Bears' offensive line passes big test

Carimi, Webb & Co. hold their own against Watt, Texans' fierce pass rush

Going into Bears versus Texans, many thought the most important game within the game was the Bears offensive line against the Texans' pass rush.

Well, a review of the tape shows the Bears won that battle convincingly but still lost the war.

Give offensive coordinator Mike Tice credit for taking defensive player of the year favorite J.J. Watt out of the game. And give the Bears' offensive linemen credit for holding down the Texans' talented speed rushers — Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus.

Tice was determined not to let Watt beat the Bears. Watt appeared to be assigned two blockers on 31 of the Bears' 37 called passes.

And it's not like the Bears were merely chipping him with a running back or a tight end. Most of the time (70 percent), they were sliding protection Watt's way and throwing more than 600 pounds of beef in his path. They even used 318-pound tackle Jonathan Scott as a tight end against Watt in a couple of situations that were not short-yardage.

Watt ended up with one quarterback hit.

Double teams also were a part of the Bears' run game. Their most effective runs were keyed by a Gabe Carimi-Lance Louis combo block. And the Bears seemed to be intentionally running away from Watt.

On the subject of Carimi and Louis, it was interesting that the Texans apparently liked the matchup of Watt against J'Marcus Webb and/or Chilo Rachal on the right side of the defense.

Coming into the game, Watt had taken close to 90 percent of his snaps on the left side, but in this game he took only 63 percent on the left side.

Here is what else we learned upon further review.

Grading key: Grades are between 0 and 10 with 0 being complete failure and 10 being perfect.

Offensive line

Grade: 6

The run blocking was mediocre, but the Texans have an outstanding defensive front. That being considered, this was one of the offensive line's best performances of the season.

Carimi was called for a costly hold on the Bears' last drive but otherwise played pretty well. That was one of three penalties against the line.

Tight ends

Grade: 1

The Bears threw five passes to Kellen Davis, and the Texans probably were hoping for many more.

He caught only one of the passes and promptly fumbled. On another, he was knocked off his route, which led to an interception. He dropped two others he should have caught. And on another, he slipped coming out of his break, which nearly led to an additional interception.

Running backs

Grade: 3

Matt Forte wasn't given a lot of room to cut and slide, and he didn't create much room for himself either.

Given the conditions and the way the Texans were defending the Bears, it would have been nice to see more handoffs to Michael Bush and more passes to Forte. Combined, Forte and Bush had 17 fewer touches than Texans running backs Arian Foster and Justin Forsett.

Bush fumbled and Forte dropped a pass over the deep middle.

Evan Rodriguez was an asset as a run blocker.

Quarterback

Grade: 2

Jay Cutler's best throw, and one of his only good throws, was an incompletion that should have been a game-changing 33-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Brandon Marshall dropped it.

Cutler was more effective with his feet than his arm.

Aside from two pretty passes to Marshall, Jason Campbell failed to spark the offense. On the final drive, when the Bears had nothing to lose, Campbell kept checking down. The situation justified risk taking, and it would have been better to go down with an interception than a series of short passes.

Wide receivers

Grade: 5

Against Johnathan Joseph, one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, Marshall made a number of impressive plays as usual. His drop loomed larger than any of them, however.

Devin Hester and Earl Bennett had virtually no impact on the offense.

Defensive line

Grade: 7

There was just one sack, but Julius Peppers and Henry Melton both had very fine performances. They didn't get as much help from their linemates as they have in most other games, however.

Peppers often was lined up against the left tackle some believe is the best pass protector in the NFL in Duane Brown, and Peppers more than held his own. His sack came from inside, however, after he blasted guard Wade Smith to the ground with a powerful club move and then closed on Matt Schaub.

On the same play, Melton arrived at Schaub a half-second later after knifing through a double team.

The Texans had no answers for Melton's quickness. He was especially disruptive in the run game, and he is playing like he is well on his way to the Pro Bowl.

Linebackers

Grade: 6.5

Thirteen of Foster's runs (45 percent) were for 1 yard or less. That's a tribute to Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the defensive front.

But that defensive front was a little sloppy early in the game. The front was over-aggressive at times and lost contain on Foster a few times. On the Texans' first 18 handoffs, they gained 116 yards. On their last 15, they gained 11 yards.

Urlacher missed a couple of tackles, which he usually does not do. One of his best plays came in the third quarter when he tackled Foster after a 4-yard gain while he was falling backward trying to get away from guard Ben Jones.

Safeties

Grade: 5

Major Wright was heavily involved in the run game as the Bears played a lot of eight in the box. Chris Conte missed a couple of open-field tackle attempts.

Cornerbacks

Grade: 9.5

Tim Jennings got his hands on 19 percent of Schaub's passes (5 of 26), and he intercepted two of them. He also forced a throwaway when he blitzed and pressured Schaub in the end zone.

Peanut was punchless, but Charles Tillman still played a fine game, limiting the dangerous Andre Johnson to an average of 3.8 yards for every pass thrown to him. Tillman prevented a touchdown on third-and-5 when he tackled Foster at the Bears' 2, forcing a field goal.

Special teams

Grade: 5

The best thing the Bears did on special teams was play Devin Hester, because the Texans were afraid to kick to him. That resulted in good field position.

Hester had a fine 24-yard punt return in the first quarter but got too fancy on two other punt returns.

Missing a 48-yard field goal in the wind, rain and mud is understandable. Robbie Gould deserves credit for nailing a 51-yarder.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei

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