Chicago Sun-Times

18 days to Camp: Going in search of the Bears' pass rush

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Missing: The Bears' pass rush.

If found, please bring to the Weber Center on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University by midnight July 30, you know, so the defense can have its identity back in time for training camp.

The disappearance of the Bears' pass rush, particularly from its front four, was an issue that could not be solved last season when the team registered 28 sacks, the lowest total in five seasons under Lovie Smith. Since expanding to the 16-game schedule in 1978, the Bears have had less than 28 sacks just once, in 2003.

The lack of a pass rush has been conveniently placed at the feet of defensive tackle Tommie Harris by some and that's entirely unfair. No, Harris didn't make it to the Pro Bowl last season but to finger him as the reason for the rush being stuck in rush hour wouldn't be accurate.

Football Outsiders provides an interesting graphic in their Football Outsiders Almanac, and on the surface at least it places the blame elsewhere. Consider this information from Football Outsiders on the distribution of sacks for the Bears over the last three seasons:

Year Pass Attempts DE sacks DT sacks LB/DB sacks Total QB hits per pass

2006 581 25.5 10.5 4 40 14.8 percent

2007 541 18.5 9.5 12 40 13.6 percent

2008 622 12 10.5 4.5 28* 12.4 percent

* On their official statistics the Bears had one sack awarded to "group."

Harris made five sacks last season, tying him for second on the defense, one behind Alex Brown. Harris made a career-high eight sacks in 2007 and had five in 2006. His sack totals--and the numbers produced by the defensive tackles--have remained consistent over the three-year period.

The difference between 28 sacks in 2008 and 40 sacks in 2006? How about Mark Anderson? The defensive end made one sack last season. He had 12 in 2006. Those 11 missing sacks would have given the Bears 39 last season.

"Besides the presence of Mark Anderson at the bottom?'' Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell said when asked what struck him in his evaluation of the Bears' defensive line. "That jumps out to me. Otherwise, probably Alex Brown's pass-rushing numbers. Not just the sacks, but we also track hits and hurries."

In statistics detailed in Football Outsiders Almanac, Brown was credited with 11 hits and 11 hurries. Combined with six sacks, that means he affected the quarterback 28 times, three more than the next closest Bear, Adewale Ogunleye (5 sacks, 4 hits, 16 hurries). Brown's 11 hits tied for 17th in the league. Anderson had one sack, four hits and six hurries. Harris had five hits and seven hurries.

"I wasn't expecting Alex to have the six sacks and then all of those hits on top of that for someone who isn't known necessarily as being a great pass rusher,'' Barnwell said. "We've found that high hit numbers can be a good indicator of future sack totals. He might have a better year."

Perhaps that means Brown, at 30, could be in line for the first double-digit sack season of his career. No matter what he does, though, the Bears have to get more from Anderson, who has struggled badly since being promoted over Brown into the starting lineup in 2007.

"They expanded his role and Anderson didn't really go anywhere,'' Barnwell said

That's putting it nicely but the Bears are not writing him off as he heads into the final year of his contract. New line coach Rod Marinelli has a lot on his plate and he has talented players to work with. The Bears need the rush from their line because they really don't have a skilled blitzer at linebacker or defensive back. It's hard to find pass rushers from those levels and the Bears certainly brought defenders from all angles last season without a lot of success, certainly not in terms of sacks. Lance Briggs was credited with 1/2 sack, 1 hit and eight hurries. Brian Urlacher had no sacks, three hits and seven hurries.

The more you look at it, the more apparent it is that it's not a simple fix and it's not just Anderson's responsibility to revive the pass rush. It leads you back inside.

"One of the things I was worried about when I looked at why the sack totals were down was Harris didn't command as many double teams last year,'' Barnwell said. "I really believe that when teams were looking at the Bears, they weren't as worried about doubling him because they weren't as worried about him getting to the quarterback. He's had really good pass rush numbers in previous years, not just high sack totals but way more hits and way more hurries. Last year, he only had five hits. He really wasn't getting to the quarterback as frequently. When he's not attracting a double it's harder for everyone else. He really makes that defense run. That really affected their pass rush.''

Marinelli has some fresh talent to work with in rookies Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton. Israel Idonije could be relied on more in a pass-rushing role down about 30 pounds to 270 this season. Idonije, playing primarily inside, had 3 1/2 sacks, five hits and three hurries in 2007. He did that in 475 snaps, which was 148 less than Harris had. It's unknown where he fits in this season. Idonije played plenty at tackle during the offseason program. With his two-year contract extension one thing is for sure, he's in the mix.

What we've found is that there isn't an easy explanation for last season or an easy fix for this season. The Bears have kept the same personnel, kept the same scheme and swapped out a position coach. There isn't a bigger problem for the defense to have than a lack of a pass rush. It makes the defense better at all levels. Watching the line drills during training camp should be interesting.

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This was the blog entry of the year. Fantastic job.

Sure blaming the lack of pass rush 100% on Tommie is a little unfair but that 3rd from last paragraph sums it up pretty nicely, Tommie hasn't commanded the doubles that he had in years past due to his lack of pressure.

Basically, I wouldn't say putting the blame on Harris is entirely unfair. Maybe a little unfair as there are a lot of gears making the line work, but not entirely unfair. Lots of Mark Anderson's sacks his rookie year were when he was unblocked to the passer, which is why I think that season was a fluke for him.

so, the pass rush is a complicated matter that can't be blamed on Harris, but it all starts inside with the tackles' ability to command double teams? Sounds like it is precisely right to blame the Bears' utter inability to pressure the quarterback on Harris, as well as whoever lines up next to him.

But it is interesting to note that the Bears "don't have a skilled blitzer at linebacker or defensive back." That may be so, but are we supposed to believe that Jim Johnson's blitzes work so well because the Eagles are stacked with gifted pass rushers at LB and CB? They have different players line up in those positions every year, and every year they get tons of pressure from every direction. Bottom line: coaching matters, and the Bears' defensive coaches are married to a scheme that depends far too much on one player being a Hall of Fame performer every week.

Lovie will help a little by calling the defense his way. Hopefully we will see less of the "mug" look and less of that annoying soft zone coverage on 3'rd downs that allowed the QB's to play pitch and catch on slants all year long.

Marileli will have a positive impact because the players will be held accountable instead of coddled. If they don't hold up on their assignments Rod will get on them and if they don't produce they won't play much either. The rotation should be strong with Adams, Harrison, Dusty and Gilbert expanding roles at DT. Brown, Ogunleye, Idonije and perhaps Anderson at DE. I would like to see what Ervin Baldwin can do but he may not get the chance this year unless Anderson is dumped before the season opener.

The key for the D-line os to keep the guy's fresh. The Offense will play a big part in that but the rotation needs to be better. Tommie should see less snaps then last season because over the long haul, it will keep him healthier. The same can be said with Ogunleye and Brown.... They need to come off the field a little bit more then last season, not much but a few series a game could turn into nearly 100 less snaps during the season.

Keep the guy's fresher and they will perform better late in games and later in the season when we will be fighting for the NFC North crown playing (4) of their last (6) games against NFC North opponents including (2) with the Vikes....

GO Bears !!

I don't think I could have said it any better than Anonymous.

to Anonymous:

You should not be afraid to name yourself in the future because you, I think, have summed it up perfectly.

Reliance on a successful scheme is always better than reliance on a successful player. Harris is good, but a player's performance one year to the next is never a given. What is a given is that a Jim Johnson defense will mess you up. The same cannot be said for Lovie's "cover who?"

That said I like the addition of Marinelli and it's put up or shut up time for Lovie. He's calling the plays so let's see it buddy.

well put Perno. I completely agree with everything you said. I remember so many of Andersons sacks coming after Harris or Wale had flushed the QB from the pocket. I give Anderson credit for his ability to finish when presented with golden opportunities, but his performance that season always seemed flukey to me.

The weird part about Barnwell's comments on Brown is that he seems to contradict what he wrote in the book (pg.47):

Adewale Ogunleye is the veteran end who is effective, if not game-changing, against the run and the pass. Opposite him is Alex Brown, a serviceable end on a low salary who the Bears would prefer to replace with a superior player.

I think the Bears need to come clean with Tommie Harris's degenerative knee.

There have been alot of great DE's over the years, who was the last great DE for the Bears? Certainly not among the group we have now.
OG has not produced since we got him, at least not the numbers we should see out of a top notch DE. and personnally I don't care if he does in this his contract year, we should have jettisoned him 2 years ago and drafted/traded a top DE, But nope, we are still sitting here with under performing DE's and blaming the Tackles. Alot of us wanted a top DE drafted this year, now you know why. A DE has to be able to create on his own as well, w/o blaming the Tackles, Og never has had the numbers - Now Harris has underperformed with no double teams the past couple years but cmon, a Top DE has to have some numbers on his own.

I read somewhere that the Bears were tops in the league last year in bringing blitzes; that is, more than 4 down linemen to rush the passer. The scheme didn't produce many sacks and the blitzing LBs didn't record any sacks either.

So, obviously, it's a combination of things and everybody has to put in a little more. I'm sure Tommie Harris would benefit from a DE who could get to the QB unassisted from time to time. And the coaches need to be smarter about when, where and how to bring blitzes.

The problem I see with the pass rush is individual matchups. Our guys simply are not winning one-on-one matchups. Even if Tommie Harris is not commanding double-teams, he should be winning his one on one matchups. We blitzed more than any team in the league, but still had a very low sack total. That means everyone involved in the blitzes were losing there matchups. Our DE's lost, our DT's lost and our LB's were losing to HB's and FB's. Seems to me that more time needs to be spent going over how to win a one on one matchup. Maybe Rod can help with that.

Also, a lot of this can be contributed on how fast the QB got rid of the ball. Teams killed us with short slants all season. 4-6 yards a pop. Yet we continued to play our corners deep. Those lil dinks and dunks are not much, but they sustain drives. Which was a major problem. We could not stop anyone on third downs. With our LB's constantly mugging up to the line, that simply left too much field for our corners to cover, allowing quick strikes. IMO, this was the biggest problem of our defense last year. Our LB's must cut off those quick slant lanes, allowing our CB's more cover time, as well as letting the safeties help out up top. Thus keeping the ball in the QB's hands a lil longer, allowing our D-lineman time to win their one on one matchups and get to the QB. Follow me? But putting it all on Harris is just inaccurate. Go Bears!!!

I have put alot of it on Harris as well, but I do agree with Reggie, the LB's standing on the line and then trying to rush back into coverage was way too much to ask. That left every position open, the Linemen had no help - the Corners had too much territory a(and as a result) played back too far, So in reading Reggie's comments I am thinking - it was the scheme, yes Harris has been pretty lame last couple years, but how in the world can we blame one player? The scheme let this team down more than any thing. And yes we do need a probowl DE - that would help alot but hey, how much would it help if we go into the season with that same messed up scheme where the LB's cover .....nothing at all.

1. Barnwell, welcome to the No Nothing Club, join Joyner. First, Jay Cultler is no better than Rex Grossman. Now, Alex Brown is "serviceable"? He was a Pro Bowl alternate in '06 and '07. You think the players voted him there because he's serviceable? This is what you get from reading stats instead of watching games. Come on Brad, you know more than both of these idiots put together. Go back to writing your own stuff, it was much better.

2. I fully agree about the lack of pass rush starting with the dropoff in Harris's play, and Brad eventually agrees with it too, though he doesn't seem to want to. But it's also true that the Bears do not have an elite pass rusher, as Anderson looked like he would become.

3. On a defense that has smaller, quicker players, the smart way to plan blitzes would be quick ones from the edges, not trying to stuff linebackers and defensive backs up the middle where they're smothered by larger players. I didn't see much, if any, of that last season.

4. Buddy Ryan used to say that you should only blitz when the offense has one less blocker than you have rushers. This depends on smart play calling and smart players to recognize the blocking schemes before the ball is snapped in order to know whether and where to blitz. Do the Bears have the smart people needed to do this correctly?

Re Barnwell, I meant to say, "first the Bears had a good defense last season ..." not first Jay Cutler is as bad as Rex Grossman, the latter was KC Joyner's claim. Sorry, it's getting hard to keep the professional idiots straight.

It's the Tampa 2/ slash steel curtain defense, the pass rush is based off the effectivness the front 4 to get to the QB. The heart of the front 4 in the T2/SC is the under tackle, Mean Joe, Warren Sapp, end of story. Harris doesn't need to get a ton of sacks but he needs to be more effective and command that double or even triple team more often. That said the ends for the Bears are not very good at rushing the passer. Alex Brown is a solid player but not great, and Goon needs help to be good. Anderson does deserve a lot of the blame, but the guy has only one move and he does not seem willing to learn another.

Harris knows he is not as effective as he used to be, and the fact is that line may not have the talent to improve. Brown had 11 hits last year, but ask yourself this, how long did it take him to get there? Teams held onto the ball for a long time last year, and we played our fare share or human statues. The other thing to consider is how many times did we see the line get pushed around. Look at what GB did to them in that first game, they beat the snot out of our line. At the end of that Tampa game they got steam rolled. The last thing to look at is how they did in the passsing game, with the Bears rushing 6-7 guys a lot last year they managed to give up 3859 yards passing, good for 241 yards a game. Did the secondary have to defend to long? Yes, could they have played better? Yes.

If the Bears can't get to the QB again this year, then Cutler won't make a difference. You can't beat what you can't stop.

Reggie, I think you touched on some points that when combined kind of get to the nuts and bolts of our defensives fall off last season.

A few things considered:

(1) we led the league in blitzing.

(2) Bob B. used the mug look way to much putting the LB's at risk in pass coverage.

(3) we played off the WR way too much, especially when we did blitz which allowed opposing Offenses easy, often uncontested conversions with those quick slants.

(4) Our D-lineman were often overmatched, not winning their individual matchups and getting caught out of their GAPS at times.

(5) we suffered another year of injury depletion in the secondary ie... Vasher lost most of the season, Tillman missing a start and suffering all year with bum shoulders, Mike Brown missing time, Zac Bowman going to IR in his season debut.....

All these factors really kicked our "D" in the nads the past few years. Hopefully with Lovie taking charge, Marineli actually teaching these guy's hands on with the basics of the position, techniques ect... we can solve some of these core issues that has plagued us since 2006.

Go Bears !!

I have been saying this for years. The Bears are the worst blitzing and screening team in the league. It has been this way for some time.

It's hard for the linebackers to rush the QB when they are required to drop 20 yards downfield in a zone because of that ridiculous cover-2 the Bears continue to use.

When is the last time our D-line was considered elite, stacked, full of talent? It was during the Ditka era. When was the last time our D-line really performed-lots of hurries, lots of sacks, lots of pressures? This is more arguable, but other than a fluke year here or there, it was, again, Ditka/Buddy Ryan era.

You need speed and power at the ends, and size and strength in the interior line. Period. This formula seems to work with Steve McMichael and good ol 99 (Dan Hampton) paired with Armstrong and the legend, Richard Dent. The basic pattern has been repeated dozens of times throughout the league, as the foundation of successful defenses.

It has been, literally, years since we had an eilte group.

True, there was 2006, the year that Mark Anderson outdid himself. The line was healthy, and it was a good year. But it was more of a fluke and more of a mediocre group having a good year.

The last time we had a D-line that approached something to be noted and feared AFTER the Ditka era was when Washington and Traylor teamed up in the interior D-line. These were both big, powerful men who also moved ~exceptionally~ well. Neither had Tommie Harris speed and quickness, but they were big, powerful, mountains in the middle you could not easily move. Ted Washington got double teams on every damned play, and Traylor probably merited a double team, too. That cuts down an offense's options. They could primarily stop the run, but these guys could move and harry the QB. They were getting up there in years, but we let them go way too early, and attempted to replace them with Angelo's draft picks--none of whom worked out. There was a parade of them. They (Washington/Traylor) caused fits for offenses, and it freed Urlacher and the DE's up to cause more havoc. Both went on to other teams and were productive for years after we let them go.

Since the departure of Washington and Traylor, Tommie Harris is the next guy heralded as very talented wrt interior D line. I have always felt that he is under-sized for the position, but Lovie's D likes fast over big, so you could live with it. Except, injuries to the legs mean a loss of speed. I am afraid that Tommie's best days are behind him, just like Urlacher's.

I had hope for Dvoracek, but he seem injury prone and he disappears at times, though that could be due to nagging injuries.

Idonije? How long has that guy been on the team? Seriously. A long time, and he was an undrafted arena league player when the Brown picked him up in the early 2000's. He has been with the Bears since 2003, I think. 6 years and he doesn't crack the starting lineup? Not an answer.

As to ends, I think OG and Alex Brown are servicable but not great. Paired with real interior line talent, they would play above their abilities, but with mediocre interior linemen, that are average at best.

As a result, the Bears have been blitzing alot. Blitzing is a real risk, and you'd better do it well. I feel alot better when our D blitzes alot under a blitz specialist like Buddy Ryan than a D coach who blitzes because his front four cannot get pressure.

The whole point of the Cover 2 is to get pressure from your front four, and the Cover 2 never works unless you get it. And we do not get it.

I would have liked for us to get some real monsters on the interior line.

All this excuse making, misleading stats and just plain malarky. The Bears and their refusal to keep up with the offenses since they figured the Tampa defense. Even Dungy had started using a hybrid form of the defense and he did well even when Freeny was down and Sanders was down so the injury crap is a load. Now they are going to take another undersized athlete and put him at tackle with his long legs and 280 lbs and he will be the next knee injury inwaiting. They have a abundance of linebackers and a player in Anderson who could be disruptive if his hand wasn't on the ground and he were moved around. This team could make an easy transition to a 3-4. There are three guys who can play the nose in Adams, Toeina and Harrison and Harris would probably be more disruptive from a 3-4 end position, and give another potential playmaker like Jamar Williams on the field.

It may not be an important point, but I haven't heard any of the Bears' DL talk about what a great coach Marinelli is, how excited they are to play for him, how they will run through a brick wall, etc. I know they were just OTAs, but still. Has anyone heard anything like that?

How about the DT who lines up next to Harris? Doesn't he bear any responsibility here? Or the guy who rotates in with him? Anyone think Harris is going to play every snap? Didn't think so.

Arguably, this is the CRITICAL issue going into camp WILL BE THE MOST CRITICAL THROUGHOUT THE YEAR as this TB2 scheme is predicated on defensive pressure (e.g. the Marinelli acquisition).

With no facts, I place the blame on the fall off as follows:

DT injuries (Harris & Dvorcek) 50%
DE age 30%
Coaching 20%

If the perennial starters can't get it done alone, than the coaches might consider more rotations.

Bradd, how do the ages of these guys compared to league or player production by age. As well as Brown has played, aren't he and Ogunleye quickly reaching the twilight of their careers?

everyone is saying the right things. if your corners are playing off the recievers there's no pressure on the qb. the linebackers play off the line also, or fake like they are going to blitz and run back, does any of this help the d line get to the qb? no. lovie
smith's defense stinks period and he stinks as a coach. he's scared to take a chance on his players. defensive players play on aggresion
when you make them play to give up yards then they won't play very good. all their lives they have played to take things away from the offense, not give the offense yards down the field. lovie, caught lighting in the bottle in 06. his defense is boring and bears fans are use to seeing the defense kick some butt. even when they win i feel cheated by this defense. this all starts in the front office where a man was hired to give us a good aggressive defense but it has not worked, this defense can be good if allowed to play aggressive the way players are taught to play from childhood. lovie, you may be a good defensive coach but that's all you are. get out of town while the getting is good. you stink.


Your criticism on this is misplaced. The authors are not contradicting themselves. The last article was about defense overall. This article is only about the pass rush. Either of those two aspects can exist without the presence of the other.

Use of the Pro-Bowl as evidence of a player's quality is certainly unreliable. Two examples; Farve being elected last year (this is a single year example), and Rodney Harrison over the course of a career (the guy is borderline HoF, but people saw him as dirty).

I believe that one of the problems with Bears' defensive personnel is that they draft on pure talent, not on the player's ability to 'fit' into their system. Teams such as Pitt, Indy, N.E., and Phil are excellent at drafting these types of players, which is why they are able to continue at a high level despite losses in free agency. (of course it helps that each of those teams has a franchise QB, but that mainly relates to offensive capabilities)

Face it, Tommy's knees are getting old, and that's why we drafted Jarron Gilbert.

If Tommy wasn't commanding double teams last year, then the NT was getting doubled up, or picking up the blitzing lb/db.

The bears were too predictable in blitzing and lined up too many at the line. Hence, we got burned in the middle passing game.

And with Dusty in there at NT almost the whole year, we lost some run stuffing ability. I love that guys hustle, but he was getting turned sideways too often, especially around the 1st Green Bay game when they ran all over us.

With Adams stuffing the run(he does a better job holding the point with 2 blockers), Tommy and some fresh legs(Gilbert) should be getting more pressure next year. Especially with Marinelli lighting a fire under the line's arse(and with BBF Babich not calling the defensive plays either).

Ron Rivera was our best DC in 05/06, but It's lovie's show and he had to go.

Let's hope '09 will bring the bears D back!

You people can complain and talk about how bad it is all you want. Fact is they have what they will have for the rest of this year. Nothing more, and hopefully nothing less.

The level of defense is the difference between the Bears just merely making the playoffs, and the Bears making the superbowl.

They will make the playoffs because:
1. Jay Cutler will lead the offense to more points, longer drives, and stake the Bears to more early leads.
2. #1 will force opposing offenses to become more one dimensional which is easier to defend.
3. Longer offensive drives will break the will of the other team's D, and allows ours to rest to stay in insane attack mode.
4. The special teams will rebound from a down year (for the Bears), and produce 7 touchdowns this year (like 05, 06, and 07).
5. the Bears defense is deeper this year.
6. The defense is not coached by Bob Babich. I don't really know how good Marinelli is, or how good Lovie is at calling defenses, but it can't be worse then Babich.

Think about the games from last year. The defense got shredded in the 4th quarters against Carolina, Tampa, and Atlanta. zthis waas well documented throughout the season. The Bear's defense was shown to be stout till the 10th offensive possession. That was teh magic number to when they either were figured out or were just fatigued. That is a major factor that will be different this year.

I agree with most of you that say they should have gotten this guy or that guy. But they didn't. They did get a HOF OT, and a pro bowl QB though. The team is improved, and arguably has more talent than the 2006 team.

There will be good D-lineman available next offseason to go after, but for now, let's enjoy this NFL-talented QB till proven otherwise. This should be a fun year.


Interesting comments, and everyone seems to agree that the Bears failed miserably to effectively rush the passer last year, regardless of where the problems were. I hope everyone is healthy enough this year to regain the past levels of effectiveness of the total defense package. Ball control from the offense should help,and blitzes from a healthy Urlacher or Briggs not predicted by the opponents would help.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 13, 2009 5:47 AM.

19 days to Camp: Football Outsiders projects Bears to win NFC was the previous entry in this blog.

Joyner: "Fans are treating Cutler differently than Grossman or Orton" is the next entry in this blog.

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