Repeating an important rule: The NFL may sometimes be ridiculed as a copycat league but the reality is that if you don’t learn from the successes of others, you need to take your ego temperature because you’re probably overly enamored of your way as the only way.
And there are notable elements in the Denver and Carolina wins that have some relevance to directions the Bears follow this offseason, some already in process. And those extend beyond just the fact that John Fox coached both teams to Super Bowls in his previous two gigs.
“Rule of Three” revised
Richard Dent’s “Rule of Three” still holds true. The Colonel once explained to me that for a defense to be truly great, it needs three legitimate pass-rush threats (as in Dent-Hampton-McMichael, for starters). The defense of the Denver Broncos was in line with Dent’s notion.
The Broncos ultimately stuffed the New England Patriots because of disruptions caused by edge rushers Von Miller (2.5 sacks) and Demarcus Ware (.5 sack plus six other QB hits), plus interior rush from 5-technique Derek Wolfe (one sack, three QB hits). Miller, Ware and Wolfe combined for 15 hits on Tom Brady on a total of 56 pass attempts. The Broncos totaled 20 QB hits, with 5-technique Malik Jackson getting three hits on Brady from side opposite Wolfe’s.
But the "Rule of Three" is not the full Denver story.
Longtime 4-3 guy John Fox became a convert to 3-4’ness because of the inherent disguise it accords pass rushers simply because of alignments. Case in point: Miller not only annihilated Brady’s protection, but also surprised Brady with a drop into coverage on tight end Rob Gronkowski, resulting in an interception.
The Bears had Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young accounted for 20.5 of the Bears’ 35 sacks (59 percent) for 2015. Miller, Wolfe and Ware accounted for 24 of Denver’s 52 sacks (46 percent). The Broncos had three other players with 4 or more sacks, meaning Denver was capable of swarming Brady from myriad directions, which it did.
Broncos other than Rule-of-Three guys (Miller-Ware-Wolfe) accounted for 28 sacks, more than the Big Three. Bears other than Houston-McPhee-Young accounted for just 14.5 total sacks. For great pass rushing, it takes a stampede.
The QB Listener
Interesting in one pregame show to hear Mike Ditka cite “coaching” as the top reason for Cam Newton’s emergence as a true top NFL quarterback. If Ditka wanted to give Ron Rivera, one of Ditka’s former players, a stroke, fine. But seriously...C’mon, man.
Mike Shula (Bears tight ends coach from 1993-95) was Newton’s position coach from the time Newton entered the league. He was Carolina’s offensive coordinator the past three seasons. Sorry, Coach. Newton’s coaching has been a constant; the young man finally matured into a listener on top of his prodigious talent, kind of like someone in Chicago.
Newton dramatically reduced his interception rate as the No. 1 step taken this season. That’s QB mindset, not coaching. Rivera himself said that Newton is seeing things (like defensive backs) that the quarterback hadn’t been seeing in his first four seasons.
The reason Jay Cutler took a giant step up this past season was a credit to Adam Gase (and Dowell Loggains). But the top reason for Cutler’s improvement was less the coaching than the quarterback’s willingness to take coaching. Same thing in Carolina.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Size does matter but it’s speed that sacks
The Broncos have gone fully to a 3-4 under coordinator Wade Phillips. But only one of the of the three down-linemen (nose tackle Sylvester Williams, 313) tops 293 pounds (Jackson). Wolfe plays at 285, which is about what Bears end Jarvis Jenkins was playing at by season’s end.
It’s at linebacker, though, that the formula becomes truly interesting. None of Miller, Ware, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are bigger than Ware’s 258 pounds.
Bears rush linchpin Pernell McPhee is expected to play at least 10-15 pounds lighter in 2016, down from his norm of 280. His balky knees will obviously benefit, but so will his pass rush without sacrificing any of his well-developed ability to hold the point against the run.
Lamarr Houston was playing in the range of 270 pounds and still led the Bears with 8 sacks despite spending so much of the season as a part-time player coming back from a torn ACL suffered in 2014. The Bears have a tough decision to make on Houston because of his salary but Houston at 255 becomes a very intriguing pass-rush threat.
And 255 is about Willie Young’s max, and whether he calls himself an end or linebacker, 6.5 sacks in a part-time season puts him loosely in the mold of Miller (11 sacks) and Ware (7.5).