Bears

Sacks or not, why the Bears see Leonard Floyd delivering on expectations

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USA Today

Sacks or not, why the Bears see Leonard Floyd delivering on expectations

Leonard Floyd had two sacks in his 2019 debut, yet hasn’t tallied one since. But the Bears disagree with the idea of Floyd pulling a disappearing act over his last four games. 

“I don’t think saying he had two sacks in the first game and has done nothing since is a fair assessment of what he’s done,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “… Leonard Floyd had done a great job of setting edges, he’s done a great job of affecting the passing game in coverage, he’s done a great job of knocking guys back into the launch point. We’ve just gotta figure out ways to get him clear and get him to finish as a rusher. And he’s completely focused and intent on doing that. He’s the right guy for it.”

Floyd indeed has made a positive impact since the Green Bay game in terms of generating pressures (nine) and getting run stops (seven), per Pro Football Focus. The Bears trust him to hold his own in coverage, too, having him drop back on 22 percent of his snaps on passing plays. 

This is where internal expectations for Floyd may not match the external ones from folks wondering why a player drafted ninth overall hasn’t had more than seven sacks in a season yet, and only has 17 1/2 sacks in 43 career games. Floyd’s sack total declined each of his first three years in the NFL; he only needs 4 1/2 sacks this year to change that, but it’s a low bar to clear. 

It’s worth noting Floyd’s 17 1/2 sacks are fifth-most among first-round picks since 2016, behind Joey Bosa (31 1/2), Myles Garrett (29 1/2), DeForest Buckner (24) and T.J. Watt (24). But it’s also worth noting that 71 players have had more sacks than Floyd’s 10 1/2 since the start of the 2017 season. 

Floyd looked to have the makings of a breakout season after that two-sack game against the Packers given he didn’t get his second sack of 2018 until Week 13, and didn’t hit that mark until Week 5 of the 2017 season. The hope was a fast start would spark Floyd to the kind of game-wrecking season worthy of a No. 9 overall pick, right?

That hasn’t happened. Floyd ranks 97th in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing productivity metric, behind guys like ex-Bear Pernell McPhee and current Bear Aaron Lynch. 

So at this point in Floyd’s fourth season as a pro, it’s time for outside expectations to meet internal expectations for him. 

It’s a shift that can certainly feel disappointing. But the Bears would argue Floyd’s contributions are highly valuable given his ability to do so many different things, from stopping the run to dropping into coverage to affecting the pocket even if he doesn’t get a sack. He’s just not getting the one stat to which everyone pays attention. 

“He’s still impacting the game,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “… The sacks or whatever, those haven’t been there of late. He’s great. He plays extremely hard. He does his job every single down. That’ll come. So he’s not going to press. I’ve got to do a better job of trying to get those guys in position to make those plays.”

The lack of sacks aren’t anything new for Floyd, too. He had 17 in three years at Georgia, and only had 4 1/2 his final season in Athens. And what general manager Ryan Pace said in 2016 after drafting Floyd sounds a lot like what Monachino and Pagano are saying about him now.

“You know when you watch the tape: They move him all over,” Pace said at the time. “He’s such a versatile athlete, so he's playing inside linebacker one snap and the next snap he’s in nickel running down the field with a slot receiver. And then he’s rushing. You see him at all these different positions.

“… You don’t see guys getting into him. Guys that I think struggle against the run, they let offensive linemen get into their chest and get engulfed by blocks. He doesn’t do that. He plays with such great separation, he keeps that from happening.”

The ability to ask him to do any task necessary in coverage. The ability to stop the run. These are what the Bears want to get out of Floyd, and are getting out of Floyd, in 2019. It may not be what those outside Halas Hall hoped for, and to an extent, it may not be what those inside the facility wanted, either. Teams usually trade up for powerful weapons, not Swiss army knives.

This deep into Floyd’s NFL career, he is what he is. The double-digit sack breakout probably isn’t coming.

But the belief in him from those inside Halas Hall isn’t going away, either. 

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There’s something special going on at Illinois — take it from those who know head football coach Lovie Smith best

There’s something special going on at Illinois — take it from those who know head football coach Lovie Smith best

For the first time in the Lovie Smith era, Illinois is bowl-eligible. 

It’s been a long, strange trip here for Lovie and the Illini. In his first three years at the helm of the program, the team failed to top four wins in a single season, amassing a combined record of 9-27 (4-23 B1G). But something about this 2019 group, which currently sits at 6-4 (4-3 B1G), feels different.

Take it from those who know Lovie best.

“They’ve bought in,” Alex Brown, who played under Smith for six years with the Bears, recently said. “Lovie is changing the culture down there, and he’s getting everybody to believe.”

That belief was on full display in the Illini’s matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing last Saturday — a comeback victory of historic proportions that clinched the program a bowl berth for the first time since 2014. At one point trailing 28-3, the visitors rode a number of big plays, turnovers and big-play turnovers to storm back and snap a 37-34 victory from the jaws of certain defeat.

“When you play for Lovie, everybody is motivated… You’re never out of [a] game,” said Matt Forte, five years a student of Smith in Chicago. “You can be down, and he knows that one play by anybody can start the turn of events.”

Olin Kreutz was with the Bears for seven of Smith's nine years coaching the team.

“It was awesome to see Coach Smith get that win, because you know how hard he works at it,” he said. “And for his team to do it in a way that’s kind of ‘Lovie Ball’... It’s just what you expect from Coach Smith because that’s what he preaches.”

Illinois turned Michigan State over four times on Saturday, including a fourth quarter pick-six that cut the Spartans’ lead to just one point with 4:53 to play. This season, the Illini lead the FBS in total turnovers (26), defensive touchdowns (6) and are second in turnover margin (1.4). Add those gaudy figures (and a bowl appearance) to a campaign already highlighted by a last-second victory over then-No. 6 Wisconsin, and suddenly, it might be time to start thinking about a full-blown resurgence in Urbana-Champaign.

“The most dangerous thing for that whole conference is a team that has bought into the Lovie system,” said Lance Briggs, who played nine seasons as a linebacker under Smith in Chicago. “The players that are going to come and play at the University of Illinois know now that they’re walking into a team that believes in what they’re doing, and when they believe in what they’re doing, great things are going to continue to happen.”

Smith has certainly proven in the past — and to the people of Chicago, no less — that he’s capable of executing this type of turnaround.

“I’m sure you guys have heard this story about our '05 team and how we started out 1-3, and then all of a sudden. Boom. It just happened,” Brown said. “That is exactly what I see happening with U of I right now.”

All the program has accomplished in 2019 is a great step, but the hope is that even greater things are on the horizon.

“You wait ’til next year. They are going to compete, and they’re gonna beat — I’m calling that right now — they’re gonna beat either Michigan or Ohio State next year,” Brown continued. “They have the people there. More importantly, they have the belief that they can beat ’em.”

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Under Center Podcast: Trubisky's trust and would you rather be the Bears or Rams?

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Trubisky's trust and would you rather be the Bears or Rams?

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and John "Moon" Mullin convene at Halas Hall to discuss how to balance Mitch Trubisky's special moments against the rest of his play, including a comparison to Jay Cutler (2:35).

Then the trio breaks down Trubisky's trust - or lack thereof - in his receivers (7:50) and debates whether you'd rather be the Bears or the Rams moving forward (19:20).

They finish up by wondering how much a win on Sunday would mean to this team (25:35).

Listen to the episode here here or via the embedded player below:

Under Center Podcast

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