Orlando Pace was just one of the reasons the Bears lost to the Falcons. But he was a big reason.
All season, the Bears' offensive line play has been a major question mark. Specifically, the run-blocking. In their first four games, the Bears rarely created any holes for their running backs; it seems almost every rushing yard Matt Forte has earned in 2009 has been the product of a Forte stiff arm and bounce to the sideline. Athletic as Forte is, this is not a good thing.
In Sunday night's loss to the Falcons, the o-line didn't just get worse at run-blocking. They started blowing pass assignments, too. As good a quarterback as Jay Cutler is, this is not a good thing.
If the Bears' line is currently in film study, they have no shortage of examples from which to select. There were plenty of times when the Falcons' athletic defensive line blew the Bears o-line off the ball. For example, Matt Forte's two fumbles were obviously crucial mistakes, but it bears noting that Forte was swarmed by a pack of Falcons on both goal-line runs. Left guard Frank Omiyale was especially bad. In the fourth quarter, Omiyale let Falcons defensive tackle Tray Lewis slide right by and meet Forte in the backfield almost as soon as Forte took the hand-off. It was as if Omiyale had never blocked a defensive tackle before; his form and execution was just that bad.
Even the Bears' supposedly reliable players had rough nights. Olin Kreutz wasn't at his best. Orlando Pace was one of the Bears' few consistent run-block mainstays, but he was occasionally dominated in the passing game, and his late false start helped ruin the Bears' chances in the red zone. Omiyale was most noticeably bad, but there is plenty of blame to go around.
After last night's game, viewers of NBC Chicago's Sports Sunday show couldn't seem to agree on who was to blame for the Bears loss. Was it Matt Forte and his fumbles? Jay Cutler's interceptions and late red-zone incompletions? Or was it the defense, which couldn't get organized when the Falcons went to the no-huddle.
The answer is all of the above. But perhaps more than anything, the Bears offensive line needs to improve. Or it will be a long season of watching Jay Cutler and Matt Forte run for their lives. No one wants that.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.