Jay Cutler stood in the pocket Thursday night and surveyed the field. And he kept surveying.
The Bears' quarterback seemingly had an eternity — five seconds, to be exact — on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line to choose his target. Did he fancy his 6-foot-6 tight end? His Pro Bowl pass-catching running back? Or one of the NFL's best receivers?
He considered all three and settled on the receiver. When Brandon Marshall finally broke away from two impatient Jaguars defenders, Cutler connected with him for an easy touchdown that highlighted the first-string offensive line's performance in the Bears' 20-19 exhibition victory.
"I came back to 'B' and just had to wait for him to find an opening," Cutler said. "I guess with that offensive line, anybody could have stood back there."
The offense's production — or lack thereof — during the three series the first-string line played against the Jaguars underscored how critical that unit's performance is to the Bears' offensive success.
For the second straight game, Forte didn't have sufficient lanes to run through. On the 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive, he carried four times and lost 2 yards. His longest rush was for 1 yard.
That drive succeeded, though, because of superb pass protection.
After two Forte runs netted no gain, Cutler converted third-and-10 with his legs. The Bears established a pocket from which Cutler escaped through the front when he didn't like his downfield receiving options.
Cutler then connected with a wide-open Jeffery for 32 yards over the middle. He had enough time to wait for Jeffery to find an opening against zone coverage.
The line finished the drive as a fortress for Cutler on third-and-goal. Kyle Long and left tackle Jermon Bushrod each won one-on-one blocks. Right tackle Michael Ola and center Roberto Garza blocked defensive end Andre Branch, who stunted inside.
How the offensive production correlated to line play Thursday supports the argument that the line's collective health last season was perhaps the most underappreciated factor in the offense's success. All five linemen started all 16 games. Their continuity fostered cohesion and sharpness as the season progressed.
On Thursday, though, the line remained a focus for the opposite reason. Although right guard Long returned from an injured right ankle, right tackle Jordan Mills missed his second straight game with a sore left foot.
Mills expects to return soon, and he did not wear a walking boot on the field before the game.
That's a positive sign ahead of next Friday's exhibition against the Seahawks, which will serve as the dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Bears will look to sort out their run blocking issues before then.
"Obviously, we would have loved to have run the ball effectively," left guard Matt Slauson said. "We have to really grind in that. But we aren't overly concerned because we don't game plan for these preseason games. I don't think it will be an issue."