Despite an encouraging preseason, it took only one week of the 2023 season to raise questions about the Bears’ investments along both sides of the line of scrimmage.
General Manager Ryan Poles was clear about the need to upgrade both the offensive line and defensive front after they allowed 38 more sacks than they created during a 3-13-1 season a year ago. Justin Fields and his two backups were sacked an NFL-worst 58 times while the downsized defense was last in the league with only 20.
But there was no apparent improvement in the season-opening 38-20 loss to Green Bay. Fields was sacked four times while the Packers’ Jordan Love was sacked only once. He passed for 245 yards and three touchdowns while working without his top receiver, Christian Watson. Fields meanwhile was pressured so much he only targeted D.J. Moore twice.
This disparity wasn’t what anyone expected when Poles headed into the off-season with the most salary cap room in the NFL as well as a wealth of high draft picks. He chose to look more toward the draft than free agency, allowing the five most expensive offensive linemen to sign elsewhere before committing $30 million over three years to guard Nate Davis.
The Bears reportedly pursued 49ers free agent tackle Mike McGlinchey before Denver landed him with a five-year, $87.5 million deal. They instead selected tackle Darnell Wright with the 10th pick of the draft after bypassing controversial University of Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter with the ninth pick. Carter sacked New England’s Mac Jones while pressing him eight times in his NFL debut.
The Bears selected defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zaach Pickens in the second and third rounds. But Wright was the only offensive lineman they drafted, using seven of their 10 picks on the defense.
Much of Poles’ strategy in the offseason focused on improving the offensive cast around Fields. Yet he was pressured 25 times in the opener, repeatedly opting to scramble rather than search for open receivers.
The Bears are opening the season with starting guard Teven Jenkins and depth interior lineman Doug Kramer on injured reserve. They released veteran tackle Alex Leatherwood even though he cost them $4.6 million in a dead-cap hit.
Davis was something of a revolving door in his first start for the Bears. Pro Football Focus reported he allowed nine pressures and gave him a pass-blocking grade of 26.8, which ranked 58th among 65 qualifiers.
Veteran Cody Whitehair, the team’s fourth-highest paid player ($14.1 million cap hit) was almost as bad, with five pressures and a 52.8 pass-blocking grade. His overall 47.2 grade ranked him 49th in Week 1.
Wright, a 335-pounder from the University of Tennessee, was a bright spot on the line. PFF
The Bears’ offensive line heads into the Week 2 game against Tampa Bay ranked 30th, ahead of only Seattle and the New York Giants. It’s the continuation of a troubling trend that was has hung over Fields since he joined the Bears.