Everything starts up front. It might sound cliche to football fans these days but it has never stopped being true. For an offense to truly shine in the NFL, they need to have good blocking in the trenches. This is something that has too often been lost on the Chicago Bears over the years. For all the talk about how they need a quarterback, it hasn’t helped that they’ve failed too many times to give their signal-callers passable protection.
As far as 2021 is considered? Optimism isn’t exactly high that the Bears are in a good position to fix this issue. The unit gave up 36 sacks last season. Though an improvement from the 45 they allowed in 2019, it still wasn’t good. By contrast, Tom Brady was only sacked 21 times during his championship-winning run with Tampa Bay. Chicago needs to be better. ESPN analytics expert Seth Walder doesn’t have high hopes this will happen.
Looking at Pass Block Win Rate with their projected starting five? It is dicey.
19. Chicago Bears
Projected PBWR: 57%
Projected offensive line: Teven Jenkins (rookie), Cody Whitehair (28th at C), Sam Mustipher (30th), James Daniels (DNQ), Germain Ifedi (62nd at G)
If there’s a way to “game” our projected PBWR model, it’s to move players farther outside along the line (from center to guard or from guard to tackle) from one season to the next, so my hunch is that the Bears end up a little worse than this. The hope is that Whitehair and Daniels play more like they did in 2019 and the rookie Jenkins is effective right away, but it’s also easy to imagine the downside.
The Bears are really banking on a number of things this year. They need rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins to be serviceable right away. They need Sam Mustipher to show improvement at center, James Daniels to handle the transition to right guard, and for Germain Ifedi to be less problematic at right tackle than he’s been in the past. Looking at all this, it isn’t a big surprise that GM Ryan Pace made strong pushes to sign free agents like Trent Williams and Morgan Moses.
It also helps illustrate why head coach Matt Nagy might be reluctant to start Justin Fields right away at quarterback. Yes, the rookie could use more time to learn the offense and the speed of the NFL. However, it may be more pragmatic than that. A desire to see where the offensive blocking is. If it’s like the numbers project? Then it’s better to let Andy Dalton be the one taking the hits.
Chicago Bears offensive line will be tested early and often
Their first half of the 2021 season is stacked with capable opposing pass rushes. It starts with Aaron Donald on opening night in Los Angeles. Two weeks later they’ll have to deal with Myles Garrett in Cleveland. Then they’ll face a brutal stretch the final four weeks before the BYE when they battle the Packers, Buccaneers, 49ers, and Steelers. Three of those teams were top 11 in sacks per game last season and the other (San Francisco) will be getting star defensive end Nick Bosa back from injury.
So yeah. The Chicago Bears may have the right idea by wanting to wait on debuting the Fields Era just yet. Either until they are sure the offensive line can protect him or that the worst slate of pass rushes is in the rearview mirror. Given the style of investments this offseason, the team may already have a plan to work around that problem.
How? By running the football.
Chicago added two new pieces to their backfield in Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert. Combine them with a returning Tarik Cohen and an ascending David Montgomery? The Bears have full capability to grind opponents down on the ground. Their offensive line is actually built much better for that anyway with Jenkins, Whitehair, and Ifedi all proven run blockers. This would certainly ease the pressure on the quarterbacks. Provided Nagy can stomach it, of course.