The Bears had lined up in I-formation for their first offensive play of the second half Sunday when they saw Texans linebacker Blake Cashman creep toward the line of scrimmage. That triggered the Bears’ offensive linemen to change their blocking assignments — a blitz was coming to the strong side.
Center Sam Mustipher snapped the ball and took three steps forward, toward his right. Texans defensive lineman Roy Lopez went the other way — around Mustipher, to his left. Mustipher put his right foot in the Soldier Field turf and pirouetted Lopez’s way, turning his shoulders as if he was letting someone pass him in a crowded hallway.
Lopez was five yards into the Bears’ backfield, but Mustipher had him sealed off from running back Khalil Herbert.
The crease was open.
“When you can win at center against the [defensive tackle], it does cut the defense in half,” Mustipher said Thursday.
Herbert took a toss right and followed fullback Khari Blasingame toward the hole between right guard Teven Jenkins and right tackle Larry Borom.
The defense overplayed the ball. Herbert cut back and into the crease, running behind left guard Cody Whitehair, who’d sprinted to the opposite hash to block to block linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Blasingame, who took on safety Jalen Pitre.
No one touched Herbert for 15 yards, and even then, it was a weak dive by a safety while wide receiver Darnell Mooney shoved cornerback Steven Nelson down the field.
By the time Herbert was tackled, he’d gained 52 yards.
“We could have drove a bus through there,” Herbert said. “It was a really big hole.”
It was what coaches call “teach tape.” When they install this play again next year, they’ll play a clip of the run, as if to say: this is how you do it.
“All 11 doing their part is exactly what it looks like on that tape,” Jenkins said.
At this time last month, it wasn’t clear the Bears’ offensive line would be able to do anything right. On paper, they were one of the worst in the league — “There’s always gonna be critics,” Jenkins said –but there was reason to think the Bears front office was getting nervous. General manager Ryan Poles had to sign two veterans on the eve of training camp. Both got beaten out for starting jobs.
Through three games, the Bears’ line is the engine behind one of the NFL’s best run offenses. The Bears’ 560 rushing yards are the second-most in the NFL, and their 5.4 yards per carry ranks fifth. Pro Football Focus grades the Bears’ run-blocking as the second-best in the NFL, behind only the Chiefs.
“From the very beginning, when we walked in in training camp, we made it the focus of who we wanted to be and the way we wanted to play the game,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “And they have taken that by the reins for sure. Our play style reflects that, the way they are firing off the football, the way they are finishing, all that stuff.
“That was the No. 1 thing we said we were going to do. We wanted our tape to look a certain way, and those guys have definitely accepted that challenge and done a really nice job.”
The Bears’ offense as a whole, though, needs work. They have the worst passing game in the NFL, and their linemen know they need to block better for quarterback Justin Fields.
At least they’ve got the run game down.
“We can talk about how good we can run the ball all day,” Mustipher said. “But at the end of the day, to beat really good teams and to be a team that’s to be reckoned with, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball.”