Skill position players always seem to garner the most attention, but the Bears offensive and defensive lines both deserve credit for how well they played last Saturday night in Arizona.
The starting offensive line opened holes for rookie running back Tarik Cohen, who rushed for 77 yards on 11 carries in just over one quarter, and protected quarterback Mike Glennon, not allowing a sack in the first half of the Bears’ 24-23 win over the Cardinals.
Hroniss Grasu (left) and Cody Whitehair led a strong effort by the offensive line in Arizona.
“Our offensive line, especially the first group, was a lot more efficient,” said coach John Fox. “I think our run game showed that. I think protection-wise showed that. All-in-all, we made a step forward really everywhere with the first offense.”’
With left guard Kyle Long still recovering from ankle surgery, Cody Whitehair moved from center to left guard and Hroniss Grasu joined the first unit at center. Other starters included Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle, Josh Sitton at right guard and Bobby Massie at right tackle.
The defensive line also performed well despite missing two of three starters, helping the Bears limit the Cardinals to just one touchdown on five possessions in the first half. Jaye Howard and Jonathan Bullard started at end in place of the injured Akiem Hicks and Mitch Unrein.
Howard is slowly reverting to the form he showed with the Chiefs before suffering a season-ending hip injury last November. During the 2014 and 2015 seasons he made 23 starts and recorded 93 tackles and 6.5 sacks, with 5.5 of those coming in 2015.
“He’s improved,” Fox said. “It was a little bit slow, like [linebacker] Dan Skuta as far as guys coming off of injuries from a year ago. [Howard] has gotten better and more comfortable. With all these guys coming off injury, whether it’s Lamarr Houston or Kyle Long, it’s a matter of getting confident in that by playing. In Jaye’s case, he’s gotten more confidence in it and it looks like he’s improving.”
On the mend: Houston is making steady progress as he rebounds from a torn ACL he suffered last season in a Week 2 loss to the Eagles.
“He’s definitely come on,” Fox said. “He’s gained a lot more confidence. I think you saw it in practice over the last week and a half. We’ve increased his team reps. He got in there 17 plays this past week against Arizona. I thought it went very well.”
Tough customer: Fox was impressed with how rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky performed against the Cardinals. The second pick in the draft completed 6 of 8 passes for 60 yards with one touchdown and a 135.4 passer rating while being sacked once.
“I thought he showed good toughness,” Fox said. “He took a couple shots. They did a couple things different we hadn’t seen as far as [our] protection. But I thought he showed accuracy. [There were] probably mainly a couple decisions that he’d probably change, but I thought all-in-all he did well.”
A good night: Starting at cornerback in place of the injured Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller recorded three tackles and one tackle-for-loss.
“I thought he played well,” Fox said. “I thought he had a good night defending the run and the pass. It was good to see.”
Fuller, who was selected by the Bears in the first round of the 2014 draft, missed all of last season with a knee injury.
“I think healthy, he’s fine,” Fox said. “The issue last year, he wasn’t healthy, and I think that would set anybody back.”
Seasoned pro: Fox likes the leadership that veteran Quintin Demps has brought to the secondary.
“He’s got good command,” Fox said. “He’s been there a lot. He has skins on the wall as far as experience. He’s been good for a pretty good group.”
Demps, who has played in 107 NFL games with the Eagles, Texans, Chiefs and Giants, enjoys working with his young teammates.
“I’m coming in being myself,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been in the league, you’ve got to lead by example, you’ve got to be consistent and you’ve got to play good football to be a leader. So my goal is just to come out and be myself and play good football.”