Viewer's Guide: Are Bears NFL’s best protectors? Almost

Viewer's Guide: Are Bears NFL’s best protectors? Almost
September 27, 2013, 10:30 pm
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They won’t be going directly against each other, but the offensive lines of the Bears and Detroit Lions right now are the two best in the NFL. You could look it up.

The Lions are No. 1 in sacks per pass play, with Matthew Stafford sacked just twice in 123 pass plays. The Bears are No. 2, Jay Cutler being sacked three times in his 104 pass plays.

A significant part of the Cutler protection he is providing himself. He is getting rid of the ball on time. And the second part is clearly an offensive line that will be better than anything the Detroit Lions have seen from the Bears in several years.

Cutler was sacked seven times in the two Detroit games alone last season; five times in the ’11 games; and eight in the two ’10 games.

[MORE: Viewer's Guide: Bears O yet to prove it can 'win on our own']

The reason for stopping at 2010 is because that year marked the arrival of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Detroit Lions have three top-15 draft picks, all young, starting on their defensive line: end Ziggy Ansah (No. 5, 2013) and tackles Nick Fairley (No. 13, 2011) and Suh (No. 2, 2010).

They have not reversed the course of Detroit football (the Lions have had just one winning season in coach Jim Schwartz’s four), but they have made the Lions more dangerous for offensive lines.

More attention has been paid to the heavyweight matchup between rookie guard Kyle Long and All-Pro Suh, but the effectiveness of Cutler and running back Matt Forte depend on a decisive winning edge against supposedly elite talent.

[RELATED: Viewer's Guide: Bears just need 'average' game from Forte]

But the Lions are utilizing the “wide-nine” defensive alignment popularized by the Philadelphia Eagles several years ago. Defensive ends are lined up well outside of the offensive tackles, forcing the blockers to work in more space and making help on the edges harder to send.

“Each week we’re facing a different style of front,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “This one will be different, with the wide-nine technique that the Detroit Lions choose to play, and their two first-round tackles inside.

“They put an extra safety inside the defensive ends, which is a little unusual. So (it’s) another challenge for a new group of linemen and a fullback.”

The Bears fared well in their opener against All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, allowing him and the entire Cincinnati Bengals defense zero sacks.

[MORE: Viewer's Guide: Key to Cutler’s head is in his feet]

Suh has played at Atkins’ level though he has no sacks and only eight tackles through three games this season, plus several disruptions resulting in big plays by others.

“I think (Atkins and Suh are) comparable,” said coach Marc Trestman. “I don’t want to get into each specific (player’s) strengths and weaknesses, but they’re dominant players and difference-making players.

“When you go into a game, you say to yourself: ‘Where’s No. 90, and are we stopping him on this play? Do we have a chance to stop him?’ And when you can neutralize difference makers — and he’s one of them on their team — you’re going to put yourself in a better position to have success. We say that about Geno Atkins, and we certainly are saying that about Suh.”

At least one member of the offense is more than a little confident in his line’s ability to deal with Suh and the rest.

“I feel good about the guys we have up front,” Cutler said. “I think we’re going to do a good job. (The Lions) got some really good players, him and Fairley both. The ends are playing well too. We’re going to have to be mindful of them, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”