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Until their Week 4 explosion vs. the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Chicago Bears' offense had only moderate success over the course of the first quarter of this NFL season. What we don’t know is if the Tampa Bay game is a sign of things to come or an aberration. Still, the Bears sit on top of the NFC North with a 3-1 record and they are averaging just under 28 points per game.
If you want to compare that to a year ago, the Bears averaged 15 points through their first four games, after which their record was the exact opposite at 1-3. That said there were some stats that were actually better last year through four games. One stat is sacks allowed. In the first four games this year, the Bears have given up 10 sacks, whereas a year ago the number was eight. In the running game a year ago, the Bears picked up 470 yards on 103 carries (4.5 YPC). This year the number is 486 yards on 116 carries (4.2 YPC).
The offensive line has a lot to say about those stats, and a year ago the perception was that the line was not consistently effective. This year the perception is the exact opposite, and when we look at the lineup, there is really only one change — Eric Kush instead of Josh Sitton at left guard.
I think the line is playing a lot better than it did a year ago, but we still haven’t seen how good it can be. The main reason is that the Bears are playing an entirely different offensive scheme, and the offense hasn’t quite fully jelled.
Obviously last week we saw their best performance. The Bears put up a total of 483 yards — 139 yards on the ground and 344 yards passing. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was only sacked one time, and that was during the Bears' second possession early in the game. After that sack, the Bears' offensive line dominated and Trubisky had a fairly clean pocket in which to operate.
The Tampa Bay defensive line isn't a bunch of no names. Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul are Pro Bowl-level performers, and Vinny Curry has been a top-level NFL player for years. Rookie Vita Vea has a very bright future in the league. The Bears putting up the yards they did was quite an accomplishment.
As all the players on the Bears offense become more comfortable with the scheme, games like last week will happen more frequently. While we might not see 48 points that often, 450 yards of total offense can be the norm.
When we look at the Bears' offensive line, there aren’t many big names. The only Pro Bow-level player of the group is right guard Kyle Long. Center Cody Whitehair could become that type of player if he can avoid the occasional bad snap.
The others in the group are winning NFL players but not really Pro Bowl-caliber performers. Left tackle Charles Leno lacks ideal height at 6037, but he compensates with very good length. He has improved every year, progress that's noticed by insiders around the league.
Left guard Eric Kush has versatility — he can play guard or center — good size for the position and athleticism. He might be the least talented of the group, and because of that rookie James Daniels is starting to rotate with Kush during games. Daniels played center most of his career at Iowa but has the size and athleticism to be an excellent NFL guard. He is just beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be. Don’t be shocked if he is the starter by midseason.
Right tackle Bobby Massie has taken some hits in the past by various people in the media, but he has very quietly become a very efficient tackle. He doesn’t dominate; rather, he plays a steady game and doesn’t make mistakes.
One of the reasons for the improvement of the Bears' offensive line, of course, is the addition of position coach Harry Hiestand. One of the better offensive line coaches in all of football, he is both a great teacher and motivator. He pays attention to detail and always gets his players to play at a high level.
The play of the offensive line and the offense as a whole will be a work in progress this season. The line has to learn to play the game the way Hiestand Harry requires, which isn't something that can happen overnight. During the offseason program, when it comes to line play, there is no hitting allowed, so everything is mental preparation. It wasn’t until camp opened in late July that Hiestand could actually have live work with his group.
After just 10 about weeks of work, this group will continue to improve. Unlike any other position group, the offensive line has to work together, and if there is one breakdown among the five guys, it can be the difference between a big gainer or a busted play. Cohesiveness is very important.
My feeling is that last week was just the first glimpse of how good this group will become.