What Can Keep the 2024 Bears from Contending? Just the Sacks, Ma’am.

| May 17th, 2024

In February of 2019, the New England Patriots won the most boring Super Bowl game ever played, snoozing the nation with a 13-3 victory over a then dramatically overmatched, and now Scrooge McDuck-esque wealthy Jared Goff. That Pats team defied the statistical odds, specifically in one category: they were one of the league’s worst pass rushing units, finishing the regular season T-30 in sack total.

Sacks, many argue, are an overrated statistic. I do not endorse this argument. Pressure is great, numerically. But pressure doesn’t hurt. Pressure doesn’t lead to a frightened quarterback putting the football on the turf inside his own ten. Pressure doesn’t sideline your rival’s quarterback for multiple weeks in the stretch run. The threat of violence from a street corner bully can be incredibly effective, but your relationship to him is dramatically altered once he’s socked you in the jaw.

Since that New England Super Bowl dud, here are the regular season sack rankings of the Super Bowl champions:

2019 Chiefs: 11th.

2020 Bucs: T-4.

2021 Rams: 3.

2022 Chiefs: 2.

2023 Chiefs: 2.

Sack the quarterback, win the chip. The 2023 Bears were 31st in the sport, 30 sacks behind the league-leading Baltimore Ravens. So, what has to change? A significant amount.

The Bears are not going to leap from the bottom of the sport in sacking the quarterback to the top of the sport in one off-season, but let’s make the argument that they’ll need to find the top ten to be contenders. To crack the top ten in sacks over the last five seasons required 48, 45, 43, 41 and 46 respectively. The Bears essentially have to find one more sack per game. If they’d found that sack in 2023, do they blow those leads to Detroit, Denver and Cleveland? Doubtful.

What’s a potential total for the current defensive line? Montez Sweat has 41.5 sacks in five seasons but is coming off his more dynamic campaign with 12.5. The Bears would jump five spots in 2023 by simply adding Sweat’s Washington sacks to their total. So, let’s pencil a healthy Sweat in for ten, and hope he exceeds that expectation. Can anyone else be penciled in for more than five? DeMarcus Walker is a steady presence on the edge but he’s a far more effective run stuffer than pass rusher. Anyone objectively watching the last month of the season would argue Gervon Dexter has that capability, and if he takes a significant step in year two the expectations for the entire defense could expand. But that’s nothing on which the organization can securely rely.

No, if the Bears want to see a 30% increase in their sack totals, which is required, they are going to need to get creative with their personnel and manufacture that increase. The Bears have two impressive downhill linebackers in TJ Edwards and Jack Sanborn. They have a defensive back comfortable going after quarterbacks – when he’s healthy – in Jaquan Brisker. Most importantly, the Bears kept their defensive head coach, and it is now incumbent upon Matt Eberflus to devise creative solutions for the only significant roster deficiency facing the 2024 Chicago Bears. No pressure, Matt, but that’s why you’re still here.

The Bears are going to be a good team in 2024. If their quarterback looks the part in his rookie season, they are going to be a very good team. But are they a team that can potentially be playing on the season’s final Sunday? If their sack total remains in the 30s, history tells us that won’t be the case.

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