"O-Line 'Em Up" is a regular feature that analyzes offensive line play each week of the 2010 season.
This Giants' front four is not as scary as the one that New York used to upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, but on Sunday night, they managed to pull off a streak that we may never see again.
In the second quarter of a 17-3 win over Chicago, New York sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on six straight pass attempts. The sack streak, part of an NFL record nine sacks in the first half, turned what had been a 3-0 Bears team into one that seems on the brink of disaster. Chicago has now allowed 18 sacks on the season, most in the NFL.
This isn't really a surprise. As we mentioned in "O-Line 'Em Up" two weeks ago, the Bears have been flirting with sack disaster week after week. And it's not just because left tackle Chris Williams is injured. There's plenty of blame to go around. But as we saw again on Sunday, Cutler, the receivers and the offensive scheme are even more of the problem than a leaky line.
This isn't to say that the Bears' offensive line played well, but if you're wondering why the Bears set an NFL record for sacks allowed in a half, you have to blame offensive coordinator Mike Martz, quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears' wide receivers. When Cutler dropped back and got rid of the ball quickly, Chicago had some success. Whenever he tried to hold the ball, bad things happened. Here's a look at the stats for Cutler's first 16 passing plays:
|Passes of less than 2.7 seconds|
|Passes of more than 2.7 seconds|
That chart explains it best. If you're wondering why I picked 2.7 seconds, that's the median sack time in the NFL over the 2009-2010 seasons (derived from timing every sack recorded over that time around the NFL).
As you can see, Chicago got burned any time the play call, or Cutler's indecisiveness, ensured that the Giants had time to run him down. And as the half went on, Cutler became more and more indecisive at getting rid of the ball.
Those 10 sacks the Bears allowed? Three of them happened when Giants' defensive ends beat Bears tight ends with no help --Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora vs. Brandon Manumaleuna or Greg Olsen is a mismatch every time. Another came when Cutler rolled out and eventually ran out of bounds after finding no one open to throw to (which is something he's now done twice this year).
And the piece de resistance? After giving up eight sacks in the first 25 minutes on Sunday, Martz called for a five-wide, empty-backfield set with less than a minute to go in the first half, within the shadow of the Bears' end zone. New York sent a cornerback blitz, which because of the empty backfield, no one was around to pick up. Cutler, as he had done for most of the first half, held the ball instead of getting rid of it for the ninth sack.
It's worth noting that, once the Bears turned to Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie in the second half, New York picked up just one more sack. Of Cutler's 17 sacks this season, 11 have come on plays where he has held the ball for more than three seconds. That comes a year after he ranked third in the league in most sacks of three-plus seconds.
The Bears completed four of their first five passes they could get off, largely because they relied on dump-offs (a pair of passes to backs coming out of the backfield) and quick slants (a one-step drop and a five-step drop). None of the four completions took longer than two seconds to release. But on the fourth one, we already saw Cutler's uncomfortableness in the pocket -- after being sacked by Chris Canty on the play before, Cutler never set his feet on a nine-yard pass to Fred Bennett. Instead of throwing as his back foot hit and planted on the fifth step, he kept his back foot "loose", relying instead on his arm to make up for poor technique.
Cutler did have time to try to throw deep to Devin Hester on his fifth pass attempt (he released the ball 2.6 seconds after the snap with a clean pocket), but he underthrew Hester, who seemed to have a step on the defense. Chicago went back to a quick pass (an umbrella screen to Hester) on their sixth pass. Cutler again had time to throw on his seventh pass (released at 2.9 seconds with a clean pocket), but threw an interception.
On the Giants' sack streak, Cutler held the ball at least 3.2 seconds on all but the final sack.
This doesn't excuse what is a poor offensive line. Frank Omiyale (3.5 sacks allowed this season) is overmatched at left tackle, something he also showed by two false starts in the first half last night and Robert Garza and Kevin Shaffer won't need to get ready for a Pro Bowl appearance either. But the Bears' biggest pass protection problems can be blamed as much on play-calling and the quarterback as the line's deficiencies.