelligent coordinator, he'll fix those problems right away. 

It's also worth noting that Leno had a fairly solid game despite the sack he allowed. 

Of all the areas of concern for the Bears heading into Week 2, the offensive line tops the list. A strong showing against an above-average Eagles defensive front will give Bears fans, players and coaches confidence in a front five that should continue to improve as the season progresses.

The goal is to make sure the playoffs are still within reach when that time comes. 


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