Why Guard Remains Ryan Pace's Riskiest Gamble

Gene Chamberlain

Bears fans will be drawn into every single pass thrown at every training camp practice by Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky.

The fate of the franchise hangs on every single movement of these two, it's been said by many but not necessarily the coaching staff.

"Everyone always talks about the quarterback positions, but we do have some really good battles at other spots," coach Matt Nagy said.

If there is one other position battle which might be the most important the Bears have, it's easily at right guard.

So much depends on the Bears getting the right guard position correct, it's really risky for general manager Ryan Pace to be putting all his chips down merely on Rashaad Coward or Germain Ifedi.

 With other players on the free agency market still available, Pace's inability to sign any of those free agents in case Ifedi and Coward falter borders on total negligence.

He's showing almost blind loyalty to a free agent who failed elsewhere and a right guard who played defense before and offensive tackle last season until Kyle Long's injury.

The position is so critical first because of its importance in the running game.

Pro Football Focus grades every position off film evaluation like coaches do and at some positions this is more difficult than at others. On the offensive line it's a little more simple and their scoring system can be a true reflection of effectiveness.

Last year Kyle Long ahd a 38.0 grade and Coward a 51.7 grade when he replaced Long. Neither is even close to being acceptable. And Ifedi had only a 56.2 mark at right tackle. He hasn't played right guard enough to know how he'll do.

The line as a whole last year struggled greatly, and right guard was easily their weakest spot.

The line's overall improvement cannot happen unless that one position gets better at blocking for the run.

A new offensive line coach like the Bears have is only going to take a line so far. At some point it comes down to the athletes themselves and the two the Bears have at this position will need to make incredibly large strides to reach mediocre after last year.

The Bears ranked 29th in yards per rushing attempt. They were only 27th the previous season. Run blocking in the NFL might seem passe to some because of the pass. 

If they actually look closer, they'll see otherwise.

Last year three of the top 10 passing teams in the league made the playoffs. Seven of the top 10 rushing teams made it.

In every one of the last five years there were more top 10 rushing teams in the playoffs than top 10 passing teams. Over those five years on average, 6.8 of the top 10 rushing teams made the playoffs while 4.6 of the top 10 passing teams made it.

You can point to the Chiefs last year and Patrick Mahomes, but how many Patrick Mahomes are there? And even he needed a miracle finish to beat a good rushing team in the Super Bowl.

So the Bears have to become better run blockers and the right guard is critical there.

The other reason the position is huge is their pass blocking, especially now. The Bears gave up 45 sacks last year, the most since 2011.

If Foles is playing, they lose the benefit of mobility. This isn't to suggest Foles is a statue. He is good at slipping and sliding one way or the other to create a split second more time, but ultimately he lacks the mobility of Mitchell Trubisky.

So if pass blocking breaks down on the interior due to right guard, they're going to have big problems.

If they run the better, they help out the defense and it might be good enough to get them into the playoffs. If they provide Foles or Trubisky with sufficient time to throw, it increases chances for success.

The Bears do have a third option at guard with either Corey Levin or Alex Bars but a third option who has been an NFL starter at this position for years would be preferable.

If Pace does anything else the rest of the offseason, he should be on the telephone calling the agent for any of the free agent guards available to bring in one more competitor in what is a shaky field of candidates.

Here's the list. We should all know them by now: Larry Warford, Josh Kline, Michael Person, Ron Leary Kevin Pamphile, and even Ted Larsen.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

Comments (4)
No. 1-3
Barefield $
Barefield $

It a nice group to pick one from but open competition I think Barr & Ifiedi can have good years one at Tackle 👆Seattle guy at Guard we’re he was not played in Seattle. But Warford now will come cheaper what a battle now on this line.

Johnpierrebeatz
Johnpierrebeatz

I wouldn't call it negligence as far as not grabbing a guy off the free agent market. I don't think that most people are considering all the factors that are playing in the salary cap currently. Right now, the bears sit at 9 million dollars give or take in salary cap. With that money, they still have to pay their drafted and undrafted rookies and also keep a little aside just in case they want to offer Allen Robinson a contract extension. I agree, we do need a stronger Right guard to compete, but we really do have some salary cap issues. The biggest thing that Ryan Pace messed up was not drafting a higher caliber Right guard when he had the opportunity to. No disrespect to Kindle Vildor because from what I hear he's going to be a good player, but we need to draft a Right guard more than we needed a backup slot corner. But now we sit in this predicament no affordable options. 😣

KennyZ57
KennyZ57

You make some fine points about the value of the running game, well done.
However, your assessment of Ifedi suggests that you look at metrics and assume that those metrics will be accurately predictive of his performance next season.
He impressed at guard in college, then had to step up and play R Tackle. Then he had only 6 penalties at guard for the Seahawks, but they moved him to Tackle and then the penalty problems started. Watch film of him run blocking and you'll see an athletic man-mover, hole-maker.
Look at all the PFF grades forever for all the starters on last years line for the Bears. There's a trend, they all had particularly bad years in 2019. And another trend, Whitehair and Daniels were WAY better after un-switching positions (and the team recovering from Nagy's over-install).
Last year's struggles were all Nagy, and IF Ifedi and the rest of the offense cant WAY out-perform the 2018 Bears, that will be all Nagy, too.
Ifedi has a career year. Ya heard it here!


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