Prior days explored the tackles and guards, and today will focus on center, with a bonus glance at tight end and wide receiver blocking.
Let’s start with center, the last position on the offensive line and an area that has been held down exclusively by Sam Mustipher for the last two seasons.
The table below shows how Mustipher held up in pass protection compared to the 39 centers around the NFL who had at least 200 pass blocking snaps. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF), and true pass sets are intended to remove plays designed to minimize the pass rush, such as screens, play action, and rollout. Cells highlighted in green indicate a rank in the top 25%, while red indicates the bottom 25%.
There’s really only one takeaway here: Sam Mustipher is awful in pass protection. Every column that’s not red just missed the cutoff. (Every Bears fan already knows this, so I don’t think we’re breaking any new ground.)
There is less data to go on here, as I have nothing but PFF grades for the players. PFF does split the data into gap and zone runs; you can read more here for information about the difference, but generally zone runs make the lineman responsible for a specific area and let the running back read where the hole is, while gap runs aim to clear a hole in a specific gap.
The table below shows how Mustipher graded out compared to 33 NFL centers with 200+ run blocking snaps in 2022. Cells highlighted in green indicate they ranked in the top 25%, while red indicates the bottom 25%.
Here we see that Mustipher is actually a fine run blocker, as he’s generally around average.
Looking to Free Agency
Mustipher is a free agent, and I doubt the Bears will have much interest in bringing him back, so I think we’re finally free of having to watch him get dominated at the point of attack every week. I expect center will be a high priority target in free agency, with top names like Ethan Pocic or Connor McGovern making a lot of sense. If they choose to look to the draft for a solution, players like John Michael Schmitz or Luke Whypler could be targets on day two.
TE Run Blocking
There’s not much pass blocking data to note (Cole Kmet had around 50 pass blocking snaps), so we’ll focus on run blocking only. The table below shows how Chicago’s tight ends graded out compared to 46 NFL tight ends with 200+ run blocking snaps in 2022. Cells highlighted in green indicate they ranked in the top 25%, while red indicates the bottom 25% (Trevon Wesco’s ranks are where they would be if he had enough snaps to qualify).
A few thoughts:
- The first thing I note is that the Bears very clearly prioritize blocking in their tight ends. Both Cole Kmet and Trevon Wesco are stronger in this area than as pass catchers. Kmet is also fairly involved in the passing game, but I would expect the Bears will prioritize blocking ability over pass-catching chops when looking at backup tight ends this offseason.
- Wesco is currently a free agent, but I won’t be shocked if the Bears bring him back on a cheap contract since he is a strong blocker.
- One other notable result here is that Wesco played in more gap than zone blocking looks. This is particularly notable since the Bears as a whole were zone-heavy compared to the rest of the NFL. Wesco mostly played in two TE sets, so this indicates the Bears like to run more gap plays out of that formation. This makes sense, as heavy personnel are commonly used for short yardage runs, and those tend to be more gap heavy.
WR Run Blocking
Again, there’s basically no pass blocking to consider, so let’s look at run blocking. The table below shows how Chicago’s wide receivers graded out compared to 71 NFL wide receivers with 200+ run blocking snaps in 2022. Cells highlighted in green indicate they ranked in the top 25%, while red indicates the bottom 25% (Dante Pettis and Byron Pringle’s ranks are where they would be if he had enough snaps to qualify).
A few thoughts:
- Again, we see how much the current coaching staff emphasizes run blocking, as Chicago’s receivers generally fared pretty well. Their two main receivers – Mooney and St. Brown – both graded out in the top 25%, and three of the four were especially good in zone, which is the Bears preferred running scheme.
- Here we see the gap percentages being very low, a reverse of what we saw with Trevon Wesco. This also supports the hypothesis that short yardage plays were more gap heavy, as these would feature more TE and fewer WRs. The WR blocking ratios are probably more what the Bears do in neutral situations.
- Chase Claypool only had 71 run blocking snaps with the Bears, and he graded out at a 58, which is slightly above average. It’s a small sample, so not a ton to take away from that, but I would expect him to generally be a solid run blocker going forward as well.
- Thus, when looking at WR the Bears might target in FA or the draft, pay attention to their run blocking. You can bet the Bears certainly are.