The Chicago Bears struggled to establish the run game early in the regular season and were ranked 29th in the NFL in average rushing yards per contest after three weeks.
Yet, after Jordan Howard took over as the bell-cow back, Chicago's rushing attack took off. Howard rushed for 100-plus yards in Week 4 and Week 5, and suddenly the Bears ranked 19th in the league in rushing yards per game.
That success was short lived, with the Bears failing to top the 100-yard rushing mark as a team in each of the past two weeks. Howard has averaged 2.3 and 3.1 yards per carry the last two weeks, which has opened the door for Ka'Deem Carey, the team's leading rusher in Week 6 and Week 7.
The issues with the run game, which all start up front, need to be resolved quickly if the Bears have any hope of moving the ball with any consistency moving forward, but what needs to change?
To answer that question, I broke down game film from last week's contest against the Green Bay Packers? Here's what I found.
In Chicago's zone-blocking scheme, double teams at the point of attack are a staple. After the initial double team, one blocker typically peels off to lock up a linebacker at the second level. The transition from double team to two separate single blocks is a delicate, time-sensitive process that requires a high level of cohesion and chemistry from the two offensive linemen. On this snap, Packers DT Mike Daniels is lined up between LT Charles Leno and LG Eric Kush. The play is awkwardly designed, as Leno (blue) will be tasked with crossing Daniels' face from the back side, which is called a "reach" block, with Larsen (red) immediately clearing to the second level for the ILB.
Daniels (yellow) shoots the gap as soon as Larsen steps out of his way, which gives Leno no chance to turn the defender away from the play. On play-side, notice RT Bobby Massie (green) bending at the waist as he tries to block the outside linebacker, who flies right around him.
Daniels hits RB Ka'Deem Carey from the weak side, while OLB Nick Perry hits him from the strong side for no gain.
This an off-tackle run left. C Cody Whitehair will try and block DT Kenny Clark one-on-one, with Kush immediately clearing to the second level.
Clark puts a fist into Whitehair's chest, gains leverage and immediately put him on his heels. Notice the reach block being set up on the back side. RG Kyle Long (red) is holding up DT Dean Lowry while he works down the line of scrimmage. The goal here is to hold up Lowry long enough for Massie (purple) to cross his face and seal off the back side.
Long (red) clears to the second level too early and Massie (purple) cannot get in front of Lowry. Play-side, Leno (green) cannot lock up OLB Clay Matthews, who has extended his arms and created the separation he'll need to shed the block. At the point of attack, Clark has driven Whitehair three yards into the backfield.
RB Jordan Howard is tackled at the line of scrimmage by three defenders.
This is an A-gap run by Carey. At the snap, Long and Whitehair double team the defensive tackle.
As Carey hits the hole, notice Whitehair (red) just now peeling away from the double team. He has waited for Long (blue) to cross the defender's face. At this point, Long has the DT sealed to the outside. Also notice the block by Kush (green) on the opposite side, creating a huge hole for the running back.
Carey bursts through the hole and has two blockers in front of him, including Whitehair (red). This is an example of a perfectly executed zone double-team. Credit also goes to Kush for using a textbook angle block to help open the hole.
On this snap, Long (blue) is tasked with a reach block on NT Letroy Guion (yellow), who shoots the gap in the space vacated by Whitehair (red), who immediately clears for the inside linebacker.
Long is athletic enough to get his body in front of Guion but he's in no position to sustain his block. Guion's gap fill forces Howard to cut back. On the back side, TE Zach Miller (green) does not block either of the defenders in his area.
Guion sheds the block from Long but the two weak-side defenders already have Howard wrapped up for a loss.
This is a stretch run right for Carey (orange). At the snap, Whitehair (green) sticks his arm out and gives the DT a shot. This is a subtle but extremely important move. Instead of right away shooting to the second level, Whitehair hesitates a second, which helps Kush get his body around for the reach block. Pay attention to the play-side block by Larsen (red).
Kush (blue) is able to drive the defensive tackle 3 yards deep, while Whitehair is in front of the ILB. Larsen (red) shifts his weight outside and seals the DT inside.
The defender tries to cross his face but Larsen (red) buries him into the ground. At the second level, Whitehair (blue) has sealed the weak-side. That, along with three strong play-side blocks, gives Carey a running lane, through which he picks up 24 yards. The timing of the initial double team, and the patience of Whitehair, was critical to the success of this snap.
This is a stretch run left. Larsen (blue) will execute a reach block, while Whitehair (red) clears for the linebacker. Kush (green) is locked up one-on-one with the defensive tackle.
Larsen (blue) slides across the face of the defender and does not allow any backside penetration. Whitehair (red) locks up the ILB and Kush (green) just manhandles the defender at the point of attack.
Larsen, Kush and Whitehair lock up the interior of Green Bay's front seven, while Leno and TE Logan Paulsen (black) seal the front side, creating a good running lane for Howard (orange), who picks up 9 yards on the ground.
On the previous play, Larsen's back-side block helped Howard to a nice gain. On this snap, Larsen's inability to execute the reach block will shut down a potential huge gain.
Larsen appears as if he can't decide what to do and he runs right past DT Kenny Clark (blue). Play-side, Kush gets another solid seal block on the interior defender.
Howard (orange) is able to turn the corner and he puts a wicked juke on the cornerback before cutting upfield. Look at all that green grass ahead of him. Also notice Clark (blue), who is sprinting down the line of scrimmage.
Howard's cut slows him just enough for Clark to close and make the tackle after a 3-yard gain. Once again, look at all that green grass at Howard's disposal if only Larsen, who is knocked down by his teammate at the end of the play, had just slowed up the weak-side defender.
Our last snap is one final example of a too-quick double team that goes horribly wrong. Whitehair and Kush are supposed to double Clark at the point of attack, yet Whitehair barely grazes the defender before clearing for the linebacker.
Clark gains immediate leverage and Kush has no chance of keeping him out of the backfield.
Clark takes down Carey in the backfield.
Zone blocking is the crux of Chicago's rushing attack. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has built a blocking scheme that utilizes the athleticism of his offensive linemen. It's a very solid system when it works but it's one that takes a lot of time to develop. If chemistry is not present up front, defenders will consistently shut down plays.
The same could be said for man-heavy schemes but the delicate nature of scrape and reach blocks makes cohesion an absolute must in a zone scheme. I tried my best here to present that in a form most can understand, as offensive line play is extremely intricate and complicated.
Timing is everything when it comes to the initial double team and clear. If the frontside lineman is too quick, he won't give the backside lineman enough time to get into proper position to finish the block. If he holds onto the double team too long, he'll never lock up the inside linebacker.
This is why it takes so many games, and sometimes years, before an offensive line can perform at a high level as a group. This concept of front-five chemistry, and why it takes so long to build it, is undervalued, glossed-over or flat-our misunderstood by most fans, yet it's arguably the most important aspect toward the success of any NFL offense.
The Bears are clearly a work in progress. It's a process made more difficult by recent injuries to Pro Bowl guards Josh Sitton and Kyle Long. If both are out for an extended period, the entire front five will take a step back in their overall development. That's great for young player like Kush, who can use the reps, but it doesn't bode well for the consistency of the rushing attack the remainder of the season.null