By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) – The Bears' offensive line has had a spotlight on it for over a year now and Saturday night's performance against the Bills did nothing to change that.
Head coach Lovie Smith kept his first-team offensive line in the game for the entire first half and there were mixed results as the Bears won 10-3 in their first preseason game of the year.
On one side, left tackle J'Marcus Webb struggled, while left guard Chris Williams held his own. On the other side, rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi sparkled, while right guard Lance Louis was inconsistent. In the middle, Roberto Garza allowed a sack, but was otherwise average.
At one point in the first half, the Bears allowed three sacks and a tackle for loss on four straight offensive snaps. First, on the last play of the Bears' first offensive series, Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman bull-rushed Webb, forcing the left tackle to hold him, and rookie defensive end Marcel Dareus got past Louis to sack Cutler. That would be Cutler's last snap of the game.
On the next series, Chester Taylor was tackled for a one-yard loss on first down. Then, on second and third down, quarterback Caleb Hanie was sacked by Merriman. On both plays, Hanie held onto the ball too long, but Garza was responsible for the second sack.
"We're not going to play Super Bowl football on the first day so we definitely want to progressively get better," Webb said after the game.
That's a fair point by the left tackle. At this point, there's not much more the Bears can do other than ride it out with what they have. But when Webb was asked a follow-up question about what he would say to critics who believe these are the same old problem as last year, he had a simple response:
"I'd say, 'No comment.' That's what I'd say."
Louis was especially hard on himself after the game. He admitted he played "below average " and said "I can't afford to do that."
"My technique was just sloppy," he said. "Definitely could have done better things with my feet and my hands. Definitely need more work on that."
On the bright side, Carimi was solid in run blocking and pass protection all night long. He was by far the best player on the Bears' line. Williams didn't make any glaring mistakes either and was solid.
"I thought I played pretty well tonight. I thought I had pretty solid technique," Carimi said. "I felt pretty good out there. I felt like I blocked out there. I felt really good with my play."
While he had good things to say about himself, his comments regarding the line as a whole weren't as positive.
"You obviously want to do a little bit better and we have a couple more preseason games to really get continuity on the offensive line," he said.
You can read in between the lines and suggest Carimi is calling out his teammates – which in a way he is – but he's also right. Carimi played well and the rest of the line didn't. It's an honest assessment and he's known for being honest to the media.
It was also a good sign to see the line get better as the first half went along. On the Bears' only touchdown drive of the game, the line opened up large holes for Marion Barber who gained 31 yards on six carries on the drive. Four of the six runs went to the left side, which indicates Webb was much better run blocking than he was in pass protection. Hanie scored the touchdown on a 4-yard keeper.
"It was a starting spot," Smith said. "We'll get better every rep we have. But you know, some of the pressure we need to take care of. But (it was the) first time this group has been together. They'll continue to get better each time they play."
The bottom line: the coaches and offensive linemen know they need to be better and they need the time to gel together. Let's not forget that there weren't any offseason workouts this year and that makes a big difference. You might not like Webb's comment about them not playing like a "Super Bowl" offensive line yet, but he's right. Give them time before you panic.
For more Bears updates and post-game coverage follow Adam on Twitter (@AdamHogeCBS).
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