Those are the only five players with more sacks on this early season than Robert Quinn, the early frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL. (Being that he “played” most of 2020, he’s probably not even eligible for the award but symbolically the point is made.) A second look at the players above Quinn reveals an even more significant truth.
Garrett has 6 sacks, but recorded 4.5 in a single game, against the Chicago Bears. Jones has 5 sacks, all coming in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Hunter had 3 of his 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Only Hargrave, Watt, and Robert Quinn have delivered as pass rushers in each of the first four games of the 2021 season. They have been the most consistent performers off the edge, with Quinn’s teammate Khalil Mack a half-sack behind and right there in the same conversation. But Quinn’s appearance on this list is something of a revelation, and a shocking revelation at that. Let’s follow the timeline.
- March 2020. Bears sign Quinn to a 5-year, $70 million contract. After years of Leonard Floyd failing to fulfill his pass rush promise, the Bears had seemingly solved the issue opposite Mack.
- May 2020. Quinn is already dealing with injury issues. (Folks forget how early the injury word began trickling out of Halas Hall.) Was it his back? His hip? Why wouldn’t anyone say definitively?
- Camp 2020. Quinn is nowhere to be found. He never practiced, never appeared in the preseason and things seemed to be pointing in consistently bad directions for his season.
- Season 2020. Useless, and it is coupled with that fact that Leonard Floyd’s 9-sack performance in Los Angeles. Ryan Pace takes the majority of the criticism.
- December 2020. Brad Biggs cracks the code, finally reporting that Quinn is suffering from something called “drop foot”. The article landed me on the Mayo Clinic’s website, learning that “Foot drop, sometimes called drop foot, is a general term for difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. If you have foot drop, the front of your foot might drag on the ground when you walk..”
Now, through four games of the 2021 season, Quinn has 4.5 sacks and could easily have 2-3 more. He’s well on his way to the double-digit sack campaign the Bears paid him to reach. But from a gameday perspective, Quinn’s reemergence is going to allow the Bears to stay competitive in at least 75% of the games they play this season. With a secondary comprised of Jaylon Johnson, a mediocre Eddie Jackson and a bunch of street guys, the only hope for this defense is a multidimensional pass rush and Quinn is finally providing that needed second dimension opposite Mack.
This will also allow the Bears to start Justin Fields without him needing to throw 50 passes a game to stay competitive; a completely untenable situation with the offensive line as currently composed.
From a future perspective, Quinn is also taking the pressure off Trevis Gipson, a player the Bears expect to be a premier pass rusher in the years to come. If Quinn wasn’t healthy enough to be an every-down contributor, Gipson would have been forced into early-down situations he’s not quite ready for yet. Quinn’s performance, including his work in run support, allows Sean Desai to bring Gipson in for obvious passing situations and raise the young player’s confidence. That developmental strategy paid off Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
Mack will only be 31 years old next season. Quinn will be 32. (Both are younger than the still-performing Von Miller.) If the Bears can bring Fields along over the duration of this campaign, there is no reason to believe the 2022 defense can’t be anchored by two of the best pass rushers in the sport. And having the pass rushers sorted is like having the quarterback sorted – it makes life for everybody else on the unit far, far easier.