In the three games prior to last night's contest, the Chicago Bears had given up 14 sacks. Coming into the game, the front five had allowed the third most sacks in the league and had the worst ratio in the NFL in sacks per pass play.
Against the Houston Texans, the Bears' offensive line faced J.J. Watt, the league leader in sacks. Prior to the contest, most assumed Watt would have his way with Chicago's porous pass-blocking front. Yet that never happened.
In fact, Chicago's offensive line was so strong, they did not allow a single sack – the first time this season they've accomplished that feat.
"Our offensive line has been critiqued so much," Lovie Smith said today. "They knew how important [pass protection] was. For us to have a chance, we had to have better protection. And they did."
The Texans slid Watt all over the defensive line, trying to create mismatches. Yet Chicago's front five was stout across the line, serving as a collective wall to stymie one of the league's best pass rushers. Watt also leads all NFL defensive linemen in tipped passes, yet he got nary a swat on Sunday night.
"[The offensive line] did a great job of competing throughout," Smith said. "You didn't hear a lot of their defensive linemen's names called a lot. The pass part of it was really good. Hopefully we'll just continue to build off of that."
While everyone got a shot at Watt, RG Lance Louis and RT Gabe Carimi did the majority of the heavy lifting. Carimi has struggled mightily in pass protection this season, so it was great to see him finally have a solid performance against an outstanding pass rusher.
"There are still some things to clean up," a humble Carimi said after the game. "No one is ever perfect."
Despite the solid pass protection, the offense could never find a rhythm against the Texans. Much of that had to do with poor run blocking, dropped passes, bad throws and four first-half turnovers.
"Obviously it's frustrating for the whole side of the ball," said Carimi. "We feel like we were putting some good stuff together and all of the sudden it's not coming along."
There is obviously a lot of work to do but improved pass protection will be a key building block if the Bears' offense is going to improve in time for the playoffs.
"It's disappointing when you have a loss," said Smith. "But as you start really breaking down the video, there are some things that you see on the video that you like that can hopefully take us to the next game."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.