Zooming in on the Chicago Pass Rush: Life Before & After Robert Quinn

| February 20th, 2023

Every Bears fan knows the team had a terrible pass rush last year, which is why they have been heavily rumored to be interested in high-priced free agent defensive linemen and highly regarded pass rushers at the top of the draft. But to better understand what the Bears need, let’s first look at exactly how bad they were last year, and what they have returning. That will help figure out exactly what they need to add in order to bring their pass rush up to par in 2023.

Team Pass Rush

All of this data will be pulled from Pro Football Reference, which has advanced statistics going back to 2018. That gives us a sample size of five seasons, or 160 teams.

However, I found that pass rush has varied quite a bit from year to year, with the average pressure rate fluctuating between 22% and 26% and the sack rate between 5.9% and 6.8%. In a simple effort to scale statistics for a between the years comparison, I looked at the sack or pass rush differential. For example, in 2022 the average pressure rate was 22.3%, so a team generating pressure on 23.3% of dropbacks was 1.0% above average, or would have a pressure differential of 1.0%. That same 23.3% would be 2.0% below the 25.3% average in 2021, so it would get a -2.0% pressure differential that year.

The table below shows how the Bears fared in the major pass rush stats compared to all 160 teams since 2018. Areas where they ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those where they ranked in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

As you can see, it’s not pretty. Chicago’s pass rush was among the worst in the NFL over the last five years in every category. This shouldn’t be a shock to anybody who watched the Bears last year.

Of course, the Bears traded their best pass rusher away midseason, and I wondered how much that impacted their pass rush. Thankfully, Pro Football Reference has data split up week by week, so the table below looks at how the Bears did in the same categories for the seven games before they traded Robert Quinn and the 10 games after trading him away.

A few thoughts:

  • Chicago’s pass rush was actually around average with Quinn, but their production plummeted after trading him.
  • All of the values after the Quinn trade would have ranked dead last in the NFL of any defense over the last five years. In fact, the -10.7% pressure differential would be the worst mark in the NFL by over 2% in that span.
  • In addition, the Bears were forced to rely on blitzing linebackers or defensive backs to generate more of their pass rush after trading Quinn away. Prior to the trade, 20% of their pressures and 38% of sacks were from blitzers. After the trade, that spiked to 30% of pressures and 63% of sacks. And that’s despite also trading away Roquan Smith, who accounted for over half of their blitzing pass rush production prior to the trade.

I was honestly shocked by this. It’s not like Quinn was all that productive while in Chicago. He only accounted for one of their 12 sacks and seven of their 52 pressures in his seven games with the Bears. This shows the value of having somebody drawing the offense’s attention; even though Quinn wasn’t getting to the quarterback himself, he may have been making it easier for his teammates to do so. It also gives hope that Chicago is perhaps not as far away from a competent pass rush as most fans (me included) thought.

In parts two (tomorrow) and three (Wednesday) of this series, we’ll look at individual edge rushers and defensive tackles to see how they produced, which will give us a better idea for what exactly the Bears need to add this offseason.

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