The Bears’ offensive line pitched a virtual pass-protection shutout against the Cincinnati Bengals, with no sacks and just a handful of hits allowed on Jay Cutler. But if the Bears are going to play more than 16 games and extend the 2013 season, they need to do better. And they know it.
The issue is in the run game, because the surest way to revert to failed game-management of the past is to leave the ball in Cutler’s hands not only too long, but also too often.
And as much as the individual efforts of Michael Bush and Matt Forte figure into running the football, the game ultimately runs through the front five. The group successfully blocked for a crucial fourth-down conversion and also got Forte into the end zone for a rushing TD.
“We had some ‘downs,’” said left tackle Jermon Bushrod, “but as a line, as a unit, we corrected them for the most part. We tried to minimize individual mistakes, and our playmakers made plays. That’s what it’s about.”
Bushrod has faced Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen three times in their careers and allowed the Vikings edge man zero sacks. More important, his team won all three. That team of course was the Drew Brees New Orleans Saints, but Bushrod is a student of technique, a key in coping with Allen’s speed and hand usage.
What warrants watching in particular is what happens elsewhere along the front. Left end Brian Robison benefits from offenses tilting toward help with Allen and piled up 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He has had a sack in four of his seven games vs. the Bears.
“They have more than one challenge on their front,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “It's a very stout front four, especially with Kevin Williams coming back. That will make a big difference for them with his veteran strength and power and knows how to play the game. He's been very productive as well.”
Williams is the true wild card in part because of the potential matchup. Just as the Cincinnati Bengals did with All-Pro tackle Geno Atkins, the Vikings scheme to isolate Williams against single blocking.
Left guard Matt Slauson more than held his own against Atkins (zero tackles, one QB hit), as did rookie Kyle Long on the other side of Roberto Garza. Long declared that he “stunk” vs. Cincinnati, though he won’t get a lot of seconds to that motion:
Cutler (laughing): “Kyle doesn’t know what kind of game he had. He’s doing a good job.”
Kromer: “There were a play or two where he didn’t pick up the right guy in his pass protection or use the right technique in the running game, which a young guy has a tendency to do, not just Kyle Long. ... The good thing about him is he knows exactly what he did wrong right afterward, and that is the sign of a guy that is going to improve. He knows he missed it and he knew he missed it right away, so I believe if that comes up again, he won’t do it.”