Time to shine spotlight on offensive line
Let's hear it for those grinders.
Lost amid Matt Forte's 1,229 rushing yards, Alshon Jeffery's 1,341 receiving yards, Brandon Marshall's 1,221 receiving yards, Josh McCown's career-best passing numbers and Jay Cutler's best passer rating as a Bear has been the work of the players who make it all possible -- the offensive linemen.
The same five guys have started up front for the Bears in all 15 games -- left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson, center Roberto Garza, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills.
Even after faltering last week against the Eagles and allowing Cutler to be sacked a season-high five times, Bears quarterbacks have been dropped 29 times this season, compared to 44 a year ago.
That level of protection on the O-line was unexpected, considering four of the five starters were new this year on a unit that requires more cohesion than any other in the game.
A year ago, Bushrod was earning his second straight Pro Bowl trip with the New Orleans Saints. Slauson was starting all 16 games for the third straight season with the Jets. Long was finishing up his first and only collegiate season as an Oregon Duck, and Mills was concluding his career at Louisiana Tech.
With unexpectedly mild growing pains, the two free agents and the two rookies jelled with Garza, a veteran of 13 years, including the last nine with the Bears.
How did it happen so quickly?
"I think the biggest thing is that they've stayed healthy and they've been able to play together," coach Marc Trestman said. "That's the biggest thing in growing lines. I've seen lines with all different talent levels come together because they've played together. That's the No. 1 thing.
"There's so much communication involved, and there's so much body language involved and knowing where people are and what they're going to do. Keeping them together, and the fact that they're healthy, has really helped us get better quickly."
Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer agrees his crew has benefited from playing every game together. But he says the success of other groups and individuals have contributed to the effectiveness of his guys.
"The offensive line has grown as a group," Kromer said. "But they've also been helped by the fact our receivers are getting open quickly, and our quarterbacks knows what to do, and we have a good running back. But we feel good about the way the line's playing."
Slauson gives credit to the coaching the line has received.
"Our coaches have done a phenomenal job," Slauson said. "Kromer and (assistant offensive line coach) Pat Meyer and (offensive quality control coach) Brendan Nugent; they've been coaching the heck out of us every week.
"I think it's also a product of our system. The ball is coming out on rhythm every time, so we're not asked to hold up for 6, 7, 8 seconds. The ball is usually gone in 3 or 4."
In 11 of 15 games this season, the Bears have allowed 2 sacks or less. In those games, the Bears are 8-3. When they allow more than 2 sacks, they're 0-4.
If the O-line can get back to its protective ways Sunday against the Packers, it should give them a chance to offset the points that the defense typically allows.
"We're going to continue to grind every single day," Bushrod said. "We're going to find a way to get better, study our behinds off. We have great leaders who put in endless amounts of work every single day, on off days, before and after practice.
"So, when younger guys see that, they want to push harder for that guy. And I think that's what kind of helped me out through the years. I see the older guys do that. I see our younger guys doing that. We rally around each other. And we care for one another. We want each other to have success."
That's been their mission and their goal every week and throughout the season.
"We want this team to have success," Bushrod said. "And we're only going to go so far as we can take us."