During the Miami Heat’s first championship run with Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James, Spoelstra coined the phrase “positionless basketball.” There was no set point guard or center. It was about getting the best five players on the floor and letting them play.
The Bears have the pieces to make something similar work with their front seven.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio doesn’t like when people refer to his defense as a 3-4. He quickly talks about how he shows multiple fronts and says it could be called a 5-2. What he ran with the 49ers could’ve been called a 2-4 with only Ray McDonald and Justin Smith playing with their hands in the dirt. That was the Bears plan for this year too, but McDonald is a bad person.
If you took the Bears front seven players and listed them by skill level, the only defensive lineman to crack the top seven would be Jay Ratliff. If you listed the top six pass rushers, a defensive lineman wouldn’t make the list.
What the Bears have in players like Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho, Pernell McPhee and Christian Jones is the ability to change their scheme on every play. They also seem to love Shea McClellin, who, in theory, could play anywhere and young players like David Bass and Cornelius Washington. Jared Allen has only played left end in his career, but moving him around could give him a second wind.
In the comparison with the Heat, McPhee is LeBron James. McPhee isn’t an all-time great player at his position, but he has a unique blend of size and athleticism that makes him flexible and difficult for opponents to deal with. In basketball, you see James post up, shoot three pointers and bring the ball up the court. McPhee can rush the passer from anywhere on the field and, occasionally, drop back in coverage.
While certainly not a strength, McPhee can drop in the middle of the field and allow Jones and/or McClellin to rush outside. McPhee can go outside and allow Houston inside, or vice versa. He can stunt with Allen and work around Ratliff if teams try to bully them. He’s the perfect piece for a creative coordinator.
If the Bears use McPhee like Baltimore did, opponents won’t be able to give him extra attention. If they do, it will free up rush lanes for other players. We could see Allen rejuvenate his career as a secondary pass rusher much like Julius Peppers did with the Packers.
If McPhee is consistently able to attack — and beat — the opposing team’s weakest point, the rest of the players will be able to feed off of it. If Houston and Acho can consistently win, it will help Allen and McPhee rack up sacks.
With this group, the Bears shouldn’t have to rush more than four very often, but they have more than four guys who they can send.
The Bears have a long, long way to go before they’ll be a good defense. But, at the very least, they can be a confusing defense. Instead of thinking about who is a Mike, a Jack, a Sam, a 3-tech or a 5-tech, they’ll be able to just worry about who attacks and from where and opposing offenses will have to worry about the same.
The key is McPhee.