Bears coach Matt Nagy is looking for a rhythm on offense.
With all the talk about more efficient passing and balancing the running game,it might just come down to improved offensive line play.
"We have to get back to the basics," said guard Kyle Long, the Bears' longest-tenured lineman. "That's one thing [coach] Harry [Hiestand] always preaches: back to the basics. When things get a little out of whack, get back to the basics. Because when we use our basics, not many people on earth can beat us."
While the offense has struggled in the past two games, the offensive line has a few positives to stress. The unit mostly fixed the pass protection issues seen in the season opener and held the Von Miller-led Broncos without a sack last week. The running game was productive, and the unit was able to escape a road game without a false start.
There is, however, a feeling among the line that there is still work to be done. Last season, Football Outsiders ranked the Bears offensive line as the seventh best unit in pass protection. Through the first two weeks, they rank 20th. With all five linemen returning from last year, the line could be holding the pocket for longer, opening up bigger runs, avoiding more costly penalties.
"We just looked at it again," said Long. "The offensive line and I know that it starts up front and there are a lot of things I can do better, a lot of blocks I'm not making, a lot of guys not accounted for. I'll be on guys at the beginning of the play, and then at the end of the play, they're around the pile."
The line was helped by an offensive game plan that emphasized quick throws to minimize the risk of a sack from Miller or Bradley Chubb. The Broncos utilized the same strategy against Khalil Mack. On many plays, the Bears kept a tight end or running back in for extra protection. However, Nagy felt that the line did some of its best work when left to its own devices.
"When they were in scat protection, they held their own," said Nagy. "I really liked that part of it. I felt like in the run game, there were a couple times here or there that there were some mental mistakes that we can correct. It's fixable. But what we need to do is we need to fix it now. We can't be making mental mistakes in Weeks 9, 10 and 11. That stuff needs to be fixed now."
Tackle Charles Leno Jr. held his own against the vaunted pass rush but echoed Nagy's sentiments on eliminating mental mistakes. Leno also said that he'd need to avoid the drive-killing penalties that have hampered him in each of the first two games.
The NFL has increased emphasis on officials calling holding. Officials responded in Week 2 by calling the penalty more times (74) than any other week in at least the last 10 years. Leno's counterpart on the Broncos, Garett Bolles, was flagged four times.
While Leno was only flagged once for holding, an illegal-use-of-hands penalty on the same drive was particularly painful. It was the second week in a row that he'd been called for that combination. Both times, the flags flew within seconds of each other. Working to avoid a repeat will be one of Leno's top priorities in the coming weeks.
"Clearly, I'm getting called for hands-to-the-face too much," said Leno, "so I want to lower my hands because they're a little too high."
Long said that the offensive line should improve individually, and he believes that will be the key to get the offense moving.
"I need to make it my personal goal to not allow my matchup to make the play," said Long." And if we all do that, and I know that everybody strives to do that, I think we'll have success."