Welcome to the first edition of our BR Trench Report, a weekly series in which we'll grade the performance of the Chicago Bears' offensive line. This exercise involves grading each player on each play, using All 22 coaches film, from the previous week's contest.
In this way, we can quantify the play of Chicago's front five in an effort to accurately evaluate the performance of the group as a whole, as well as each individual offensive lineman.
Our BR grading system is very simple. It involves giving each player one of three grades on every play: 1, 0 or -1. If they player gets a good block, he get a plus. If he misses his block or assignment, he gets a minus. And if he doesn't have any affect on the play, or does nothing noteworthy either way, he gets a zero.
So let's get to it.
First, here are the grades from the Week 1 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
|Week 1 vs. Bengals|
Overall, left guard Matt Slauson was the top performer in the opener, with solid blocking both in the run and pass games. His +8 as a run blocker was twice as good as the second highest teammate and he was second to only Mills as a pass blocker.
Speaking of Mills, in just his first ever NFL start, his +14 in pass protection led the team. That's saying something, considering he squared off against Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap for most of the game.
Notable is Jermon Bushrod's negative grade in the run game. He also tied for the team low in pass protection. For the richest offensive lineman in franchise history, that doesn't cut it.
Moving on to Week 2, here are the offensive line grades against the Vikings.
|Week 2 vs. Vikings|
The offensive line performed well in the opener, racking up a +56 overall grade. Yet they were even better in Week 2, compiling a +73 mark against Minnesota. After not allowing a sack in the first game, the front five actually got better in pass protection last Sunday. They graded +64 as pass blockers, which is 19 points better than their performance against Cincinnati.
The top performer of the week is Roberto Garza, which is somewhat surprising considering how inconsistent he's been the past two years. Yet Garza was stellar at the pivot, particularly in pass protection. On numerous occasions, he bailed out his teammates by peeling off a double team and picking up the free defender. Garza also graded highest in the run game as well.
Bushrod didn't improve much as a run blocker but he was much better in pass protection. He held Jared Allen in check, giving up just one sack on a play in which his teammate, Matt Forte, knocked him off his block, giving Allen a free run at the quarterback. Other than that, Bushrod did a great job shutting down one of the best pass rushers in the game.
Notable is Mills' -2 grade in the run game. That makes two weeks a in a row that one of Chicago's offensive tackles has finished in the negative as a run blocker.
Here are some secondary grades from Week 2.
We cannot discount the role that Martellus Bennett has played in the improved pass protection this season. He graded +5 in this game, and was tasked 1-on-1 with opposing defensive ends nearly every time he stayed in to block. His ability to match up on the edge allows the five offensive linemen to concentrate on keeping defenders from rushing up the middle into Jay Cutler's face.
Also notice the -3 grade of Tony Fiammetta as a lead blocker for Forte. In Week 1, he graded -2 in the run game, giving him a -5 grade on the year. Fiammatta is a smart player who always blocks the right defender but he just does not pack any punch. Against the Vikings, he repeatedly bounced backward off defenders when leading the hole. In fact, he had just one positive run-block grade in the entire contest.
Through two weeks, Slauson has been Chicago's best overall offensive lineman, grading highest in both run blocking and in pass protection. On the opposite end, rookie Kyle Long has been the club's worst performer. His +13 pass block grade isn't bad by any means but it's a far cry from his teammates at this point.
Notable is that Mills has outperformed Bushrod in every category. Long-term, I expect Bushrod to grade out higher than his rookie teammate but it's promising to see Mills rise to the challenge his first two NFL starts.
Overall, these are pretty good numbers for an offensive line that has never before played together. And they didn't do it against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. The Vikings and Bengals were both playoff teams last year, so these weren't cupcake contests. If Chicago's front five continues to improve, anything could be possible for the Bears offense this year.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.