The Chicago Bears seem to have answers on the interior of their offensive line, thanks to a former undrafted rookie. Both Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy went out of their way last week to compliment Sam Mustipher as being a calming presence on their offensive line and essential to the improvement they showed down the stretch.
“I can’t say enough about Sam Mustipher, we’re so lucky to have him,” Ryan Pace told Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer last week. “His leadership, his intelligence, his ability to calm everybody down. It’s infectious. He’s the guy sprinting 20 yards down field, picking up the ball carrier, leading the whole group.”
In an interview with Dan Wiederer and Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Matt Nagy offered similar remarks.
“Things really got calm,” Nagy said about when Mustipher entered the lineup. “He proved to use that he is more than capable of being a starting center in the NFL. The number one thing he brings is leadership. He’s such a multiplier.”
That last line from Nagy is crucial.
Pace and Nagy regularly reference multipliers and the importance of players who make those around them better. They made it clear that they think Mustipher is that kind of player and the data backs it up. In the games Mustipher played, the Bears averaged 5.3 yards per carry running up the middle on first or second down, according to Sharp Football. That is a full yard per carry better than they averaged with Cody Whitehair or Alex Bars at center.
And the numbers were better almost across the line, as they averaged 8.9 YPC behind left tackle, 5.7 behind left guard and 4.8 behind right tackle. The only area they struggled was right guard, averaging 3.4 YPC on first and second downs, with Alex Bars playing. They seem to have an answer there. In games Mustipher didn’t start, the Bears averaged (from left to right) 4.0, 1.9, 4.3, 3.8 and 3.5 yards per carry on first and second downs.
Part of the reason for the success was being able to move Cody Whitehair to left guard, where Pace said he played better than he ever has at the NFL level. While they averaged 5.7 YPC on early downs with Whitehair at LG, they were at 1.9 with anybody else in that spot. Both the coach and the GM said the plan is to keep Whitehair at left guard, Mustipher at center and for James Daniels to play right guard in 2021.
While Daniels should have to fight off Bars and perhaps 2020 rookies Arlington Hambright and Pig Simmons, it’s easy to see why the Bears like what they have. It’s also easy to see a situation where they bring four of the five starters down the stretch back, including Germaine Ifedi at right tackle where he more than held his own, though still occasionally struggled in pass protection.
Even if the Bears only have to focus on right tackle this offseason, those players are generally cheaper and easier to find than good centers or left tackles. Depending on what happens with the trade market, the Bears could rather easily find a long term answer at right tackle — or perhaps a player who could eventually replace Charles Leno at left tackle — in the third round of a deep draft.
Centers are often overlooked pieces of the offensive line. When the Bears offense had no life, Mustipher came in and immediately upgraded the key position and gave the team a potential long-term answer.