Bears

Bears grades and needs: Tough decisions loom on edge rushing depth

Bears grades and needs: Tough decisions loom on edge rushing depth

2018 depth chart

1. Khalil Mack
Usage: 14 games, 71.2 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $22.3 million cap hit 

Mack’s salary cap hit accounts for 11.6 percent of the Bears’ 2019 cap, and he’s worth every single penny and every single percentage point of it. His individual impact was spectacular: 12 1/2 sacks, 73 total pressures, six forced fumbles, one interception, one touchdown.

And because of that production, his impact on the rest of the Bears’ defense was massive. He was the missing piece to take this defense from good to great. His quiet swagger meshed well within the Bears’ locker room, too. The two first-round picks the Bears sent to the Raiders are less valuable (No. 24 in 2019) in part because of what Mack did, and is expected to keep doing, in Chicago. 

Going forward, the Bears could convert some of Mack’s 2019 salary into a signing bonus, spreading that money out over the next few years to give them some relief this year. Using $10 million to retain, say, Bryce Callahan or fill out the depth chart would go a long way when the Bears only have about $12 million in cap space right now. It would impact the team’s cap in 2020 and beyond, but if the goal is maximize Mitch Trubisky’s rookie contract, it would make sense. 

2. Leonard Floyd
Usage: 16 games, 75.4 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $5,021,819 cap hit

Floyd was two things last year: 1) Disappointing, production-wise and 2) Absolutely worthy of having his fifth-year option exercised. 

A hand injury suffered in a mid-August preseason game against the Denver Broncos limited Floyd for around two months, to the point where former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio admitted the team probably rushed Floyd back and put too much on his plate while he was still recovering. It showed in his production: Floyd didn’t have a sack and only totaled four pressures in the Bears’ first seven games of the season, then had 32 pressures and four sacks over the final nine games. 

Floyd deserves credit for playing well against the run, and he did notch the Bears’ only sack of Nick Foles in the wild card loss to the Eagles. But drawing single-teams thanks to Mack’s presence on the other side of the line didn’t lead to the massively productive season hoped for when the Raiders bizarrely decided to trade one of the best pass rushers in the league to the Bears. 

Still, the Bears have to bet on Floyd moving forward. He’s still cheap in 2019, and while his salary will significantly increase in 2020 it’s a gamble well worth taking to see if the former top-10 pick can fulfill his potential. 

"He played well and we're happy where he's at," general manager Ryan Pace said. "I feel like Leonard is still doing this (indicating upward trajectory) and I think you felt that as the season was going on."

3. Aaron Lynch 
Usage: 13 games, 33.6 percent of defensive snaps, 3.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Lynch rewarded the Bears’ one-year prove-it deal by playing in 13 games (his most since 2015) with three sacks, four tackles for a loss and one interception. He was strong against the run, too, though his season ended early after Week 15 due to an elbow injury. 

There are a few things to consider as Lynch moves toward free agency: First, durability has been an issue in his career, and he did miss nearly all of training camp. His best years in the NFL have come under the watch of now-former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, too. 

But edge rushing depth is difficult to find, especially for cheap. Lynch may look for a bit of a pay raise off the $4 million deal he signed last year, but it may not be significant enough to make it necessarily prohibitive for the Bears. Still, the best bet is Lynch won’t be back, though if Pace likes him enough — or isn’t enamored with other options — he could be. 

4. Sam Acho
Usage: 4 games, 2.6 percent of defensive snaps, 8.5 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $2.375 million cap hit

The Bears will have a tough decision coming on Acho, a well liked and highly respected figure inside Halas Hall who played well in 2017 both on defense and special teams, but missed 12 games last season after suffering a pec injury in Week 4. The Bears could save $2.125 million in cap space by releasing Acho, though they could attempt to bring him back on a cheaper deal. 

All the community work around Chicago Acho has committed himself to would make him an especially tough cut for the team. Then again, a little under $3 million isn’t a bad price to pay for a reserve edge rusher, one who did have three sacks two years ago. So again, a tough decision is coming here. 

5. Isaiah Irving
Usage: 13 games, 11 percent of defensive snaps, 43.8 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Exclusive rights free agent

Part of the Bears’ decisions on Lynch and Acho will depend on their evaluations of Irving and Kylie Fitts moving forward. Irving played in 10 games last year with eight pressures and one sack, and to date the former undrafted free agent has mostly flashed in the preseason. It’s worth noting the Bears would’ve gone into 2018 with Irving having a bigger part of their edge rushing rotation had they not traded for Mack. 

6. Kylie Fitts 
Usage: 6 games, 5.5 percent of defensive snaps, 5.9 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $613,050 cap hit

Fitts was tabbed as a possible sleeper after he tested well at the NFL combine but fell to the sixth round of last year’s draft. A good rule of thumb with edge rushers, though: Productive players at that position rarely last until the sixth round. Over the last five years, no sixth or seventh round outside linebacker has more than 3 1/2 sacks in their entire career. 

7. James Vaughters
Usage: 16 games with Calgary Stampeders in CFL
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Vaughters had five sacks with the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL in 2018, and the Chicago native and Stanford alum will try to make the jump to the NFL with the Bears in OTAs/minicamp/training camp. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 7

The Bears have a number of questions to address with their depth behind Mack and Floyd, and would do well to target this position in the draft. But again: It’s hard to find quality edge rushers without a first- or second-round pick, and the Bears may not be sold on anyone with their third-round pick. Signing an inexpensive veteran and taking another flier on a later-round draft pick may be the route here. 

Previous grades and needs: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OL | DL

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Presenting the optimistic view of the Bears' offensive struggles

Presenting the optimistic view of the Bears' offensive struggles

Consider this a presentation of the best-case outlook for a Bears’ offense that’s slogged its way through two ineffective games to begin the 2019 season. 

It doesn’t mean it’ll definitely come true. But this is the line of thinking being presented around Halas Hall this week: This offense is close to clicking, and when it does click, it’ll be spectacular. 

Digging deeper into that glass-half-full thought, it can be explained by this simple truth: The Bears haven’t found their offensive identity yet. 

That lack of an identity has shown up in the different personnel packages coach Matt Nagy used over the first two games. The Bears are running fewer 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) and 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) packages than they did in 2018, for example.

Also: They’ve already run 22 plays out of 20 personnel (two running backs, no tight ends, three receivers). In 2018, the Bears ran only six plays using 20 personnel; only the Bears and New England Patriots have run more than four plays out of 20 personnel in 2019. 

“I think when you are where we are at in the last two games and trying to figure out, massage and find out exactly what your identity is, you play through personnels,” Nagy said. “You play through matchups. You play through how guys are playing and how coaches are coaching, myself. So you play through all of that and try to put that puzzle together and then what you do is hope that you continue to stack wins and then you kind of morph by Week 6, Week 7 and you say, okay, you know what, we went through all of that and now know who we are and now let’s go ball out.”

The Bears did this a year ago, though not to as extreme of an extent. They ran just as much 11 personnel in Weeks 1-3 as they did in Weeks 4-17 (with Week 4 being that offensive explosion against Tampa Bay) but wound up using less 12 personnel from Week 4 on than they did over the first three games. A large part of that was personnel-driven, though: The Bears quickly figured out Dion Sims wasn’t cutting it as a “Y” (in-line) tight end, and didn’t have much flexibility to plug in trustworthy receivers behind Allen Robinson/Taylor Gabriel/Anthony Miller. 

Perhaps the perceived improvements made to the Bears’ roster in 2019 — David Montgomery, Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson — have allowed Nagy to try more things than he was able to early in the season last year. That could be a double-edged sword, though, as the Bears’ offense showed more signs of life early in 2018 than 2019’s group has.

Perhaps, too, the absence of Trey Burton in Week 1 and the gradual integration of him back into the offense in Week 2 has hurt the Bears’ chances of finding that identity. The more Burton plays, the better shot the Bears may have at getting their offense to click. 

“You just gotta believe this week is gonna be the week,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “So we haven’t been executing the way we want to. There is definitely some things that we are missing on film but we’re coming together and we’re correcting them. 

“The most important thing to me is that my guys still believe in me. I believe in myself and we’re one unit. We’re together. We’re sticking together and we’re gonna do what we gotta do to correct it and we gotta believe that this offense could explode at any minute because of the playmakers and the special guys we have in the locker room.”

So in the confines of playing games without an offensive identity, a team can have more receptions by running backs than wide receivers through two weeks, a clear sign of a team lacking any sort of rhythm or explosiveness: 

Again, this is the optimistic viewpoint, one carrying the implication that the Bears' offense will be fixed once Nagy, Trubisky, etc. can settle on an identity marrying playcalling and execution. Trubisky said he and Nagy are working through that process, with the quarterback acting as a conduit for his playmakers to his coach. 

"I talk the most with coach about what guys are comfortable with, what they’re feeling, what they like and what they don’t like and just where we’re at as an offense and where we wanna go," Trubisky said. "So we kind of had this last year in the beginning of the season where we had some offensive struggles on third down, not clicking, and we got a couple guys in some new spots and obviously we added some new pieces so we’re not clicking the way we want to.

"... I think we have that faith and that strong core that believes if we just continue to do our jobs, like work even harder, get in the film room a little more and study our game plan and just go out there and play the game that we know how to do, and make sure that I am doing my job and getting the ball to the playmakers that we can be the explosive offense that we saw at times throughout last year and that the offensive struggles or whatever you want to call it is a thing of the past. Hopefully that is not us anymore."

The glass-half-empty view of the Bears' offensive issues is troubling, though: Has the league figured out Nagy and Trubisky? Are the Bears' weapons not as good as we thought? Has Trubisky somehow regressed?

While Weeks 1 and 2 have been dismal, it's too early to answer any of those questions in the affirmative. Two weeks is not enough time to slam the panic button, even if it's fair to be moving toward it. 

So all the Bears can do right now is trust and believe that this thing will get fixed. It's early enough in the season to hang on to that hope, and lean on the crutch of not having an identity yet. 

But the clock is ticking. And it won't be long before the Bears run out of excuses. 

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After a decade of battles, the Bears still enjoy the chance to line up against Adrian Peterson

After a decade of battles, the Bears still enjoy the chance to line up against Adrian Peterson

You don't need to remind the Bears' defense who they're lining up against next week. 

It's been four years since the last time Peterson last played against the Bears, when he ran for 86 yards in a 38-17 Week 14 win. 

One torn ACL tear plus two trades later, AD will be Washington's feature back when they meet up at Fedex Field for Monday night football. Peterson's experienced a bit of a career resurgance in D.C., as he rushed for 1042 yards (as a 33-year old) with the team last year. He was a healthy scratch in Week 1, but with starting back Derius Guice out for the next couple months, Peterson's reemerged as a part of their offense.

And even though most of the Bears' defense came to Chicago after Peterson left – the only player from that 2015 loss that's still here is cornerback Kyle Fuller – they're still relishing the opportunity to go up against a first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

"I just like playing against great players," linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "He loves the game of football and has been doing it for a while – [13] years is a long time. He’s still got the juice to take it home, so any time I can play against him, it’s an honor and a privilege." 

"Guy’s been running the ball the way he runs it for many, many years," added Roquan Smith. "So I’m looking forward to that. It’ll be great for our defense, it’ll get us all better." 

For as long as he's been playing, Peterson's been a Bears killer. Through 13 seasons, he's: 

  • Rushed for 1,562 yards against the Bears, the 2nd-most of any team he's played (1899 vs. Green Bay) 
  • Scored 14 rushing touchdowns against the Bears, also the 2nd-most of any team (15 vs. Green Bay) 
  • Averaged 111.6 rushing yards/game against the Bears, the most of any NFC North opponent

So while many of the names, and jerseys, have changed, it wouldn't be Peterson-vs.-the-Bears without a little bit of smack talk:

"I love playing against guys with that kind of attitude, that love the game. He fits well with their scheme," Trevathan added with a smile. "I’m looking forward to shutting him down and kind of ruining his day."

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