What can Chicago Bears do to improve pass rush?

‘We just have to finish,’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones is held back by Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Cody Mauch (as Jones tries to stop a pass by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield during the first half, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Tampa, Fla.

LAKE FOREST – In 20 games under Matt Eberflus, the Bears have 21 sacks. Last week, the Bears recorded five quarterback hits against the Kansas City Chiefs, and still they couldn’t find a way to bring down the quarterback.

“We’ve gotten home some and we’ve missed some sacks in the pocket,” Eberflus said. “We have to do a better job with that, making sure we do a good job of getting the guys down when we do have pressure.”

With Eberflus and his 4-3 defensive scheme, the Bears would prefer to rush only four pass rushers. Eberflus’ version of the Tampa 2 defense works best when it rushes with four and drops seven into coverage. So far, however, it has simply not worked.

And the sample size continues to grow.

The Bears had little success rushing the passer last season – when safety Jaquan Brisker led the team with four sacks – and the early returns during 2023 are not looking much better. The Bears are dead last in the NFL with a 1.01% sack rate. The team’s one total sack this season also ranks dead last.

In Week 2, four Bears players were better than league average in NFL Next Gen Stats’ average separation from the quarterback metric. The stat looks at the physical distance that a pass rusher is from the QB at the time of the throw. Again in Week 3, two players were better than league average.

The Bears are coming close, but just not finishing the job.

“We have a lot of quarterback hits, a lot of quarterback hurries,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. “We just have to finish and maximize on those opportunities and bring the quarterback down.”

Ngakoue has three quarterback hits and the Bears’ lone sack this season. He has had several chances over the past two weeks that came close, but he couldn’t finish.

This was a notable area of concern for the Bears in the offseason. They didn’t spend big money on an edge rusher in free agency or draft one with any of their 10 draft picks. But it’s wasn’t as if they completely ignored the position.

Instead, they signed relatively minor deals with defensive end DeMarcus Walker (three years, $21 million) and Ngakoue (one year, $10 million). They also drafted two interior defensive tackles with premium picks in Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. So far, neither rookie has made a huge impact. Both, however, were expected to need time to develop.

General manager Ryan Poles said after the draft that the Bears were never going to have the ability to fix everything in one fell swoop. That may have been the case, but the modest additions they have made thus far have not produced results.

Ngakoue believes the Bears have to keep doing what they’ve been doing. He believes the fact that they’ve been in position to make plays means that good things are right around the corner.

“Just keep scratching and clawing,” Ngakoue said. “Rushing is not about just giving up, it’s about continuing to fight. ... They come in bunches. We can have a game where we have more than five sacks. It’s all about just keep working.”

The Bears currently have the lowest blitz rate in football at 14.8%, according to Pro Football Reference. They’ve forced a pressure on 16.7% of dropbacks, which ties for 28th among 32 teams.

The question becomes can the Bears continue to sit back and not send extra blitzers at opposing QBs. With defensive coordinator Alan Williams gone, Eberflus is the one running the defense. Eberflus believes in his scheme. He has built a career using it and he’s not going to abandon his core philosophies now. Don’t expect the blitz rate to change anytime soon.

“We’re going to continue sending four guys and playing some coverage,” Eberflus said. “We’ve obviously got to send five sometimes, send six. But again, we’ve just got to do a good job.”

We’re going to continue sending four guys and playing some coverage. We’ve obviously got to send five sometimes, send six. But again, we’ve just got to do a good job.”

—  Matt Eberflus, Bears head coach
Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.