The Chicago Bears offense was a train wreck the first two weeks of the regular season.
After losses to the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago's offense ranked 30th in points (14.0), 31st in total offense (271.0), 25th in rushing (68.5) and 29th in passing (202.5). Jay Cutler was sacked 8 times in seven quarters of play, while RB Jeremy Langford averaged just 3.0 yards per carry.
The Bears were outscored 52-28 in those first two games, due in large part to an offensive line that struggled to develop instant chemistry.
The acquisition of Josh Sitton a week before the start of the season pushed rookie Cody Whitehair to center and created a front five that had never before played a snap together. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked the Bears O-line 30th in the league heading into the year and the immediate results were predictably spotty.
Offensive lines, more than any other unit on an NFL team, always take time to develop, a process that can span multiple seasons for some teams. So it was no surprise to see Texans and Eagles defenders running free in Chicago's backfield.
Yet the signing of Sitton is finally starting to pay dividends.
Over the past two games, Brian Hoyer has been sacked just three times, while RB Jordan Howard has averaged nearly 4.9 yards per carry as the club's primary ball carrier. As a result, the Bears went 1-1 in those games, Howard posted the first 100-yard rushing effort by a Chicago ball carrier since Week 1 last season, and Hoyer passed for 300-plus yards in back-to-back games -- the first Bears quarterback to do so since Josh McCown in 2013.
Without improvement from the offensive line, none of those accomplishment would have been possible.
PFF currently ranks Chicago's offensive line 13th best in the league, while Sitton has the highest pass blocking grade of any guard in the league. He's allowed just 1 QB hurry through four games, which is the equivalent of playing like a brick wall.
Whitehair has been very good at the pivot, despite never before playing the position. Per PFF, he's allowed only 5 QB hurries on the year and has the seventh highest pass-block grade amongst NFL centers. PFF ranks Whitehair as 9th best rookie in the league, at any position, through the first quarter of the season.
Kyle Long is on track for another Pro Bowl, which gives Chicago one of the best, if not THE best, interior offensive line in the league.
At left tackle, Charles Leno has been serviceable protecting the blind side and his athleticism is well suited for the team's zone-blocking run system.
The only issue is RT Bobby Massie, who has struggled mightily in pass protection. He's allowed 19 QB hurries and 3 sacks, per PFF, which is second most at his position.
Due to Massie's lead-footed, bend-and-lunge tendencies in pass protection, the Bears currently rank 20th in the NFL with a 15.3 percent pressure rate, per Football Outsiders (FO) but that number is up from 31st following Week 1. Last season, the offensive line had a 30.0% pressure rate, so we're seeing significant improvement each week.
All of this bodes well for an offense that still ranks 31st in points scored. Savvy NFL fans know that successful teams are built from the trenches outward, so if Chicago's front five continues its steep upward trend, an increasing in scoring should soon follow.
The Bears currently have a Top 10 NFL defense, so the offense just needs to climb out of the cellar for this team to be competitive on a weekly basis. Even with injuries to key players, that should be an easy goal to reach as long as the offensive line is healthy.
The O-line's drastic improvement the first four weeks portends good things for Chicago's offense going forward. That should not be overlooked, neither this year nor beyond.
The current unit is still relatively young, with Sitton the only starter older than 27. From what we've seen so far, they have a high collective ceiling, especially if Massie ever gets his act together, something which he's been capable of in the past.
Bottom line, the offense will improve in accordance with the play of the front five. With six Pro Bowls combined at the guard positions, and two good-looking youngsters at center and left tackle, something special could be on the horizon for Chicago's offensive line, all of whom are signed on multi-year contracts.
In terms of building a solid foundation on offense, one upon which great things can be achieved, it doesn't get much better.