Even after finishing 2019 ranked seventh in pressure rate, the Chicago Bears pass rush is under heavy pressure to put up more sacks. They ranked 24th with 32, down from third with 50 in 2018. Akiem Hicks missed most of 2019 with an elbow injury. That allowed offenses to scheme Khalil Mack out at will and no one else really stepped up opposite him.
Pressure on Bears Pass Rush in 2020
Defending the Indefensible
The lack of a bookend didn’t go unnoticed by fans or the media. Leonard Floyd is supposed to be that guy, his first-round pedigree (ninth overall in 2016) indicates as much. But Floyd’s sack totals have fallen every year since his career-high seven in his rookie season. That’s just part of the story with Floyd’s regression though.
His pressures rose from 23 to 26 in 2019. That put him inside the top-50 in the NFL, 41st to be exact. It’s even less impressive when factoring in the number of times he was sent on a blitz rose from 18 in 2018 to a 51 last season.
One of the few things general manager Ryan Pace made clear at the year-end press conference is that the Bears value more about Floyd’s game. Pace mentioned the former Georgia Bulldog’s ability to play the run and drop into coverage as reasons they aren’t overly concerned with the lack of sacks. Still, $13 million-plus is a lot for the epitome of jack of all trades, master of none.
The Green Bay Packers showed the impact having two capable pass-rushers as opposed to one dominant one can. Even if the Bears were to move on from Floyd, handing out another monster deal to a free agent isn’t a great use of their scant resources.
A smarter alternative is to find one with their (also limited) draft capital. Not picking until the second round certainly precludes them from the premier options (sorry, no Chase Young). But they can still target a player like Michigan’s Josh Uche or Alabama’s Terrell Lewis; two guys with obvious gifts but also weaknesses that could cause them to slide.
Another path, that they could and probably should do in conjunction with drafting an EDGE defender, is to go bargain hunting. 2019’s sack leader, Shaquil Barrett, had all of 14 sacks for the Denver Broncos in five seasons before having 19.5 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Chicago could target Markus Golden if the New York Giants let him hit free agency but his asking price and age are factors. The more cost-effective and more likely route would be pursuing a guy like Carl Nassib. He had six sacks in a part-time role for Barrett’s Buccaneers and could be looking for a bigger role than what will be available there.
Of course, the defense isn’t the biggest issue for this team by any stretch. We may disagree with Pace’s assessment of Floyd, his second first-round pick in his tenure, but that money could still be spent far less effectively. It’s truly a case without a right or wrong answer.
A silver lining to Hicks’ injury and missed time has to be the emergence of journeyman Nick Williams. Eddie Goldman is the line’s unsung hero. But Hicks, in addition to his vocal leadership and run-stuffing, also occupied blockers keeping them off Mack and (in theory) Floyd. Williams chipped in six sacks and at least made letting him walk a tough decision.
Chicago’s other depth pieces were a bit of a mixed bag. Labeling them disappointments is probably a stretch despite the lack of counting stats. This is particularly true with linemen Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris.
Nichols received a less than stellar grade of 51.9 from Pro Football Focus. But that somewhat understandable after he lost three games to injury and came back to extra attention without Hicks. Robertson-Harris received more love from PFF, earning a 68.3 for his efforts. Neither jumped off the stats sheet but both are still developing and should return.
Backup EDGE is a much tougher sell. Aaron Lynch was the only reserve to record a sack as he, Isaiah Irving, and James Vaughters were very ineffective. If nothing else, it has to be a priority to get outside depth comparable to their depth at inside linebacker.
Pressure on the Bears Pass Rush
Complaints about Floyd aren’t coming from inside the building. They have defended him at every turn. All that really means is any competition will likely come from the draft. But with so many needs elsewhere, the likelihood they spend one of their second-round picks here is probably slim to none.
They could add some more depth inside. But the unit is still a strength when healthy. The same can be said for inside linebacker, though a hit is coming for that group. Both Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski are free agents. One of them won’t be back.
The Bears defense had its problems in 2018. A lot of that can be attributed to injury and being on the field far too much. Health, while never certain, can reasonably be expected to be better. The same cannot be said for how often the defense is on the field. That depends on an offense that’s already seen a lot of change. Changes could be coming to the defense next.
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