Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Jan 2013

Phil Emery Evaluates The Bears Offensive Line

In Tuesday's rare press conference, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery expounded on how he evaluated the Bears offensive line. Sean Jensen provides the transcript, which clocks in at 2,234 words, and it's well worth reading as a rare in depth insight into a GM's thought process.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 02 Jan 2013

20 comments, Last at 03 Jan 2013, 10:24am by Anonymousse


by TimK :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:58am

Thanks for posting that. Leaves me wondering how much better the UFA options for OL will be this year (he sure makes last year seem pretty bleak on that front). I guess seeing where and how Chicago go after OL this off-season will be more interesting now as well.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 5:10am

Quite a lot of what he says is an illustration of the futility of trying to remotely grade line play, or perhaps to remotely grade any position. I wonder if there's any connection between him looking at PFF and signing 'the best young guard in the NFL' Chilo Rachal?

If I were a Bears' fan I wouldn't be happy about this, is he not able to grade the players himself? Is there no one in the front office he trusts to do it. I do think it is to his credit that he was interested in the epistemology behind STATS inc. before he looked at it, even if he then dismissed the relevance of most of it.

by Podge (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 6:08am

I dunno, I think its a decent idea to look at other sources to try to seek unbiased opinions of players. I think the job of critiquing your own team is a pretty tough one, and he might have, through this process, identified it as a need. It would be tough to find someone who is a good scout whose evaluations you can trust, who is also strong enough to stand up to all the folks who drafted and coached players and say "that guy sucks because of X, Y and Z." You can probably trust a third party source a bit more on it, until you get the right person in position to do it (which evidently they don't have).

That being said, it does seem odd that he's fired Lovie Smith because of his failure to develop the offense, but then basically said that the offense is necessarily a work in progress due to the restrictions of how much you can get out of free agency and the draft. Seems harsh on Smith that he's basically saying "yeah, I couldn't get you all the pieces that you need, but its your fault that they weren't good enough." Especially when the players that you decided before the season were good enough either weren't, or were so bad that they got cut or benched.

by coboney :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 9:35am

Well remember Emery inherited Lovie Smith and may not have found that they got along or they may not be a good fit or he wanted his own guy there. Those would be normal type things to have happen.

On the other hand it is interesting to see a GM willing to speak candidly like this and I hope to see more.

For Bears fans - the bright side here is that Emery isn't operating in a little box that won't tell him things he doesn't want to hear. Looks like he's willing to look at and consider various sources in addition to traditional scouting.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 12:20pm

The thing is, you're making the assumption that the GM even said that. Its entirely possible what he said at the beginning of the season was something like this: "Our offensive line isn't very good, and there's pretty much nothing available to improve it. You're going to have to find a way to deal with that (quicker patterns/screens/etc)" and he fired Lovie because Lovie basically ignored the issue instead of trying to work around it.

Also, "Especially when the players that you decided before the season were good enough either weren't, or were so bad that they got cut or benched.", this can somewhat be laid at Lovie's feet. Lovie is the guy who picks the OLine coach. If the Oline coach said "These guys will be bad, but not terrible" and then they either were terrible, or got worse as the season went along, thats Lovie's issue.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 12:33pm

Lovie pushed for Kellen Davis who was probably the worst TE in football last year. Daryl Drake is one of Lovie's 'great coaches' who has never coached a WR up in his life. Lovie sacked the previous TEs coach (who knew what he was doing) too. The fact is, Lovie's offensive coaching staff have always sucked.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:45pm

Was that Lovie or Mike Martz? It was no secret that Martz had no use for Greg Olson, and Davis wasn't actually pushing Olson for snaps before Martz arrived.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:39pm

Yes Martz took a pass catching TE and decided he was no good as a blocker and therefore no use to the team (they could have really used him this year) but it was Lovie who wanted Davis back this year, and he wasn't as cheap as his performances.

by tuluse :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 5:04pm

I don't think much of Olsen, and I don't think losing him really hurt.

Now starting Davis and forcing him to be a big part of the gameplan was a terrible decision, but that doesn't retroactively make getting rid of Olsen a bad decision.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 5:51pm

Well he was fifth in DYAR and had over 800 yards, that would have been nice. I think you are correct though that the Bears weren't going to pay him market value when they had Martz though so better to get some value for him I suppose.

I reckon they would have been much better off with him this year though.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 10:24am

Does it matter? Martz worked FOR Lovie. Lovie had final say.

by JonFrum :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 9:34pm

You had better be able to critique your own team. How else would you know whether to bring in a new guy? I would just assume that every team would have a weekly grade on every player, along with preseason grades almost daily. If a team actually 'picked sides' and then went with those guys, I can't imagine them succeeding.

The story of Belichick is that he brought in a whole new scouting system when he got his first HC job at Cleveland, demanding that the scouts tell him what current player a draft choice would replace and why. In order to do that, you need to know exactly what your own players are doing. Draft choices aren't extra toys - they're meant to be replacements for someone on your current roster. Same thing for free agents or trade targets.

In fact, I've always assumed that every team has notebooks with a grade on every player on every team in the league, plus all entering college players. That would necessarily include your own guys.

by Jerry :: Thu, 01/03/2013 - 4:52am

I'm sure the Bears do this kind of evaluation, just like the rest of the league. If Emery feels like their internal evaluation of the O-line is vastly different than everyone else's, it's a good idea to find something that feels "objective" and see whether or not it confirms what they thought.

Thanks to Tom for posting the link.

by usernaim250 :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 11:12am

The STATS and PFF evals are nice and everything, but only the coaching staff knows what a player was responsible to do on a play and whether they did it or not.

The "we need playmakers" mantra is a big fail. So many "plays" come out of good blocking that would not otherwise be there.

In strategizing, one must remember, O-Linemen a)drop like flies, b)take time to develop, c)can be had in the mid to low rounds except (usually) LT. You have to keep drafting them so that you have a pipeline of good backups or else you will sink.

Finally, I still don't see how your offensive line is your weakness so you elevate your O Line coach to O Coordinator.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 12:28pm

I think (or hope) that Emery meant to show that whilst the offensive line did indeed suck, other teams experienced similar problems yet still made the playoffs - and that this indicated a weak correlation between winning success and statistical measures of line play. He then moved on to say that the Bears' TEs and slot receivers weren't getting open and catching the ball, and that this is a bigger problem. It was a problem all year and I have no more faith in the existing coaches fixing the problem than Emery does. Yes there were issues on the line but other teams were able to overcome similar problems and put up points whereas the Bears haven't looked capable of doing so under Lovie, ever.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 1:00pm

Precisely. Emery basically looked at the most commonly cited reasons for the Bears' offensive ineptitude (O-line and dropped passes) and concluded that those factors aren't as responsible for success or failure as is assumed. He clearly believes that the Bears' biggest problem is the inability to work the middle of the field. In addition to the shortcomings of Kellen Davis and Earl Bennett, he cited the under-utilization of Forte as a receiver.

He also said that he used STATS, Inc. and PFF to evaluate the Bears because it's hard to be objective about your own guys. He's not just a numbers guy though, as he said you must have scouts to evaluate run blocking.

I'm optimistic about Emery. He has a clear vision for what he wants the team to be and I appreciate the insight he provided into his though process. It remains to be seen whether he can implement it correctly, but he's got the benefit of the doubt from me.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:40pm

Jay Cutler has missed 8 games in the past 3 seasons, and was knocked out in the middle of an NFC championship game. I wonder if Emery factored that into his evaluation of the Bears' OL.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 4:35pm

Those injuries weren't all a result of poor lineplay. The broken thumb came because Knox fell down on a route and Cutler got injured pushing him out of bounds. The concussion against the Giants - which is all the more disturbing since he clearly got sacked six times after getting concussed - was a result of Omeyiora (sp?) ignoring the rules on hitting QBs and drilling Cutler in the back of the head as he tried to throw. The concussion this season was Cutler trying to make a play and a LBer ignoring the rules on hitting QBs in the head when attempting to throw.

Yes the Bears' line hasn't been good but it shouldn't have been able to destroy the Bears offensive gameplan for several seasons. Someone on the coaching staff needed to get a grip and no one did.

by KarlK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:07pm

There is a reason that great offensive tackles make 8 figures a year: they are rare, very rare. Ever playoff teams make do with what they have, so it's no wonder the Bears are no exception.

No, the problem with the Bears offense is in the receiving corps -- and in a predictable offense. The tight ends are terrible. The average FO reader is probably a better slot receiver alternative than what the Bears have. Devin Hester's decline as a kick returner is astonishing, but he was never a good receiver to begin with. Marshall is great, and Jeffries has huge upside (the pick was great in my view)but he is a rookie. Teams figured out that you double Marshall, and then dare the other receivers to beat you.

by Eddo :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 3:12pm

I think the Bears are OK at WR - Marshall's a very good #1, Jeffery has a lot of promise and can be a solid #2, and Bennett's perfectly fine in the slot role.

Now, TE is a position that must be addressed.