How important is the O-line? How 'bout "playoff-important"

How important is the O-line? How 'bout "playoff-important"
January 28, 2013, 8:30 pm
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The upgrading of the Bears offensive line, whether through free agency or the draft, possibly both, is expected to be the primary task in Phil Emerys second offseason as general manager. He said as much twice while detailing the hiring of coach Marc Trestman.

Emery referred to evaluations by STATS Inc. that placed the Bears 26th, which tells me weve got to get better, Emery said. Weve got to get better. I look at that from the perspective: how does that impact winning?

The analysts at ProFootballFocus.com offer a similar assessment, placing the Bears O-line 30th among the NFLs front fives. And while no statistical ranking usually offers a definitive simple arrow pointing to success, PFFs analyses underscore Emerys conclusion.

Interestingly, left tackle JMarcus Webb was the choice as Stud, or in this case the least-bad lineman (none had positive grades for the season). Webb took a substantial step up in 2012 and is described as an adequate left tackle with the note, you can win with those.

Right tackle Gabe Carimi was the designated Dud and on the path to Bustville. Based on 2012, the final No. 1 pick of Jerry Angelo will not have a lot of supporters going into this years training camp.

The winning impact

The role of an offensive line in success certainly doesnt need any belaboring. But a correlation of rankings with NFL results in 2012 is worth noting.

The bad Cleveland Browns ranked fifth, but that includes left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the NFLs elite. The woeful Kansas City Chiefs were 12th.

But only three of the NFLs playoff teams (Seattle 20th, Green Bay 21st, Indianapolis 31st) rank worse than 17th, which is Baltimore. The Colts and Bears do demonstrate that you can be a winning, even playoff, team without an elite offensive line.

However, all three of those sub-17th offensive lines had Pro Bowl quarterbacks behind them (Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson). Seattle and Green Bay also had top-11 scoring defenses.

As Ive noted previously, Emery in fact did some addressing the offensive line. For instance, had he drafted James Brown in, say, the fourth round (where Brown was widely projected to go), and Brown ended the season starting (he did), some of the criticism might have been less strident. And he picked up eventual Carimi replacement Jonathan Scott just after the season started, which is actually something of an accomplishment, finding a serviceable player among NFL discards.

What the Bears invest in the offensive line this offseason will be more than signing discards and undrafted rookie free agents.