A major debate unfolded a year ago during the 2021 NFL draft. The Cincinnati Bengals held the 5th overall pick. Most experts felt they had two obvious choices. Either Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell or LSU wide receiver JaMarr Chase. Rookie QB Joe Burrow had been sacked 32 times in just ten games the year before. Sewell made too much sense. In the end, the Bengals opted for Chase instead. Lots of people disagreed. No doubt new Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles was one of them.
The common warning was it wouldn’t matter how open Chase could get if Burrow kept finding himself on the ground. Yet the Bengals seemed to evade those jabs like a prime Muhammad Ali for an entire magical season. Chase set the NFL rookie record with 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. Cincinnati knocked off Las Vegas, Tennessee, and even mighty Kansas City to reach the Super Bowl. That was it. The decision was proven correct.
Until it wasn’t.
After an entire season of poor play, the Bengals’ offensive line picked the worst possible game to have their worst performance. The Los Angeles Rams sacked Burrow seven times and hit him another 11. They were in his face all game long, and aside from a couple of big plays, help the star QB in check. Then with the game on the line and 40 seconds to go, they face 4th and 1. They trusted the line to do their job just one more time. Aaron Donald then ended their season in heartbreak.
It took longer than expected, but the vindication finally arrived for the critics. They knew the offensive line problem would eventually haunt Cincinnati. Waiting until a championship was on the line and needing just a few yards for a field goal to force overtime was a bit overdramatic. Yet it was again proof that a QB’s success starts up front. That game should properly support Poles’ plans for this offseason. Plans he made clear at his introductory press conference last month.
“It agitates me to see a quarterback get hit and be on the ground — and I watch the five guys and their body language.”
“If I see my guy on the ground, I’m running over there, getting him up, making sure he’s clean, ready to go. I don’t know if I saw that enough in the tape that I watched, and that’s critical.”
Ryan Poles is correct in his thinking
Justin Fields was sacked 36 times last season. That was in 12 games. Only 10 of which he started. Some of that was his own doing from holding the ball too long at times, but facts are facts. The offensive line was not good enough. Their protection was inadequate too many times during the season. Especially along the interior. Something rather troubling since most thought that area was the unit’s strength.
It wasn’t. Now Ryan Poles will make it his mission to change the narrative. There is a strong chance the Bears will invest a healthy portion of their limited resources into fixing the offensive line over the next two months. This could prove challenging. Initial reports say free agency is light on solid starters while the Bears also lack a 1st round pick in the draft.
Then again, such challenges haven’t stopped Poles before.
During his time in Kansas City, he routinely helped them find viable blockers outside the 1st round. Just last year was the most prominent evidence yet. They found not one but two starters in the draft with Creed Humphrey (2nd round) and Trey Smith (6th round). Such a task is not impossible. It comes down to good evaluation and a little bit of luck.
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