When Khalil Mack wasn’t on the field, the Bears had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL. That is a direct reflection on former first-rounder Leonard Floyd.
Perhaps the biggest argument for Mack’s Defensive POY candidacy last year was how much the Bears struggled to get after the quarterback when he was limited or not on the field at all. In the four games Mack was playing hurt or not playing at all, the Bears managed a combined 24 quarterback sacks and hits, applying such pressure on just 14.6% of the drop backs (not counting quarterback runs which are often the result of good coverage). That rate would’ve been the second worst in the entire league, ahead of only — surprise, surprise — Oakland.
In all, the Bears pass rush wasn’t bad last year. When Mack was on the field, they hit opposing quarterbacks at the fifth-highest rate and finished 15th overall. Floyd was third on the team in both sacks and hits, but spent too much time doing his best Sam Wheat impression.
Nine times last year, Floyd didn’t even touch the opposing quarterback. Some of those struggles can be contributed to a preseason hand injury — he didn’t record a QB hit or sack in six of the team’s first seven games. But he still had three such games in the team’s final seven and half of his sacks came in one game — both largely the result of pressures by Mack.
Mack’s presence should make Floyd’s job easy, yet he had his worst season as a pro. In six fewer games, he had more hits and sacks in 2017 and had 16 in 12 games as a rookie in 2016. The injury excuse is probably used too often for Floyd. The club was off early in the season, but his struggles continued until late in the year.
Chuck Pagano’s scheme should help the athletic freak. Pagano’s organized chaos should help Floyd get more free looks, but that won’t solve his biggest problem. When blockers get their hands on Floyd, they tend to beat him. It’s a flaw new outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino mentioned when asked about Floyd last spring.
“Guys don’t run around other players in this league,” Monachino said. “Players are too good. So we’ve got to get him really good at how’s he going to clear, and how’s he going to finish.”
You can see exactly what Monachino is talking about in the above clip. Once Jordan Mills gets his hands on Floyd, it’s over. As Bears fans know all to well, Mills has always struggled with speed rushers, yet he held Floyd to just one QB hit and zero sacks.
Monachino has been around the block. He coached Terrell Suggs to a career-high 14 sacks in 2011; got Paul Kruger paid after nine sacks in 2012; coached Elvis Dumervil, Suggs and Pernell McPhee to a combined 36.5 sacks in 2014 and got 11 sacks out of Erik Walden — SERIOUSLY — in 2016. With all due respect to Brandon Staley, he didn’t have that kind of resume.
There has been a lot of talk about how great this Bears defense can be and the ultimate key is going to be getting more pass rush.
Mack and Akiem Hicks combined for more than a third of the hits the Bears put on opposing quarterbacks. Again, Mack missed two complete games and was extremely limited in two more, but led the team with 18 QB hits and 12.5 sacks. Hicks came in with 16 hits and 7.5 sacks. No other player on the team had more than 11 hits or four sacks.
Roy Robertson-Harris is the third best pass-rusher on the team, but they’ve been limited in how much they can play him — presumably because of his run defense. Bilal Nichols has potential, so do Kylie Fitts and Ike Irving. But nobody has more potential than Floyd and nobody else should have to pick up the slack.
If the Bears defense is truly going to be as good as they were in the mid-80s, it’ll depend on Floyd.