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Offensive line lets Chicago Bears down

Packers defense proves more than match with Matthews leading way for 7 sacks

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

September 14, 2012

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GREEN BAY — It's one thing to block the Colts, without Dwight Freeney and with the comforts of playing at home.

It's quite another to block the Packers, with Clay Matthews and the thunder that some 70,000 lathered-up Cheesies can create.

The offensive line of the Bears might be good enough for some assignments, but not for others.

The assignments like the one the line had Thursday night are the ones that matter, however. And the Bears offensive line was not up to the challenge in the 23-10 loss at Lambeau Field.

The unit allowed seven sacks and committed three penalties.

"We know those guys pretty well," Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "It's a familiar opponent, so in that aspect, we like our chances."

Matthews really enhances those chances.

He already has a league-leading six sacks, and no one rushes the passer better.

He explodes into his pass rush like he's from another planet.

He plays with a controlled frenzy that is unmistakable.

Plus, he has great hair.

"I'm just glad he's on my side," Packers linebacker Erik Walden said.

One man isn't going to block Matthews consistently. Both left tackle J'Marcus Webb and left guard Chris Spencer gave up sacks to Matthews, renewing questions about the left side of the line. Webb also had a false start and got away with a couple of holds that were not called.

"He used his hands pretty well and I got myself into trouble a lot tonight," Webb said. "I have to use this film to focus this week and get better."

If this were baseball, Chris Williams and Chilo Rachal might be warming up in the bullpen. And Jonathan Scott might be loosening up his shoulder on the side.

What's disappointing is Webb played so well four days earlier against the Colts. But that has been his history. The good ones do it every week. They shut down inferior opponents and hold their own against Pro Bowlers.

Some people thought the line problems would go away because new offensive coordinator Mike Tice promised his linemen more help.

Raji was asked if he was surprised the Bears didn't pay more attention to Matthews in their schemes.

"I just know any time they play him one-on-one, they're asking for trouble," he said.

Tice didn't leave Webb alone with Matthews too frequently after Matthews beat him one-on-one early. But help only goes so far. At some point, the linemen have to step up and make blocks on their own.

What's more, keeping extra players in compromises the offense. One of the reasons the passing game clicked so well against the Colts is the Bears often had four players running pass routes. When you have three, the quarterback's options are limited, and all of them become easier to take away.

The sack Webb gave up came in the second quarter after a penalty on second-year tackle Gabe Carimi for unnecessary roughness. The consecutive backfires cost the Bears a combined 22 yards, which put them in a third-and-33.

What's more, the sequence took them out of scoring range at a point when they were down only 3-0. The Bears had a first down on the Packers 37 before Carimi's penalty, and they were backed up to their own 40 after the sack.

Sound like a formula for winning football?

All the offensive problems shouldn't be hung on the big boys. When an offense with as much talent as that of the Bears scores only 10 points, it means a lot went wrong.

What happened to the offense was a group effort.

Jay Cutler can help those blockers if he moves better than he did in the pocket and if he gets rid of the football quicker, doesn't throw interceptions, completes passes and stays out of third-and-longs.

Cutler's performance was horrid, as all of his at Lambeau have been. He has plenty of room for improvement, as do his blockers.

Last year, the line improved as the season went on. It is not inconceivable that this year, the same thing will happen.

The linemen still are learning to work together in their revamped alignment.

Then again, if the line doesn't start showing improvement, there could be yet another reassessment on the way.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei