What Bears Fans Have to Worry About: New Take on Pass Blocking

Analysis: It's going to be much different blocking the pass with Caleb Williams than it was for the Bears in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's attack, with Justin Fields scrambling.
Left tackle Braxton Jones blocks against Atlanta last year. His sacks allowed in his second year dropped from seven to two.
Left tackle Braxton Jones blocks against Atlanta last year. His sacks allowed in his second year dropped from seven to two. / Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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Second in a series

With all of the concern about a rookie quarterback starter in Caleb Williams, perhaps the biggest problem in what the Bears face on offense this year gets overlooked.

They're not pass-blocking for Justin Fields now. They've just become a much more conventional passing team and offensive team overall.

Williams is mobile, there is no doubt. He's mobile in a Patrick Mahomes sense. He has foot quickness but isn't running 50 yards for a touchdown like Fields would unless the defense is spread out too far and gets occupied by blockers.

The Bears had 26 scrambles for first downs last year, half of which came on third or fourth down. Where would they have been without those extra chances they picked up through Fields' legs?

When defenses saw Fields' running, they had to build into game plans attempts to keep him within the pocket and passing.

In a sense, they made the Bears' offensive linemen better at blocking for the pass because they became preoccupied with a quarterback who might run and they protected against this. It's part of the reason Detroit coach Dan Campbell seemed so elated when he heard Fields was now out of the NFC North.

So the great question for the Bears offensive line becomes whether they're capable of shifting over to handling everything on their own instead of letting Fields run for first downs.

The big concern in pass blocking for any offensive line with a right-handed quarterback is left tackle and the Bears said they saw a better Braxton Jones in this aspect of play last year. He did allow only two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. This was after seven sacks allowed as a rookie. However, his rate of pressures allowed went up from 2.35% as a rookie to 2.91% in his second year. That's not a significant increase but still surprising considering he didn't get better in this regard for Year 2

“He's doing a great job," offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. "He's come back bigger, stronger, just looks more mature, much more confident in what he’s doing.  So I'm excited about where he’s headed."

The Question Marks

The real concern individually in pass blocking comes from right guard Nate Davis, who allowed pressure on 7.5% of pass blocking attempts, more than double the rate with Tennessee in 2022. That figure was a career best, in 2022 but his career percentage had been 5.3%. PFF graded him higher than a 52.6 as a pass blocker only during his last Tennessee season. So pass blocking is obviously not his strength, anyway.

No one complained about what they got from Darnell Wright as a a rookie at right tackle, even as he led the team in pressures allowed with 32. His future is viewed as bright. And Teven Jenkins might be good enough at left guard when healthy to elevate the entire line.

"He's a really good one, you know what I mean?" offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. "I think if he stays healthy, he'll be one of the better ones in the league."

Center will be the big question mark until they begin playing games with real contact involved because it's the only position swapped out on the line this year.

Ryan Bates and Coleman Shelton will continue their battle, but center shouldn't be a huge issue at pass blocker because they're usually helping on a block unless a team blitzes. For instance, Lucas Patrick was one of the lowest graded pass blockers in the league last year and allowed no sacks while giving up 19 pressures.

Then again, PFF graded Patrick 32nd out of 36 centers at pass blockers last year and Shelton was only a few spots better at 28th. As for Bates? No one really knows because he got on the field for only 35 snaps last year, all at center and has only 203 NFL plays at the posiiton.


PFF believes Bates will be the center and ha him ranked 25th among 32 centers in the league this year.

So how this Bears offensive line will perform blocking the pass seems more of a projection than an educated analysis.

Williams' habit of holding the ball a long time while he looks to find someone and rolls out of the pocket puts more duress on them.

They should be used to this sort of movement to some extent, though.

Where Did All The Sacks Allowed Come From?

They gave up 50 sacks last year, 44 of them for Justin Fields. Only six teams gave up more, but PFF credits Bears pass blockers at all positions -- not just the line but backs and tight ends -- with 15 sacks allowed.

So how did they allow 35 other sacks?

Maybe the answer lies in the games Fields missed. In the 4 1/2 games when Tyson Bagent played quarterback, the sack rate allowed was 3.4% In the 12 1/2 games when Fields played, it was 10.6%.

It seems pass protection breakdowns had more to do with Fields' running than Bears blocking. Maybe their line is better than anyone thought.

In that case it would behoove Williams to get the ball away in much the same manner as Bagent rather than absorb unncessary punishment and offensive disruption even at the cost of 26 scrambling first downs.

You never know what can happen when you depend on teammates to make plays for you as receivers and blockers instead of trying to do everything yourself.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven


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Gene Chamberlain

GENE CHAMBERLAIN

BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.