It’s the day after Thanksgiving now but we can still talk about stuff to be thankful for. Here’s something I just thought about, something Viking fans should be very thankful for. Having a stable and productive offensive line. The key word there being “stable.” When you are able to run the same five guys out there most of the time, you have a chance for that unit to really gel and become solid. The Vikings have mostly gone with the same five all year and now that line has become a cohesive, good unit.
Then you look at the Bears’ offensive line situation and it makes you realize how thankful you should be for the Vikings’ stability in that area. The Bears’ O-line has been the opposite of stable and cohesive over the last couple years. The Vikes got a first-hand look at that mess in the second game last year. J’Marcus Webb was the main culprit, almost handing Jared Allen the all-time sack record (with an assist from Mike Martz who refused to run the ball even as his pass protection was being shredded). This year Webb has been bad again but he hasn’t even been the worst problem for the Bears. Right tackle has been a bigger issue, with former Badger Gabe Carimi turning into a matador. They are also having big problems at left guard where both Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal have started and been awful.
Look at these two positions in contrast to what the Vikings have. At right tackle, Phil Loadholt is no Pro Bowler, but he’s a good run blocker and at times an adequate pass blocker. He’s certainly a more steady guy than Carimi who is said to have trouble keeping his emotions in check during games, which compounds his performance issues. Then at left guard you have Charlie Johnson. Again, no Pro Bowler. Again, a guy who sometimes struggles in pass protection. Again, a guy who is a good enough run blocker and solid in terms of his mental approach.
Point here being, though Loadholt and Johnson may not be top-echelon guys, they’re also not guys you are thinking about yanking from week to week. You can run them out there and be sure you’ll get a good effort and most of the time an acceptable performance. This has not been the case for the Bears. That’s why the Bears are now shuffling their line yet again. Carimi is going to sit this week in favor of Jonathan Scott, at best a journeyman tackle. And at left guard it’s an even bigger mess. Chilo Rachal found out he was going to be benched and got so upset he left practice. Now the Bears have placed Rachal on the reserve/left team list. They will replace him with either Chris Spencer or Edwin Williams.
Having headcases like Rachal in there doesn’t really help an already goofed-up situation. Of course you have to wonder how much of that headcase issue is actually Mike Tice’s fault. As we learned when he was here in Minnesota, Tice is not the most even-keeled guy. There were suggestions Tice’s emotional roller coaster approach was detrimental to certain players on the Vikings (Daunte Culpepper in particular). I doubt Tice has smoothed out the rough edges since becoming offensive line coach and then OC in Chicago. So is it possible the lack of line stability is really a reflection of Tice’s approach? At this point Bears fans have multiple reasons to be skeptical of Tice. Not only is his offensive line a mess, but his playcalling has left a lot to be desired. There has even been talk of Tice handing off playcalling duties to QB coach and Jay Cutler buddy Jeremy Bates.
That might not be the worst idea for the Bears actually. Maybe Bates would better understand how to protect Cutler who takes way too many hits. Maybe he’d figure out a way to get more out of Matt Forte, a great talent whose numbers have been underwhelming this year. But the most important thing is, you don’t want to waste a great defense. This could be the last hurrah for several guys on the Bears’ D including Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers. Be a shame to see their herculean efforts go for naught because of a dopey offensive coordinator who can’t get his stuff straightened out.
Any way you look at it, the Bears’ offensive line situation is a mess. And looking at that mess should only make Viking fans more grateful for what they have up front. Kalil, Johnson, Sullivan, Fusco and Loadholt with Geoff Schwartz as your top back-up is a good unit. It’s probably good enough to take you where you want to go if you can get certain other offensive positions figured out. And there’s no fear of turmoil with the studied and taciturn Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator. Again, it’s not a perfect unit. They still have occasional pass protection problems and sometimes there are too many penalties out of that group. But it’s still one of the better units in the league especially if you take into account their run blocking. There are probably some players on the Bears who would be happy to exchange offensive line talent – and maybe even offensive coordinators – with the Vikings.
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