Chicago Bears (4-2): vs. Washington (3-3)Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice is dealing with a lot of issues.
Four different line combinations have started for the Bears this year, and the current group includes a rookie at right tackle and a first-year player at right guard. Then there's the communication that every offensive line must have before it begins to jell, something the Bears are working on.
In his 15 years of coaching, Tice has had a lot of experience working with offensive lines, even ones in the formative stage. This situation is a bit different.
"I haven't been in one where you're in such a fishbowl," Tice said. "I've been in one where no one gave a crap. I've been in one where no one really cared if your guys weren't playing good. But here you're in such a fishbowl, and I have to have patience."
Right tackle J'Marcus Webb has two NFL starts. Right guard Edwin Williams has four, but just two with the Bears. Six-year veteran left tackle Frank Omiyale had one NFL start at that position before this season, although he did start 12 games at left guard for the Bears last season. Chris Williams, who started at left guard last week, hadn't played there since his sophomore season at Vanderbilt, but he started 11 games at right tackle last year and five at left tackle, and the first two this season at left tackle before a hamstring injury sidelined him.
Ten-year veteran Roberto Garza provided some stability at left guard through the first five games, but he played the last three with torn cartilage that finally required arthroscopic surgery last week. So for now, the coaching staff has decided that youth will be served, and growing pains and mistakes are inevitable.
"If Ed (Williams) has a bad play or J'Marcus has two bad plays in a series, I can't start yanking them," Tice said. "Because then, all of a sudden, where's that continuity? Now it's just hodge-podge, here we go, let's shuffle them in.
"We tried to settle in on a group, and then Chris got hurt, then Roberto sucked it up for three weeks with a meniscus torn right in half."
Communication is easy between players like center Olin Kreutz and Garza, who have played together since midway through the 2005 season. When it comes to adjusting for a blitz pickup, a lack of communication on the offensive line results in a roughed-up quarterback and is one reason why the Bears have failed to convert on 22 consecutive third downs.
"We had some young guys out there (last week) that didn't communicate," Tice said. "It changes calls. One guy sees it and doesn't pass it along, and it kind of hurts the mesh of things. The more they play together, the more they get confidence in what they're seeing, and they believe what they see, (so) they'll be able to blurt those things out and communicate."
According to Tice, young players like Williams and Webb are hesitant to call out information because they don't trust that what they think they're seeing is actually what's happening.
"They don't speak because they're not positive they know what they know or they think what they think," Tice said, laughing. "If they would just believe in themselves they'd be right nine out of 10 times."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH Bears rookie RT J'Marcus Webb, a seventh-round pick who has started two games in the NFL with mixed results, along with a Bears offense that is dead-last in sacks allowed, vs. Redskins LOLB Brian Orakpo, who is tied for sixth in the NFC with five sacks.
Redskins QB and Chicago native Donovan McNabb vs. Bears pass defense, which is 28th in sack percentage, 15th in passing yards and No. 8 in average gain per pass play allowed. More specifically, McNabb vs. Bears CB Charles Tillman, who was the main culprit in Seahawks WR Mike Williams' career day last week.
Detroit Lions (1-5): Bye week
The Lions have played five different middle linebackers this season and have started three different players in the middle through six games.
With starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy nursing a sore ankle and starting outside linebacker Zack Follett out indefinitely with a neck injury, the signing of free-agent linebacker Bobby Carpenter couldn't have come at a better time.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
"We've had some issues at linebacker," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We've played five (middle) linebackers this year and our depth is down there a little bit where Zack is and DeAndre Levy and things like that. It made sense to get him here and get him going.
"We've taken a long stance that anytime a player's available and we think we can improve out team, we are going to look very hard at it. He became available, and he's got the size and speed and the athletic ability we're looking for. He has experience. He's a multidimensional player. He's played inside. He's played outside. He's played in nickel."
Carpenter was a first-round draft pick of the Cowboys in 2006 out of Ohio State. In four seasons with Dallas, he failed to establish a starting role, though he did play a lot of nickel in 2009. Carpenter played in all 16 games for the Cowboys last season, finishing with 46 tackles and two sacks.
"I thought his best year in the NFL was last year in Dallas," Schwartz said.
Carpenter was traded to the Rams this offseason and spent training camp with them before being cut Sept. 4. He had been with the Dolphins the first six weeks of the season.
"I'm excited to be here now," he said. "I'm trying to move forward with everything. What happened (in Miami) is done and over with. I'm part of the Detroit Lions now, and I'm excited about that."
Schwartz said Carpenter will learn both middle and outside linebacker but likely will settle into the outside when Levy returns, which is expected to be the Lions' next game against the Redskins.
"It really depends on where DeAndre is and how he's doing because if DeAndre comes in, he's the guy we targeted as wanting to build around as our (middle) linebacker," Schwartz said. "I think we'll probably look at him outside. But right now with the injury situation that we have, like I said with five different (middle) linebackers, he's going to get going at both."
One of the biggest benefits for Carpenter is that he's joining the Lions on the bye week, so he'll have an extra week to get up to speed.
"It's a huge benefit, believe me," Carpenter said. "I can actually learn what I'm supposed to do.
"Game weeks are all preparation for what they are doing. Well, they take for granted the players know what they should do. I'm trying to learn what I need to do so next week I'll be able to focus on what the Washington Redskins are doing. Hopefully I'll be able to understand more of my role and what we need to do."
— Quarterback Matthew Stafford couldn't quite put a number on it when asked how close he is to being 100 percent healthy.
"I don't know if it's 100 (percent) or 98 or 99, but it's right up there," he said. "I felt pretty good, pretty normal out there. So, it was good. I feel pretty close."
Stafford, who was back at practice Wednesday, has missed the last five games while recovering from a separated AC joint in his throwing shoulder he suffered in a Week 1 loss to the Bears.
"I feel pretty good and hopefully there are no setbacks. If that happens, hopefully I'll be out there on the 31st (against the Redskins)," Stafford said.
By the numbers: 4.5 — Sacks for rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, more than the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers team (4). 24 — Consecutive road losses, which ties the Lions' own NFL record. They can break the record Nov. 14 in Buffalo.
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