What has been one of the Chicago Bears greatest strength early in the season has now become their biggest weakness during their two consecutive losses.
Through the first four games this season, the Bears defense recorded 18 sacks, but only have one in their last two games. There are many attributing factors to why the defense has struggled pressuring the opposing quarterback and why it has hurt the team so severely.
Against the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, the only Bears player to register a sack was inside linebacker Roquan Smith. In the team’s first four games, six of the defense’s front seven had recorded a sack each. Linebacker Khalil Mack’s presence was key to this as he leads the way not only with a sack in each game but a forced fumble in each game, two of which were recovered by the defense.
Mack has been battling an ankle injury since early in the Miami game and was used more in pass coverage than rushing the quarterback against the Patriots.
The edge rusher was also supposed to draw blockers and double teams allowing his teammates single coverage or free rushes at the quarterback. Defensive players such as Akiem Hicks, Aaron Lynch, and Danny Trevathan were all able to take advantage of opposing offensive blocking schemes as all had multiple sacks through the team’s first four games. In the last two games, only Hicks has been credited with a hurry against a quarterback.
One of the team’s issues early this season has been the lack of a pass rush created by third-year linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Big things were expected from Floyd once the team acquired Mack as many believed Floyd would be able to take advantage of the reduced amount of blocking coverage from opposing offenses. Although he has played with a cast on his hand following a pre-season injury, Floyd has yet to register a sack this season which is concerning as he has recorded has had four games with multiple sacks in his career.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme is built on the foundation of multiple defenders being a threat to rush the passer. In his first three seasons as Bears defensive coordinator, his defense averaged 38 sacks per season with at least four players recording four or more sacks per season.
With multiple defenders able to rush the passer, added pressure is created through the confusion of who the opposing offensive line views as the biggest threat leaving someone unguarded. With the addition of Mack, Fangio’s defense has been enhanced but is in need of others to step up and apply opposing pressure on quarterbacks.
During the two games with just one sack, the defense has averaged 27.5 points allowed while in their first four games they averaged 16.5 points allowed. Making the struggle additionally harsh has been the offense’s ability to score points as they averaged over 35 points per game in their last three games, but have only won just one game.
This week’s opponent in the New York Jets could be the right opponent to get the Bears defense back on track. Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has been sacked three times in three of his starts this season. As Mack will be playing with the bad ankle, it is imperative that another Bear steps up to provide pressure.
The Jets offense will be without their starting running back Bilal Powell and could be without a pair of their starting wide receivers which could affect Darnold’s decision making.
At 3-3, the Bears have won all their games due to a relentless pass rush and they have lost all their games due to a lack of pass rush.
For the Bears defense to be successful again, they need to rediscover their pass rush. Opposing defenses now know that Mack and Hicks are the two biggest threats to their quarterback.
Whether it be Floyd, Lynch, or another defender, someone needs to step up and sack the opposing quarterback.