Bears

Best Bears pass rushers: Dent is not at the top

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Best Bears pass rushers: Dent is not at the top

Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011
Posted 4:18 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

With the selection of Richard Dent in the Hall of Fame Class of 2011, the NFL electors acknowledged the accomplishments of the most destructive force on the greatest single defense in NFL history. Dan Hampton and Mike Singletary preceded Dent into the Hall but no one preceded Dent into backfields.

But was Dent the best pass rusher in franchise history?

CSNChicago.com combed fact books, available video and other sources to arrive at the top three pass rushers in the history of the NFLs charter franchise. The first two were easy. After that.

The guidelines are for pure pass rusher, not simply the best defensive linemen, although in the cases of Nos. 1-2, they also were the two best ever at the defensive end position. The evaluations also factored in the level of pass rush achieved by players also tasked with playing the run first. Many pass rushers were loosed on quarterbacks without regard for wholistic defense. Bears rushmen were not.

1. Doug Atkins

Big Man was nearly as notable in Bears lore for his antics and tweakings of Papa Bear as for that he did on the field.

But Atkins, like Dent, was the epitome of a player capable of being a dominant player in any era. Atkins was 6-8 and played between 260-280 pounds, with enough athleticism (he went to Tennessee on a basketball scholarship) to have literally hurdled a crouching New York Giants left tackle Roosevelt Brown, also in the Hall of Fame, on the way to sacking Y.A. Tittle.

Atkins was the Julius Peppers of his era; Peppers (6-7, 283) was good enough to be a reserve on the North Carolina basketball team.

NFL Network ranked Atkins No. 9 on its list of All-Time Pass Rushers (although the second half of the list approaches laughable for including Michael Strahan and Mark Gastineau and not Dent). He is No. 1 on CSNChicago.coms list of All-Time Bears Pass Rushers.

2. Richard Dent

The Colonels sack total (137.5) was only a portion of his greatness, which was not to be measured in Pro Bowls (four). He was a superb all-around force on the edge of a defense that was among the best ever against the run as well as obliterating quarterbacks.

Dent was a student of his craft as well as his opponents and mastered techniques that combined with a freakish speed in a pass rusher who was a mismatch against all but a few left tackles of his era.

3. (Tie) Steve McMichael, Julius Peppers

McMichael was the Bears equivalent of John Randle, the undersized Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame defensive tackle, with McMichael amassing 92.5 career sacks despite playing much of his career in a two-gap scheme. He put up nine seasons of seven or more sacks and set the standard for interior pass rushers in Chicago. He is what the Bears can only wish Tommie Harris had become.

Peppers has had just one Chicago season, making his inclusion a recognition of both what he has been and what he is the focal point of opposing blocking schemes. As with Atkins and Dent, if the tackle assigned to Peppers is left on his own, Peppers is virtually unblockable.

First alternate: Rosevelt Colvin

Trip was a fourth-round selection in the 1999 draft out of Purdue and for the period of a couple years was unquestionably the leading edge force in Chicago. He collected 10-12 sacks in both 2001 and 2002, making him the first Bear since Dent to post double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons.

What made Colvins production particularly remarkable was that he was a strong-side linebacker in the Bears two-gap 4-3 scheme under Greg Blache and Dick Jauron and was not an every-down pass rusher.

Colvin left via free agency for New England in 2003 but the body of work in his early years earned him inclusion on the Bears All-Decade Team along with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher.

Bears footnote: Colvin beat out Urlacher for the starting strong-side linebacker spot in 2000 after coaches had given 54 the job on draft day.

Honorable mention (Nos. 5-10)

Dan Hampton, Mike Hartenstine, Alex Brown, Ed Sprinkle, Brian Urlacher, Doug Buffone.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be


How much better Mitch Trubisky will be is the defining question for the 2019 Bears. But we won’t begin to know the answer to that question until September — it’s not something that’ll be easily discernible during training camp practices in Bourbonnais or a handful of snaps in preseason games. Those can sometimes produce false positives and false negatives.

The Bears believe in Trubiskiy, of course, and you’ll likely hear Matt Nagy and players laud their quarterback’s growth over the coming weeks. But belief is one thing; tangible production is another. And we won’t truly get to see that growth until the night of Sept. 5 at Soldier Field. 

But there are a few things to look for in Bourbonnais that could clue us in that a big-time leap is coming for No. 10. We’ll begin this mini-series leading up to the start of training camp next week with this: Better success from running backs catching passes on first down. 

It’s a narrowly specific angle, but one that carries plenty of weight. Consider this excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview:

“First down has long been perceived as a running down. In 2017, the league-wide average run-pass split on first down was 47-53. It was 50-50 last season, but that was still well below the 59-41 league-wide split on all downs. Yet passing to running backs on first down is significantly more effective.

“In 2018, there were 6,248 running back rushing attempts on first down. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, minus-0.01 Expected Points Added per attempt, and a positive play rate of 41.3%. When teams threw to running backs on first down, they averaged 6.02 yards per target, 7.8 yards per receptions. 0.08 EPA per attempt — slightly more efficient than the average of all passes regardless of down at 0.05 EPA — and a positive play rate of 52.3%.”

The larger point here (especially if your eyes glazed over some of those numbers — which, we promise, make sense) is this: Scheming more throws to running backs on first down is an area in which almost every team in the NFL can improve. It's worth noting the Kansas City Chiefs' most effective play on first-and-long in 2018, per Sharp, was a pass to Kareem Hunt. 

And the good news is the Bears re-worked their running back room in a way that could optimize their success throwing the ball to David Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on first down. 

The 2018 Bears simply didn’t have the personnel to do that regularly or successfully.

Jordan Howard was only targeted nine times on first-and-10, catching five passes for 42 yards. All nine of those targets were short throws, either to the left (two), middle (one) or right (six), and Trubisky had a passer rating of 83 on those attempts. Meanwhile, Howard carried the ball 128 times on first-and-10, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and only generating nine first downs (the NFL average for rushing attempts on first-and-10 in 2018 was 4.7 yards per carry). 

Cohen was, roughly, the inverse of Howard’s numbers: He caught 30 of 37 targets for 241 yards (6.5 yards per target) and generated seven first downs through the air, but averaged just 3.2 yards on his 46 rushing attempts with four first downs. Neither player was particularly balanced in these scenarios: Howard was mildly ineffective running the ball and not a threat catching it; Cohen was largely ineffective running the ball but was a threat catching it. 

And for the crowd who still believes Nagy wasn’t willing to establish the run: The combined rushing attempts on first-and-10 of Howard, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell totaled 182; the combined pass attempts by Trubisky and Chase Daniel in that down-and-distance was 176, per Pro Football Reference’s play index. 

The Bears, in 2018, averaged 5.5 yards per play on first-and-10, tied for 24th in the NFL. Yet only three teams — the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts — averaged fewer yards-to-go on third down than the Bears’ mark of 6.9. That’s a sign of Nagy’s playcalling prowess and the talent on this offense, and it’s not a stretch to argue an improvement of first-and-10 success will have a significant impact on the overall success of the Bears’ offense. 

So back to the initial point about passes to running backs in these situations: The Bears believe both Montgomery and Davis have some untapped potential as pass-catching running backs. Montgomery caught 71 passes in college at Iowa State, while Davis was targeted the most by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 on first down (17 of 42 targets). Cohen, of course, is already an accomplished pass-catcher. 

The “Run DMC” backfield needs to have more success carrying the ball on first-and-10 than last year’s group did, of course. But if you’re in Bourbonnais or watching a preseason game, keep an eye out for how effective the Bears are at passing to their running backs — especially if those passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage (another inefficiency noted by Warren Sharp's 2019 Football Preview). 

If you start seeing Montgomery making defenders miss after catching a pass, or Davis looking fluid with the ball in his hands, or Cohen breaking off some explosive gains — those will be significant reasons to believe in Trubisky and the Bears' offense in 2019. 

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Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: