Sometimes football is exceedingly complex; schemes, concepts, formations, whatever. Other times it is remarkably simple, at least at its core:
If your big guys knock their big guys backwards, you will win.
The Bears could not knock much of anyone backwards last Sunday against the Detroit Lions, ran for a paltry total of 38 yards, fewest in a game since Week 3 of the 2011 season. Wrapped inside that number was a disturbing litany of mistakes that blew up one play after another, stunning from an offensive line that has allowed just 14 sacks all season (vs. 44 for 2012) and was key to a rushing average of 4.8 yards per carry before the debacle vs. the Lions.
“A lot of that was assignment, technical, fundamental, and that’s not to take anything away from their front,” coach Marc Trestman said. “They played hard, too. But we didn’t win it because we didn’t move the ball successfully on a consistent basis running the football. We went to work this week to try to clean up some of those techniques and fundamentals so we wouldn’t be making the same mistake twice.”
Coaches were less critical of pass protection, which allowed two total sacks and a number of hits on Jay Cutler and Josh McCown, but generally allowed execution to happen. Run blocking was the problem, and could well be again against a Baltimore defense that ranks fifth in rushing average as well as fourth in sack rate.
The offensive line has performed better this season against 3-4 defenses than in previous years, with rushing averages of 5.2 yards vs. New Orleans, 6.4 at Washington and 5.2 at Green Bay, all 3-4’s.
The issue on Sunday is that the Ravens are better than all of those against the run, setting up potential second- and third-and-long’s. That will allow Baltimore to send edge rushers Elvis Dumervil (eight sacks) and Terrell Suggs (nine) without concern for playing the run. Dumervil and Suggs have more sacks combined (17) than the Bears do as a team (14).
“Dumervil has been a good rusher for a long time,” said offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer. “Very powerful, has speed coming off the edge and will turn the power on you. So you’re trying to catch up to his speed and then he’s knocking guys into the quarterback.
“And Suggs has multiple moves that he’ll show with his power and then knock your hands off and get to the quarterback. They have a lot of sacks. And sacks are a product of people being covered and holding the ball too long. So we’re going to try to get the ball out quick and do a good job in protection.”
That will be a challenge. Among Bears offensive linemen, only center Roberto Garza has a positive pass-blocking grade, according to evaluations by ProFootballFocus.com. Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills currently has the lowest pass-blocking grade among 76 NFL tackles, per PFF.
What to watch for: The Ravens rush not only Dumervil and Suggs, but also middle linebacker Darryl Smith and former Alabama rush force Courtney Upshaw. They have 11 different players with at least a share of a sack.
For comparison purposes, the Bears have eight players with sacks; four of them are not playing either now or for the rest of the year (Lance Briggs, Nate Collins, Shea McClellin, D.J. Williams).
The play of Mills and left tackle Jermon Bushrod in winning one-on-one’s in the run game and holding off Dumervil and Suggs will be a key to the health of McCown and production of running back Matt Forte.