Joniak’s Journal: Offensive Line Creating Optimism
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By Jeff Joniak-
With four new bodies up front, the Bears offensive line is creating a lot of optimism about the future of the system. They are playing physical, a requirement in order to play well as a group.
When Matt Forte ripped off that 55-yard near touchdown Sunday night, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills executed a perfect fold block sealing off the left side of the point of attack. Tight ends Steve Maneri and Martellus Bennett sealed off the right side and Forte did what he does at the second and third level of the defense.
It was a physical play from start to finish. A year ago at this time, quarterback Jay Cutler had been sacked 11 times, compared to three as of right now. Cutler’s confidence in the pocket is growing every snap. Yes, he’s been hit. Yes’s he’s been hurried. Yes, he has made several “wow” throws a game on time, and on the money that have been difference makers. All of Marc Trestman’s preaching about pre-snap penalties has taken root.
The Bears have no false starts after six a year ago in the first three weeks. There is still much improvement needed, but the additions of Bushrod, Slauson, Long, and Mills to veteran center Roberto Garza has dramatically changed the operation of the offense.
In three weeks, 41 undrafted NFL rookies have played at least a snap on offense or defense. There is an expectation that number will increase by at least one, if and when Zach Minter moves into the defensive tackle rotation against the Lions Sunday.
An undrafted free agent out of Montana State, Minter made the Bears after flashing in practice and games. In the preseason, in over 80 snaps, Minter had a quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries according to Pro Football Focus. Minter is athletic and quick. He timed out at 4.80 in his pro day workout in the spring, which would have topped all interior lineman at the NFL Scouting Combine and his vertical jump of better than 34-inches would have second best.
Minter is a late bloomer. He was a prep basketball point guard in suburban Phoenix, but started playing football as a junior defensive end at 235 pounds. He added 30 pounds and moved to defensive tackle as a senior. Now after a successful college career at Montana State, he’s 297 pounds and a three-technique type tackle with a chance to earn playing time behind Steven Paea and Nate Collins now that Henry Melton is out for the season. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will also continue to shove Cory Wootton and Julius Peppers inside as well in nickel and other situations.
There is a perception the Bears had a blitz heavy plan in Pittsburgh. Trestman says maybe a little more than the first two weeks, but not much more.
This season, the Bears have blitzed on 38 pass plays, allowing 20 completions for 247 yards, two touchdowns, four sacks, and three interceptions. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams also caused a Steelers fumble on the blitz.
The Bears are trailing only Seattle in defensive quarterback rating in blitz passing situations. They’ve also blitzed on 14 runs, limiting teams to just 32 yards. If the blitzing continues against Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, it will have to get home quickly. Stafford according to Pro Football Focus is attempting to throw in an NFL best 2.25 seconds.
Blitzing has created opportunities to make plays in the back seven for a group that keeps its eyes on the quarterback. 46% of the Bears total points have come off 11 takeaways, both stats lead the NFL. A year ago 38.7% of their points came off 44 takeaways, which also led the NFL.
Fourth and short
James Anderson and Lance Briggs are two of only 13 linebackers to have played every snap of the first three games. Both have made plays in pass coverage and both create blitz pressure out of their nickel package. Interestingly, former Bears Geno Hayes(Jacksonville) and Nick Roach(Oakland) are in the group as well. At safety, Chris Conte has played every snap, one of only 19 in the league.