Another week brings another challenge for the Bears' offensive line.
Last week the challenge was Detroit Lions elite interior defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. This week it's the outside pass-rushing duo of Baltimore Ravens linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, who have 17 sacks between them, 9 by Suggs.
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"Last week we faced a disruptive group inside," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "This week (Suggs' and Dumervil's) sack totals together are as high as any in the league."
Only the Kansas City Chiefs' duo of Justin Houston (11) and Tamba Hali (9) have more sacks. But that's not all the Bears' O-line has to deal with Sunday against a 3-4 defense that is tough to penetrate on land and is especially difficult because of the multiplicity of looks it can show.
"Those three guys inside (Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and Arthur Jones) are run stoppers," Trestman said. "They're big, strong, inside guys. It's very impressive to watch their defense, not only how physical they are, but the structure.
"You can see the coaching behind it, the technique and fundamentals of how their corners play and how physical they are and, in the back end, how they read. It's a good group, as good as we've faced."
The Ravens' defense is arguably the best the Bears have faced this year and the best they will face all season.
Baltimore is No. 8 in points allowed, No. 5 in average gain per rush allowed and No. 4 in sack percentage and third-down efficiency.
Traditionally 3-4 schemes are difficult to run against, and so far this season four of the top five defenses in average gain allowed per rush are 3-4s. The Ravens are even tougher than most because of the unique twist they put on their scheme.
"It's not really a 3-4," said Bears right guard Matt Slauson. "They play every front in the game. They base out of the 3-4, but they play under (a 4-3 shifted away from the strong side), they play over (4-3 shifted toward the strong side), they play jam, they play even (head up on the offensive linemen), they do it all.
"And then they bring exotic pressures. They pressure up the middle (through the A gaps on either side of the center); they're blitzing from everywhere, so that's a really big challenge for us."
But scheme and alignment only count for so much if the defense doesn't have the players. As some coaches say, "It's not the X's and O's; it's the Jimmys and Joes."
The Ravens have both. It starts with Ngata, the 340-pound nose tackle who was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl last season. On either side of him in the 3-4 alignment are 317-pound Chris Canty and 315-pound Arthur Jones.
"Their tradition is to have big, strong, powerful men inside," said Aaron Kromer, Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. "And so it's tough to run in there.
"It's very challenging. But there are certain plays that you can take advantage of what you have on offense. And we'll try to get those called."
Last week that didn't happen. The Bears were held to less than half their previous single-game low for 2013, managing just 38 yards against Detroit. Matt Forte (33 yards on 17 attempts) had the lowest production he has had in more than three years in a game in which he gets 10 or more carries.
Of equal concern against a pass rush led by Dumervil and Suggs is the Bears' pass protection.
Last week Jay Cutler and Josh McCown were pressured on 27 of 51 dropbacks, and on those they completed 10 of 25 passes for 110 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Along with 2 sacks, Bears quarterbacks were hit nine other times.
Rookie right guard Kyle Long was the only offensive lineman to grade positively, and just barely, according to PFF. Slauson allowed more pressures than he had in the last four games combined. Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills has struggled all season in pass protection, and he will have to deal with Dumervil on Sunday.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears are on pace to allow 15 more quarterback hits and 84 more hurries than in 2012, although they have allowed far fewer sacks. Cutler and Jason Campbell were sacked 44 times last season, while this year's line is on pace for 22 and is No. 3 in sack percentage allowed.
"Some weeks we've done very well, been very productive up front," Trestman said. "We've been reasonably consistent in the pass-protection game. We continue to improve, (but) we're still making mistakes. The young guys miss once in awhile in terms of which way to step, but I think the communication is better."
Mistakes Sunday could sabotage what has been an impressive Bears offense for much of the season.
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