The Chicago Bears’ offensive line is playing extremely well in the running game. They have consistently won the battle at the line of scrimmage and have opened up massive running lanes for whoever is in the backfield. However, for as impressive they have been on the ground, they have been equally unimpressive whenever Justin Fields drops back to pass, which has crippled their chances to deploy a solid passing game.
Fields has been under constant duress as soon as he takes the snap, which is a major issue for a quarterback already working with a rag-tag group of pass-catchers. While it is unfair to put all the blame on the line (the second-year passer has also been far from perfect), it would be difficult for anyone to succeed under these circumstances. There is little the team can do to improve his weapons at this point in the year, but they would help him tremendously by providing him with better protection up front.
The first move the Bears could make to help Fields would be benching Sam Mustipher, who has proven to be a liability at center. While he has been bad from the very first snap of the season, his game against the Giants was especially atrocious. He gave up seven pressures and routinely allowed 342-pound nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, who has unsurprisingly never been known for his pass-rushing ability, to beat him across his face. Fields scrambled out of the pocket more than he had to against New York, but it is hard to blame him with the pressure constantly in his face during the contest.
Lucas Patrick has 11 career starts at center under his belt, and it is time for the Bears to give him a look at the position. The 29-year-old has also dealt with his fair share of troubles while splitting time with Teven Jenkins at right guard, but he would still be a much better option than Mustipher. Moving him to center would allow Teven Jenkins to become a full-time starter at guard, which should have been the case all along, as he has been a revelation since moving to the interior.
Cody Whitehair was playing like one of the top guards in the league before landing on Injured Reserve with a knee injury he suffered against the Giants. The team still hopes he will return to the lineup before the end of the season, but they will have to get creative if they want to get their five best starters on the field in the meantime. Patrick slid over to the left guard spot after Whitehair went down but keeping him there would leave the interior susceptible to another game-breaking performance from opposing nose tackles.
Chicago’s best option to replace Whitehair might be giving right tackle Larry Borom the Teven Jenkins treatment and moving him inside. The second-year man would benefit from having help on both sides, as he has looked occasionally outmatched when defenders attempt to beat him to the outside. He has experience at guard at Missouri, and some even thought it was his best position during the draft process.
The Bears would have the perfect man to fill the void left by Borom at right tackle in Riley Reiff, who has nine years of starting experience at the position. The 33-year-old might not have a ton left in the tank, but he should have enough to hold down the starting spot for the rest of the season. His presence would also hopefully provide veteran leadership to Chicago’s relatively inexperienced line.
If the Bears want to get the heat off Justin Fields and the Bears’ passing game, they will have to provide him with better protection. While it will likely remain a work in progress until they shore up some positions in the offseason, they have enough talent to hold their own for the time being. The first step will be getting the right players on the field, which will inevitably require some creativity.