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Zooming in on Chicago’s Pass Rush, Part 2: Defensive Ends

| June 11th, 2024

This is the 2nd installment of a 3-part series looking at Chicago’s pass rush from 2023. In part one, we learned that the overall team pass rush was among the worst in the NFL.

Today, we’ll be examining how effectively Chicago’s defensive ends rushed the passer last year.

Overall Efficiency

We’ll start with a season-long look at how Chicago’s main defensive ends performed when rushing the passer. The table below shows a variety of per-snap metrics, including how they ranked compared to the 95 edge rushers league-wide who had at least 200 pass rush snaps. A few quick notes:

  • All data comes from Pro Football Focus (PFF).
  • Data for Montez Sweat is only for the 9 games he played in Chicago.
  • Win rate is the percentage of snaps where PFF determines that the rusher has beaten the blocker at any point in the snap. This is admittedly subjective, and thus should not be used on its own, but can be a helpful part of a larger picture.
  • Pass Rush Productivity is a unique PFF stat that accounts for all sacks, QB hits, and pressures on a per-snap basis, with an added weight given to sacks; a higher value is better.
  • True pass sets look only at plays that do not give offensive linemen a built in advantage: no play action, no screens, and the throw time has to be at least 2 seconds. This lets us see how effectively a player rushes the passer when they most likely know they are getting after the QB, and the offense knows they have to block for a while.
  • Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

Side note: sorry if the tables don’t show up well in the article. You can click on them to view in full on a separate page. 

A few thoughts:

  • Montez Sweat is a good but not great pass rusher. In a 95 player sample, somewhere around 48 would be average, and he’s generally above average in most of these metrics. He also only hits green (top 25%) in one of them.
    • This matches trends from the past as well. In his time in Washington from 2022-23, Sweat averaged 13% pressure rate, 13% win rate, and an 8.2 pass rush productivity, all numbers that are comparable to what he did in his half season in Chicago.
  • Everybody else outside of Sweat is quite bad at rushing the passer, which is not a huge surprise given how bad we saw the team as a whole was in part 1. None of these numbers were surprising for any of the players given their past production either.
    • DeMarcus Walker averaged an 11% pressure rate, 10% win rate, and 7.0 pass rush productivity from 2021-22.
    • Yannick Ngakoue averaged an 11% pressure rate, 9% win rate, and 6.9 pass rush productivity from 2021-22.
    • Rasheem Green averaged an 8% pressure rate, 7% win rate, and 5.2 pass rush productivity from 2021-22.
    • Some of these values might have taken a slight dip in 2023, but the overall results show quite clearly that all three were below average pass rushers going into 2023, so it’s not surprising that they struggled rushing the passer in Chicago.
  • Yannick Ngakoue and Rasheem Green are both currently free agents, and Green is highly unlikely to end up back in Chicago. There’s been speculation that the Bears might look to bring back Ngakoue, but expectations should be minimal for his impact if he does return.
  • The Bears have signed one semi-notable free agent in DE Jacob Martin, who has played nearly 2000 defensive snaps for a variety of teams over the last 6 years.
    • Martin shouldn’t be expected to play a huge number of snaps, as he only topped 375 once in his career. He’s a backup/rotational player who will likely play more on early downs than in pass-heavy situations. Over the last 4 seasons, Martin has rushed the passer on just under 60% of his snaps. This is a similar number to Rasheem Green last year (59%), while the other DEs all spent 67% or more of their snaps rushing the passer.
    • His pass rush profile is pretty similar to Chicago’s other non-Sweat players, as he averaged 11% pressure rate, 11% win rate, and 7.0 pass rush productivity over his last four seasons (expanded from 2 to 4 seasons due to small sample size due to limited snaps the last few years).
  • Chicago also drafted Austin Booker in the 5th round, but expectations should be pretty minimal for a late round pick who only played in 18 college games, featuring only 505 total defensive snaps.
  • All told, Chicago lost 954 DE snaps from 2023, and have only signed a veteran who played 192 snaps last year and drafted a 5th rounder who should not be expected to play much as a rookie. They will get more snaps out of Montez Sweat since he’s here for the full year, but they still need another player able to play starting-level snaps.

Trade Impact

Of course, the Bears traded for Montez Sweat halfway through the season, and we saw in part one that the team pass rush improved quite a bit after that trade. It seems likely individual players would see their performance improve as well, since Sweat drew more attention and should have freed them up to rush the passer more easily.

To check that hypothesis, the table below shows pressure rates and pass rush productivity for Chicago’s main 4 non-Sweat DEs before and after the Sweat trade. NFL averages for the 95 DEs with 200+ pass rush snaps are included to give context to the values.

A few thoughts:

  • I included Dominique Robinson here but not above because he had less than 200 total pass rush snaps. He was bad before the trade, and even worse after the trade, which mirrors his abysmal performance in 2022. He was drafted two years ago in the 5th round as a raw but toolsy player who would need significant development, but so far that development has not happened. His roster spot should be taken by Austin Booker (the new 5th round rookie who is a raw but toolsy player in need of significant development) unless he shows significant growth in training camp.
  • The other three players are all a bit better playing next to Montez Sweat, which makes sense, but they are all still well below the NFL average in both categories even after the trade. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering they match trends from 2021-22 before they were on the Bears, but the post-trade numbers probably give a more realistic expectation for what they could provide in 2024 (though again, Green and Ngakoue are currently free agents).

Lessons Learned

We’re about 1100 words in, so let’s wrap this up and recap the main takeaways from the article.

  • Montez Sweat is a good but not great pass rusher who is solidly above average but shouldn’t be counted as one of the top rushers in the NFL.
  • Everybody else is bad at rushing the passer, even when you only look at their performance after the Sweat trade, and they all have track records prior to 2023 backing this up.
  • Jacob Martin should be expected to replace Rasheem Green as DE4 who will contribute more as a run stopper than pass rusher, but the Bears still need to sign a Yannick Ngakoue replacement as DE 2 or 3 alongside DeMarcus Walker. This player won’t be expected to be a particularly great rusher, but should at least be capable of playing a significant number of snaps and not be completely terrible.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll wrap up the series by examining how well Chicago’s defensive tackles rush the passer.

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