Three Questions Facing the 2023 Chicago Bears

| May 31st, 2023

Question One. Can they engineer a pass rush?

The Eagles had 70 sacks in 2022. The Bears had 20. This means that on average, the Eagles generated 2.9 more sacks per game. That number is massive and should give fans a clue as to how far this club needs to travel to be a title contender.

Everyone knows the Bears need to add a player or two at the edge position (Floyd, Yannick, etc.) but it’s unlikely the player they add is going to be a dominant player. Those players aren’t still available as free agents in the summer. The Bears have to double that sack total in 2023 if they want to be even a mediocre defense.

Question Two. How long will the new offensive line take to gel?

60% of their starting offensive linemen will be new in 2023, and with Teven Jenkins changing positions, one can easily consider this group 80% new.  How long will Darnell Wright take to get his professional feet wet? How long will it take Jenkins to learn a new position? Can Cody Whitehair stay healthy in the middle and, if not, will Lucas Patrick get the opportunity to show he can play the position when he has a working right thumb? The 2023 offensive line has the potential to be a solid unit. But that may take some time, and the Bears need to make sure the season doesn’t drown as a result of the growing pains.

Question Three. Is DJ Moore the final piece of “the Fields puzzle”?

Justin Fields’ strength as a passer is the deep ball. DJ Moore dominates deep.

Fields has struggled with intermediate and underneath passing, primarily because his receivers haven’t separated and that has forced him to throw into tight, contested windows. Moore separates, even from the best corners, and should be able to make the shallow cross a dominant feature of this offense. If he provides what the Bears believe he will, a breakout season from the quarterback likely.

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The 2023 (Essential) Off-Season Positional Checklist

| January 11th, 2023

The Chicago Bears can improve at just about every position on the field, as Data acutely discussed yesterday. They likely need a new center, additional corner, off-ball linebacker help, etc. But to be a consistent playoff team, you need the essentials, and the Bears are seriously lacking in those departments.

[  ] Backup Quarterback

This is the least of the essentials, but still essential. Justin Fields is going to play football the way he plays football, and that style comes with risk. There is risk for every quarterback but even more so for those who can wreck games with their legs. Trevor Siemian is a solid option off the bench but his entrance into a game forces the Bears to alter their style of play and that seems counterproductive. This is not a position where the Bears should spend huge financial resources; you’re more than likely to struggle no matter who your backup quarterback is. But I’d like to see them take a late-round shot in the draft on a running quarterback with arm upside. (Stetson Bennett in the 7th round.) If nothing else, they should never be in a position where someone like Nathan Peterman is starting football games for them.

[  ] Pass Rush

Does this really require explanation on a football (and sometimes cinema) blog? If you can’t rush the passer, you can’t win in the modern NFL. Hell, if you couldn’t rush the passer, you couldn’t win in the old-timey NFL either. A scout friend of mine said this of Alabama’s Will Anderson, “I wouldn’t trade back if there’s a chance I can get this kid. He changes a franchise.” Is that nonsense? Probably. The college-to-NFL projection is conjecture. (I think I am about to coin a term: projecture.) But if Anderson does remind NFL folks of Khalil Mack and Von Miller, that’s a projecture worth the risk.

[   ] Interior Defensive Line

The run defense in Chicago this season was a bit on the pathetic side, and this is a historically a position that can be addressed in free agency, as teams redirect their resources to flashier roster spots. The name you’ll likely hear? D.C. DT Daron Payne. At only 25 years old, and with a load of talent, he fills the prescription. If the Bears wanted to flood the position, they could also look at the underrated Dalvin Tomlinson in New Jersey or Taven Bryan in Cleveland.

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Advanced Defensive Stats: Pass Rush

| June 28th, 2021

Over the next few days, I want to look at advanced defensive statistics from Pro Football Reference to better examine some of Chicago’s individual defenders as we prepare for the 2021 season. Today will focus on pass rush, while upcoming articles will examine missed tackles and pass coverage.

On the surface, Chicago’s pass rush was not terribly impressive last year. The Bears finished with 35 sacks (17th in the NFL) and 137 pressures (23rd). They pressured QBs on only 22.4% of dropbacks, which ranked 21st of 32 NFL teams. I’ll note here that pressures can be a somewhat subjective stat, and thus they differ a bit from source to source. Pro Football Focus, for instance, had the Bears as the 4th best pass rush in the NFL.

I don’t have access to PFF’s data, however, so I’m going forward with Pro Football Reference numbers. I specifically want to hone in on pressures today, because those tend to be a more reliable measure of pass rush effectiveness than sacks. Last offseason, I found that, on average, NFL players get about 3.8 pressures per sack. This allows you to get a feel for expected sacks (pressures/3.8), which you can then compare to the actual sacks to see which players got lucky (more sacks than expected) or unlucky (less sacks than expected). I found there is no carryover from one season to the next in this stat, so it gives us an idea of what players we might expect to bounce back the upcoming season.

When looking at league-wide data for 2020, I noticed that total sacks seemed lower. The pressure numbers were about the same (105 players had 15+ pressures in 2020 compared to 107/year in 2018-19, 36 players had 30+ pressures compared to 32 per year in 2018-19) but I found there were 4.3 pressures per sack in 2020. My hypothesis is that the NFL calling fewer holding penalties led to more pressures where the pass rusher couldn’t finish the play. Either way, I used the 4.3 pressures/sack number to get the expected sacks for Bears players in 2020, and you can see how they did compared to their actual sacks below. Players in green outperformed their expected sack total by at least 1 sack, while those in red underperformed by at least 1 sack.

A few thoughts:

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The Addition of Robert Quinn Gives the Bears 2020’s Most Fearsome Pass Rushing Duo

| March 17th, 2020

A source, a trusted source for many years, sent me a text.

“Quinn. Big money. Floyd cut.”

The lack of words was jarring but I knew what it meant. This was happening quickly. To Twitter I went!

Within minutes, Ian Rapoport broke the news of Robert Quinn signing a massive deal with the Bears. Within minutes of that, Adam Schefter broke the news of the Bears cutting Leonard Floyd.

Unless you’re one of those folks who obsesses over the salary cap, there’s simply no way to criticize the Quinn signing. He is one of the best pure pass rushers in the sport and solidifies one of the best front sevens in the game. This was an ideal free agency move for Ryan Pace because pass rush prospects – even mediocre ones – go early in the NFL Draft. Teams happily leverage future draft picks to acquire them. The Bears were unlikely to find ten sacks in the second round (or later). Now they don’t have to.

As for Floyd, for years he has frustrated many inside the walls of Halas Hall. He is a superior athlete and that athleticism has allowed him to develop into one of the best edge coverage guys in the league. But playing on the edge in NFL requires more than covering backs and tight ends. You must get to the quarterback. You must disrupt the passing game. And Floyd doesn’t do that. He’s a sloppy pass rusher, often out of control when he manages to evade blockers. In 2019, with Khalil Mack struggling through injuries for most of the season, Chuck Pagano implored Floyd to anchor the team’s rush. He could not.

The Bears still have major questions on the offensive side of the ball, and many of them will be answered in the next month or so. But the moves they made yesterday fortified their organizational strength. The 2020 vintage of the Bears will be led by their defense, led by their pass rush. Because Quinn and Mack will be the most feared duo in the NFL.

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