Sacks painful, but line opened lanes

Chicago Bears guard Lance Louis twisted his ball cap to the back and listened to questions, seemingly disgusted with his own performance on a team that surrendered nine sacks Saturday in its preseason win over the Buffalo Bills.

Players and coaches often discuss the need to review game tape before making critical self assessments.

But for Louis, why wait?

“Anytime you give up a sack, it’s not a good thing,” Louis said. “You always want to protect your quarterback, and tonight I didn’t do that. I was just out there trying to head-butt people, and just be too aggressive. That’s it. I got beat by a club and on an inside move. It wasn’t anything special; it was me. I’ve just got to get better, man.”

Louis isn’t the only one. The whole unit needs to improve. But reflection usually offers clarity, and a day after what appeared to be a nine-sack debacle at Soldier Field, the truth is that what transpired really wasn’t out of the realm of what was expected.

The first-team offensive line played the entire first half, allowing four sacks, and committed only one penalty -- a holding call on left tackle J'Marcus Webb on a sack by Marcell Dareus that was declined -- while opening the rushing lanes for the Bears to run for nearly five yards (4.9) a pop.

Behind both the starters and backups up front, Chicago’s rushing attack churned out 164 yards, which qualifies as the second-best rushing performance of the preseason. Such a feat surely couldn’t have been accomplished if the blocking was truly horrendous.

“There were definitely a lot of positives,” Webb said. “That goes in with the [rushing] numbers. We definitely want to run the ball well. We’ve got a lot of big guys and we want to move the ball.”

Obviously, the ability to move the chains through the rushing game makes for unpredictability on offense while taking pressure off Jay Cutler in the passing game. But as expected, the pass-blocking portion of the offensive line’s responsibility still leaves much to be desired.

It’s important to remember that of the team’s five starters up front, Chris Williams -- arguably the most inconsistent of last year’s performers -- has the most experience (11 starts) at his current position.

“Too much pressure on the quarterback, we have to tighten that up a little bit,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “We have so far to go.”

No question.

Of the starters, Webb seemed to struggle the most, and a team source confirmed as much. Not only was Cutler sacked once, he was pressured to scramble on another play because of a combination of protection issues and solid coverage from the Bills defense.

Webb also appeared to bear the responsibility of back-to-back sacks by Shawne Merriman on backup quarterback Caleb Hanie.

Does that mean offensive line coach Mike Tice should switch Webb back to the right-tackle spot and move rookie first rounder Gabe Carimi to the left? Not yet. Tice now has the dilemma of whether to flip-flop the tackles, allow time for Webb to improve or re-insert Frank Omiyale into the starting lineup at left tackle, where the team would run the risk of enduring the same production this season as it did in 2010 at that spot.

Tice also needs to consider whether to plug in free-agent acquisition Chris Spencer at center, and kick Roberto Garza back out to guard -- his more natural position -- while making Louis a reserve.

The coaching staff, as of Sunday afternoon, hadn’t made any decisions about whether to tinker more with combinations along the offensive line, or give the current group more time for cohesion. As the team reviews film from Saturday night, Tice will put a stopwatch on each of the sacks to determine whether his unit was truly at fault, or if the quarterbacks held the ball too long.

Hanie admitted that could’ve been the case on at least two of his three sacks. It’s also worth noting that the Bills played solid man coverage on the receivers throughout the game, which likely extended the time quarterbacks had to hold the ball before targets came free.

While Cutler and Hanie understand the concept of quickly throwing to spots in Mike Martz’s offense, which somewhat explains their 50 percent completion percentage against Buffalo’s coverage, rookie Nate Enderle produced a higher completion percentage (70 percent), but suffered five sacks; evidence he may have actually waited for receivers to come open before unleashing passes.

“It’s definitely technique. From the mental part of the game, I think it was pretty good. I’ve just got to keep harping on technique,” a visibly disappointed Louis said. “I don’t know about those other guys because we didn’t watch film yet, but speaking on behalf of myself, I’ve got to get some more work in so I can be better for those guys. This year I’m just trying to stay stress-free, man. The opportunity is there, it’s all about what I do with it.”

Again, Louis isn’t the only one.