Chicago Bears: Chris Spencer
Kudos to Kromer, coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery for recognizing and finally acting on such an obvious liability. We've spent so much time discussing the state of the Bears' offensive line, and their annually unreasonable requests of former line coach Mike Tice to patch it together, that it feels surreal to acknowledge such a significant move.
Webb presumably will be given a chance to compete at right tackle, the position where he began his career and where 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi has flopped.
In 40 regular-season games over the past three seasons, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has absorbed 113 sacks -- the highest per-game percentage in the NFL and the third most in raw sack numbers among quarterbacks during that stretch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Cutler's shove and verbal harangue of Webb in Week 2 last season was but one illustration of his frustration with the Bears' pass protection over his tenure.
The Bears still have work to do, even after signing Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. Right guard Lance Louis remains unsigned, as is left guard Chris Spencer. The Bears want Louis back but will need to find a replacement for Spencer. It's also a bit scary to know that the top two candidates to play right tackle are both previously deposed starters. And let's not forget that center Roberto Garza has always been considered a stopgap replacement for Olin Kreutz, not necessarily a long-term replacement.
But left tackle is by far the most important position on the offensive line. The Saints didn't have the salary-cap space to keep Bushrod, and quite frankly I don't know how the Bears did, either. That's a discussion for another day. In the end, the Bears decided to stop their five-year charade at the position and have finally addressed it in a substantive way. Can you believe it?
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Bennett "is making progress," but won't be ready to play by Sunday after suffering a concussion against Seattle, making him the second player the club officially ruled out. The Bears announced earlier in the week that linebacker Brian Urlacher, who attended Thursday's practice, would miss Sunday's game as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
"Earl Bennett is not playing this week," said Smith after the workout inside the Walter Payton Center. "We have two guys out."
Pro Football Focus (PFF), which charts the result of each block for every game, has Carimi with 44 quarterback disruptions on 347 snaps as a pass-blocker this season. That figure includes seven sacks, 28 pressures and nine quarterback hits, and it qualifies him for the third-worst pass-blocking efficiency among NFL tackles this season.
"He is simply awful in protection," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "He gets beat with power, speed, you name it."
Sometimes a below-average pass-blocker can be protected if he moves to guard, but Williamson suggested that Carimi's 6-foot-7 frame could be a hindrance there.
"Being so tall on the interior is really tough when trying to get leverage against B.J. Raji/Vince Wilfork types," Williamson said. "If/when he plays high, NFL defensive tackles are going to totally walk him deep into the pocket. And now that liability is even closer to the quarterback than when he was at right tackle."
Carimi is expected to start at right guard Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, mostly because the Bears' options are limited. Two guards who have started games this season, Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal, won't play again in 2012. A third, Chris Spencer, has a knee injury that could sideline him for a week or two.
In the long-term, however, the Bears must decide whether a poor 10-game stretch is enough to render final judgment on a former first-round draft pick who has made a total of 12 NFL starts. My guess is Carimi will get another chance, especially considering how well he has blocked for the run.
Williamson said Carimi has been "an excellent run-blocker" and thus should still be considered a prospect with "starting right tackle abilities." PFF rates him third among all NFL tackles in run-blocking. As a right tackle in a run-based offense, Carimi doesn't have to be an elite pass-blocker. But he does need to be much better than he was this season.
Perhaps that's why Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't hesitate when stating what needs to take place Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks in order for the offensive line to experience success.
"We've just got to be careful of what we ask those guys to do, make sure they're on the same page, (and) protect them," Cutler said. "You don't want to throw a lot of sevens (seven-step drops) and chuck the ball 40-50 times. They're not programmed for it. They're in new positions. Some guys haven't even played guard. We've just got to be smart with it."
- Sunday represented quarterback Jay Cutler in all his glory. We saw him express anger at the offensive line for an early breakdown and to the sideline for getting a play in too slowly. We saw him stiff-arm and then get penalized for taunting Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson on a scramble. But despite that mistake and his overspilled emotion, we saw clear evidence of the calming influence Cutler can have on this team. It's no fluke that he's won 13 of his past 15 starts. Cutler got some good-natured attention for tying left tackle J'Marcus Webb's shoelace in the huddle, but I thought Cutler's importance displayed most clearly in the production and positivity of receiver Brandon Marshall. Cutler clearly knows how to keep this otherwise mercurial player happy. Sunday, he targeted him on more than half of his throws -- 17 of 31. The next most-active Bears receiver saw four passes. Marshall's implicit trust in Cutler as a quarterback and on-field caretaker has been one of the more unusual trends to emerge from the Bears' season.ESPN.com
- It was hard not to flash back to the saga of former Bears offensive lineman Chris Williams when Gabe Carimi was forced into emergency duty at right guard. Williams, the Bears' first-round draft pick in 2008, wound up at left guard in 2010 and never played his intended position again. Carimi, the Bears' first-round pick in 2011, was benched this season from the right tackle position. According to Pro Football Focus, Carimi did not allow a pressure in 32 snaps Sunday and blocked well against the run. I don't see Carimi as the Bears' long-term right guard unless Lance Louis' knee injury is more serious than believed. And it's hard to imagine current right tackle Jonathan Scott, a career backup with four teams, as a longer-term answer. But Sunday was an unabashedly positive development for Carimi, who performed functionally in a surprise role one week after a national embarrassment. We haven't heard the last of him, I'm sure.
- Let's not just single out Carimi for the improved protection Cutler received. Remember, the Bears played a portion of this game without either of their starting guards, Louis and Chris Spencer. Still, Cutler was sacked or under duress on only five of his 36 dropbacks (13.9 percent). Entering the game, he was sacked on 23 percent of his dropbacks. Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison entered the game with a combined 12.5 sacks, but each were limited to one quarterback hit. For as much criticism as the Bears' pass protection took after the Monday night disaster against the San Francisco 49ers, they deserve praise for plugging the holes quickly.
Five starters suffered injuries that required them to miss the rest of the game. But are any of them serious? We don't know yet, and coach Lovie Smith didn't offer much insight during his Monday meeting with reporters. Tailback Matt Forte (ankle) appeared to be limping significantly as he departed the field, and Louis' knee surely bent at an awkward angle when Allen blindsided him on an interception return. The biggest loss would probably be cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle), but indications Sunday were that Tillman was held out mostly for precautionary reasons.
Allen told reporters that he thought it was a legal hit, but Bears coach Lovie Smith was among those who fell short of agreeing with him.
"Jared Allen plays the game a certain way," Smith said Monday. "[He is] a good player in our league. I think there are some plays when you look at them again, you say, 'Hey, we could have done without that.' I think our game could do without that play. We have an injured player right now based on it. I think he could have gotten blocked a little bit differently."
The NFL will review Allen's hit and determine whether it deserves a fine or other discipline. We probably won't hear anything until Wednesday at the earliest on that. Officials did not call a penalty on the play, but for those interested, here is how Rule 12, Section 7 (b3) reads in the 2012 NFL rule book:
Prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is: Illegally launching into a defenseless opponent. It is an illegal launch if a player (1) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (2) uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/”hairline” parts) to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body. Note: The provisions of (2) do not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or helmet in the course of a conventional tackle or block on an opponent.
One of the definitions of "defenseless opponent" is: "A player who receives a 'blindside' block when the blocker is moving toward or parallel to his own end line and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side."
Meanwhile, the Bears will have to decide how to replace Louis, who has been their most consistent lineman this season and was in line for a contract extension in the coming months.
Backup Edwin Williams could take his place if left guard Chris Spencer is healthy enough to play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Another option is Gabe Carimi, the Bears' onetime starter at right tackle who did a decent job in an emergency situation at guard Sunday.
Regardless, the Bears have now lost two starting guards -- Louis and Chilo Rachal, who left the team -- in a matter of a week. Stay tuned.
CHICAGO -- Now more than ever, we are constantly made aware that football is a savage game. But on the field, where the carnage is fast and reductive, the players get their laughs where they can.
Sometime after catching an 11-yard pass late in the third quarter, one play after Matt Forte left with an ankle injury, Brandon Marshall gave his quarterback Jay Cutler a personal fantasy football update.
“In the third quarter, I leaned over to Jay and I said, ‘That catch puts me at 1,000 yards for six seasons in a row,’” Marshall said, pausing to laugh. “And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re disgusting.’”
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By placing former starting left guard Chilo Rachal on the non-football injury list, the Bears eliminated one option up front as they now won’t be able to turn to him if his replacement, Chris Spencer, can’t get the job done.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:
November woes: The Green Bay Packers have won four consecutive road games against the New York Giants, their opponent in Sunday's prime-time game. And are the Packers getting the Giants at a good time? Recent history is inexplicable but clear. The Giants are a bad November team, and this year quarterback Eli Manning has slumped badly as well. Under coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants are 13-21 in November and 67-37 in all other months. The Giants have lost their past five games in November, including two this season. Manning, meanwhile, hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since the fourth quarter of Week 7, a span of 99 passes. Since Week 8, Manning has completed only 54.5 percent of his total throws and has a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 27.1, ranking him No. 29 of 33 qualifiers during that span.
Run opportunities: The Packers achieved rare equality in their run-pass ratio last week against the Detroit Lions, running on 28 plays and passing on 31. Coach Mike McCarthy lamented a relative lack of production from starter James Starks, who rushed for 74 yards on 25 carries, and it appears Starks and Alex Green will rotate more frequently Sunday night. The Packers should have some opportunities against a Giants defense that has allowed at least 150 rushing yards in consecutive home games for the first time since 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers rushed for 158 yards against them two weeks ago, and 99 of those yards came after contact, an indication of the state of the Giants' tackling.
Tracking Allen: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had at least one sack in six consecutive games but has now gone two games without one. But the last time Allen saw the Bears, he lit up left tackle J'Marcus Webb for 3.5 sacks in the 2011 season finale. Webb is one of three offensive linemen who kept his job after backup quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked six times by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night, but offensive coordinator Mike Tice has pledged constant chip help for Webb this weekend. The Bears will try to contain the rest of the Vikings' defense with a new right tackle (Jonathan Scott) and left guard (Chris Spencer).
Peterson power: The Bears' defense has proved vulnerable recently to what has been the decided strength of Peterson all season. Specifically, they have given up at least 80 yards on runs between the tackles in each of their past five games. Peterson, of course, has been gashing teams almost exclusively between the tackles since returning from knee surgery. This season, 174 of his carries, 922 of his yards, six of his touchdowns and 11 of his 20-plus yard runs have come on runs that began between the tackles. There is every reason to believe the Vikings will attack that area early and often, and then probably follow up with a heavy dose of their play-action game.
"I need to just seize the moment and take advantage of it," Rachal said Monday. "I had a good dude before me (Spencer), but now that I'm in and have the opportunity. I want to just maximize it. I was a little (surprised), but I've always been a hard worker. I show up to work every day and let that take care of itself.
"The team called my number and that's what I'm here for, to help anyway I can."
Spencer joined the Bears last summer after spending his first six NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Although he started mainly at center during his time in Seattle, Spencer played well his first season in Chicago at right guard (14 starts) before he moved to left guard in the offseason.
But Spencer struggled at times in the preseason and in the Bears' Week 2 loss at Green Bay.
"I guess they have to do what's best for the team, and I have to keep working and get better," Spencer said. "I'm a veteran, and I've been around a long time. I understand the process. All I can do is come out here and focus on what I have to do."
Opponent: New York Giants
Location: MetLife Stadium
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: After an intense week of discussion about linebacker Brian Urlacher's future, there is more reason than ever to scrutinize Nick Roach's play at middle linebacker. Whereas we once considered it a lock that Urlacher will be ready to start the season, there now seems at least a chance that Roach will open the year at middle linebacker. It's not his best position. … Punter Adam Podlesh has a hip flexor, so rookie Ryan Quigley will handle all of the punting duties Friday night. His performance will determine whether the Bears need to consider other options if Podlesh isn't ready to start the season. … The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
Focal point: What else, if not for the Bears' offensive line? The Giants aren't expected to play All-Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul because of back spasms, but they should still give the Bears' line its best test yet. The Bears would like to make a final decision on their starting left tackle, where J'Marcus Webb is trying to hold off Chris Williams, as well as at left guard. Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal are competing for that job.
Opponent: San Diego Chargers
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Tailback Adrian Peterson won't play but will participate fully in pregame warmups, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. … Cornerback Chris Cook (concussion) and nose tackle Letroy Guion (knee) aren't expected to play. … The Vikings will continue to search for possibilities to replace receiver Jerome Simpson during his three-game suspension. Look for second-year player Stephen Burton, along with veterans Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu, to all get long looks. … Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson has impressed the Vikings in training camp and could get a chance to work with the first team Friday night. … Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst will start for the Chargers, who don't want to risk starter Philip Rivers behind an injury-riddled offensive line. Tight end Antonio Gates will also sit out.
Focal point: This might be middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley's final chance to secure the starting job. The Vikings haven't been thrilled with his tentative preseason performances, coming after a hip injury cost him the 2011 season. Another poor outing could put the team on a search for replacements.
Opponent: Oakland Raiders
Location: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
Day/Time: Saturday/7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Tailback Mikel Leshoure is expected to make his NFL debut, nearly 17 months after he was drafted and nearly 20 months from his last live game. Leshoure last played for Illinois on Dec. 29, 2010. He missed last season because of a ruptured Achilles and a portion of training camp this summer because of a hamstring strain. The Lions want to get him some preseason work because he'll has been suspended for the first two weeks of the regular season. ... New special teams ace Kassim Osgood isn't expected to play. ... Rookie Kellen Moore's chances of making the team increased with the release of R.J. Archer, but he still must earn a roster spot even though he is one of only three quarterbacks on the roster. The Lions could keep only two on their final 53-man roster.
Focal point: It would be nice to see defensive tackle Nick Fairley have a signature, breakout game to reinforce projections that he will be a significant factor this season. But in reality, a game with impact would suffice.
Tice estimates the game Saturday will determine the winner of the starting left tackle job between Webb and Chris Williams as well as the starter at left guard, where Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal continue to compete.
"Let's face it: this is gonna be the week (that determines the starter at left tackle)," Tice said, laughing. "We'll all know when we watch the game. You guys can text me and tell me who it should be."
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CHICAGO – Here are five things we learned in the Bears’ 33-31 preseason victory over the Washington Redskins on Saturday night:
1. Cutler to Marshall will be a lethal combination: This was kind of a no-brainer since the two were so successful together several years ago in Denver, but wasn’t it nice to see Jay Cutler find Brandon Marshall twice for 61 yards on the Bears’ opening drive? If the pair stays healthy, they should easily re-write the record books here in Chicago. After all, Marshall’s numbers over his first seven years in the league put him near or at the top of nearly all of the Bears’ receiving milestones, and we’re talking about an organization that’s been around for 92 years. There is still room of improvement, but if Marshall doesn’t catch close to 100 balls this season, it would be a significant surprise.
2. Alshon Jeffery continues to impress: Speaking of wide receivers, rookie Alshon Jeffery just keeps getting better. The rookie second-round pick caught three passes for 62 yards Saturday night and now leads the team after two preseason contests with seven receptions for 97 yards. Jeffery prefers to let his play do the talking. Receivers are usually big on personality, but at least publically, Jeffery is very reserved -- especially when it comes to dealing with the media. That tells me he’s getting sound advice. One day Jeffery and Marshall will be the starting outside receivers with Earl Bennett working inside in the slot. If Jeffery continues to play at this level, that day will be sooner rather than later.
3. The Bears took a hard look at the left side of the line: J’Marcus Webb wasn’t the only guy out there against the Redskins fighting for his job. Left guard Chris Spencer’s subpar performance in the preseason opener opened the door for Chilo Rachal to receive extensive work with the starters against Washington. And as promised, Chris Williams worked in plenty at left tackle. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice meets with the media on Monday, so it’s possible a decision will be made on the final offensive line combination in the near future. Teams really want to have their line set by the third preseason game -- next Friday in New York -- because that’s the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The tape never lies, and Tice should have plenty of film on all four players to make his determinations.
4. Injuries are the worst part of the preseason: Injuries are part of the game, but it’s difficult to watch a starter get hurt in a meaningless game. The scariest moment on Saturday night, was of course, the neck injury to Bears rookie safety Brandon Hardin who was carted off the field and immediately taken to the hospital. The good news is that Hardin never lost consciousness and had full movement of his arms and legs, but there is no telling how much time the third-round pick will be forced to miss. Same with veteran punter Adam Podlesh, who hurt his hip while trying to tackle Washington’s Brandon Banks on his 91 yard punt return touchdown, or free safety Chris Conte who left the game early with a shoulder injury that at first glance didn’t appear to be too serious. The injury bug also bit Washington as the Skins lost OLB Brian Orakpo and safety Brandon Meriweather in the first half. Teams that make it through the preseason without significant injuries should consider themselves lucky. Not sure if the Bears or Redskins fall into that category after Saturday night.
5. Michael Bush is the Bears’ goal line back: Bush fancies himself an all-around tailback, but clearly the Bears view him as their best option on the goal line. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound rusher replaced Matt Forte inside the 10 yard line on two separate occasions and both times he scored touchdowns. At this point, it’s kind of par for the course for Forte, who previously was removed from the game in the redzone in favor of former Bears running backs Marion Barber and Chester Taylor. But it makes sense. Bush has 15 rushing touchdowns the past two years compared to Forte’s nine. Forte is one of the top runners in the league, but the Bears appear content to once again limit his touches near the goal line.
“We were disappointed in the fact we didn’t carry over some of the things we were doing in practice to the game,” Tice said of the offense. “Also I felt like, physically, we got our butts kicked. I think it was evident more so with some guys than others. I didn’t feel that overall, as an offense, we did enough physically to make any type of statement.”
Tice pointed to the team’s inability to run the ball effectively against the Broncos as “the biggest disappointment in all.”
“I thought from Day 1 of minicamp and OTA days, we would be able to run the ball when we wanted to run the ball,” Tice said, “and we didn’t do a good job of running the football.”