Last week began with comparisons between the 2020 and 2018 Chicago Bears defenses. This week begins with us finding there is no comparison.
There are two simple truths about Monday night’s beat down:
One. The Bears couldn’t realistically expect to win by scoring just three offensive points.
Two. The Bears couldn’t realistically expect to win by allowing 24 points.
Only one offense this season has scored more than 24 points against the Rams. That came in a weird Week Three game as the then-red hot Buffalo Bills took a huge lead early. Since then, the Rams have allowed 10 or fewer points in three of four — Monday night included. (As you read that, keep in mind that the Bears haven’t held a single opponent to 10 or fewer points yet this season.)
To win on Monday night, the Bears needed the game to be a low-scoring slugfest. Their offense looked only slightly worse than we should’ve expected going against a top-five defense. The Bears defense, however, couldn’t get off the field in the first three quarters allowing drives that either resulted in scores or flipped the field, leaving the offense in an inopportune position. Five of the Bears first six drives began inside their own 20. For the game, they had eight drives start inside their own 20 and five inside the 10. Imagine how fun that is for Nick Foles when the team is asking Rashaad Coward to block Aaron Donald.
Much has been written about the Bears needing one Georgia product — Leonard Floyd — to break out and complement Khalil Mack in the pass rush department. But if that doesn’t happen, perhaps Roquan Smith can ease the pain. While nothing of actual substance can be gained by watching preseason games, seeing Roquan burst through the line faster than anybody could react for a sack two weeks ago was a nice reminder of what the second-year linebacker is capable of when he’s sent after the quarterback.
Floyd’s lack of pass rush has been disappointing. But his ability to drop back in coverage and move in space is extremely rare for players at his position. His exceptional coverage skills will allow new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to do what he does best: design creative blitz packages. And Roquan has already proven to be exceptional at finding his way to the quarterback. Smith’s very first NFL play was a sack and he followed with four more, many looking similar to his sack in the preseason against Carolina.
Pagano never had a plethora of great pass rushers in Indianapolis, so he had to get creative. One year Jerrell Freeman had a career-high 5.5 sacks. The next year it was D’Qwell Jackson with four. Smith is a lot better than both of them and had five last year despite a coordinator who has been more conservative upfront than Pagano.
When Khalil Mack wasn’t on the field, the Bears had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL. That is a direct reflection on former first-rounder Leonard Floyd.
Perhaps the biggest argument for Mack’s Defensive POY candidacy last year was how much the Bears struggled to get after the quarterback when he was limited or not on the field at all. In the four games Mack was playing hurt or not playing at all, the Bears managed a combined 24 quarterback sacks and hits, applying such pressure on just 14.6% of the drop backs (not counting quarterback runs which are often the result of good coverage). That rate would’ve been the second worst in the entire league, ahead of only — surprise, surprise — Oakland.
In all, the Bears pass rush wasn’t bad last year. When Mack was on the field, they hit opposing quarterbacks at the fifth-highest rate and finished 15th overall. Floyd was third on the team in both sacks and hits, but spent too much time doing his best Sam Wheat impression.
Nine times last year, Floyd didn’t even touch the opposing quarterback. Some of those struggles can be contributed to a preseason hand injury — he didn’t record a QB hit or sack in six of the team’s first seven games. But he still had three such games in the team’s final seven and half of his sacks came in one game — both largely the result of pressures by Mack.
Strange game. From the moment Eddie Jackson returned a Roquan Smith-forced fumble for a touchdown with 7:07 remaining in the first half, the entire building knew the game was over. Here are six specific, in-building thoughts from Bears 41, Bills 9.
(1) That was one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever heard to start the game. The crowd noise was absolutely deafening when the Bears had the ball for the first quarter plus. The false starts upfront were completely understandable. Offensive line miscommunication should have been expected. (I could barely hear a friend two seats away from me.) There is no chance a Soldier Field crowd, with the team at 2-6 and starting a dead weight quarterback, would be anywhere near that enthused at kickoff. Impressive showing from Bills fans, in and around the ballpark.
(2) Good to see Jordan Howard running with some anger. Again, don’t look at the overall numbers. They’re mostly meaningless in a game like this. But Matt Nagy is finally starting to understand how to use Howard, especially down in the red zone. The Andy Reid offense like to throw to score. The Bears are built to ride Howard into the end zone.
(3) Two defenders stood out to me: Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson. Smith is going to be a star in the league for a long, long time but that is expected from a top draft pick. Jackson is an incredible player. He closes on the football as good as any Bears safety since Mike Brown. He’s the rare back end guy comfortable with the football in the air and tackling in the open field. He’s got great, natural instincts.
(4) The Bears were clearly uncomfortable with the amount of running Mitch Trubisky did against the Jets last week because there were times Sunday Trubisky had acres of space in front of him. If this WAS a coaching decision, I applaud it. Trubisky knows he can run. That’ll be there as long as his legs are. But this season has to be more about processing information, stepping into the pocket and delivering the football. And in a game like Sunday’s there’s no reason for the young quarterback to take any unnecessary punishment.
If ever there was a time the Bears needed Leonard Floyd to prove he was worth the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft, it is right now.
With yet another ghosting Sunday, Floyd is working his way to becoming the worst draft pick of Ryan Pace’s relatively short career (Kevin White got hurt, we can’t blame Pace for that). Floyd has shown plenty of flashes in his career, but injuries – he was hurt a lot in college so we can blame Pace for that – and otherwise subpar play has landed Floyd’s career at a crossroads.
There’s no other way to say it: through six games, Floyd has been downright bad.
The Georgia product has zero sacks this season and has managed to hit an opposing quarterback just once, according to NFLGSIS. The third-year pass rusher has been excused because of the way Vic Fangio uses him, but that’s mostly bull. According to Pro Football Focus, Floyd has had 134 chances to chase opposing quarterbacks. Aaron Lynch has had 90 pass-rush opportunities and has managed seven quarterback hits — including two sacks.
Lynch is a $5 million journeyman. Floyd is a top-10 pick.
It isn’t just a lack of pass rush either. His defenders like to say Floyd is great in coverage, but the Bears don’t ever ask their linebackers to do much beyond defending the flat. Sunday, Floyd was beaten soundly in that area.
There’s no question that the hand injury has hurt Floyd’s production. But plenty of players have been able to have an impact with casts. Floyd hasn’t done anything. If he was going to be this ineffective while one-handed, why play him at all?
Khalil Mack is a Chicago Bear and much of yesterday was spent dissecting the context of the move: what the trade meant. But there are major football implications associated with this acquisition as well, especially for this defense as they are currently constructed. In other words, this is what the trade does.
Mack makes every single player on the defense more dangerous. He is among the two or three best defenders in the entire league. And the Bears defense should be expected to rank in the top five across the board because of him.
They can’t all be positive. Three of the four will be, but not this one.
The Bears will have ten less sacks in 2018 than 2017.
Photo by Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports