Every bit as interesting this weekend as the Kyle Long saga is what decisions that Bears coaches and GM Ryan Pace made within the team’s defensive front seven, collectively the obvious tipping points for a must-be-better defense in 2015.
The Bears at this point will be going into the Green Bay game next Sunday with just five defensive down-linemen. One of those (Cornelius Washington) is a bulked-up marginal 4-3 end whose chief value is projected on special teams.
They also begin Packer week with nine linebackers, high even by most 3-4 measures. But there’s the interesting point. The Bears are a hybrid 3-4 scheme under coordinator Vic Fangio, but how much time will they be in a true 3-4, or even can they be?
Coach John Fox has said that 60-70 percent of NFL snaps are in nickel/passing personnel. A looming issue for the Bears will be forcing teams into passing situations. The Bears appear at this point to be considerably better equipped to play those, although when you don’t stop the run, you don’t get to rush passers.
Strictly coincidentally, the Packers after cutdowns also left themselves five defensive linemen and nine linebackers for their 3-4 scheme. And they, like the Bears (Jeremiah Ratliff), also have a reserve/suspended lineman, two actually (Datone Jones, Letroy Guion).
For comparison purposes, all five Packers down-linemen are 310 pounds or bigger. Of the Bears’, only Eddie Goldman and Jarvis Jenkins have that kind of mass.
The problem is that of the Bears’ nine linebackers, only Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee are bigger than 257 pounds. Green Bay linebackers aren’t especially huge, but the threesomes in front of them are, and one of them is Julius Peppers (287).
Which suggests that as their defensive roster is constituted, the Bears are significantly more staffed to rush the passer than to stop a power running game. Which is perhaps not insignificant given the hammer-backs coming up with Green Bay (Eddie Lacy) and Seattle (Marshawn Lynch).
The No. 1 word used by his players to describe Fangio is “creative.” He is renowned for blitz variations, part of the reason Fox, a career 4-3 coach, has switched to a 3-4 preference. With the nine-player pool of linebackers, most of them with pass-rush credentials, “creative” may be a survival skill.