Today I will begin my preseason assessment of the Chicago Bears football team with help from the fine folks over at ProFootballFocus and their premium statistics (subscription required). With some positives moves being made during the draft and free agency, I want to give you a better look at just how these pick-ups will stack up in the competitive world that is the NFC North. Here is how I will break it down, and in what order -
- Defensive Line
- Quarterbacks and Half Backs
- Wide Receivers
- Offensive Line
- Punter, Kickers, Return Men
I decided I would start with the defensive line for a few reasons. Firstly, because it was a problem area last year. Secondly, it has been the most heavily invested in area of the field in free agency. The Bears and Phil Emery targeted this area in the early and middle rounds of the draft.
Let's Get Started..
For those of you with memories of great Chicago Bears defences and with the nostalgia of that allowing you to be swayed into thinking the Bears were any way decent on that side of the ball last year, you are wrong. The Bears ranked dead last in overall defence and against the run by quite some margin.
Bare in mind that a -50 grade puts you in the reddest of the red areas (which is very bad, obviously), the Bears had a -185.9 overall defensive score which was nowhere near their closest strugglers the San Diego Chargers on -112.6 (Cowboys were third last with -98.5). The Cuddly Teddy Bears of the Midway were also dead last against the run with a score of -135.3 (their nearest rivals were the Washington Redskins -66.8 and the Dallas Cowboys -66.7).
As a pass rushing unit, they ranked 3rd last with only the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons ranked lower. They at least merited an orange indicator with -39.4 but that is still a far cry from where the Bears want to be. The 2014 Bears might not win the Superbowl but they will be better on defence and this is something that management is really making sure of.
In relation to the defensive line, last year they had awful luck with injuries, losing their two primary run stuffers in Henry Melton and Nate Collins within a couple of weeks of each other to the same injury. Melton has moved onto pastures anew in Dallas and Collins is listed as a possible third stringer behind Jay Ratliff and rookie Ego Ferguson.
Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton played 480 and 535 snaps, respectively, which was most among Bears defensive tackles and while Wootton has moved on to the Vikings, Paea had a -4.5 ranking against the run which had him sitting at 56th in the rankings at the position in the league. Many believed the Bears should focus on the secondary during the draft but with numbers like this, the defensive line is exactly where the Bears needed to focus their offseason recruitment process.
The Bears have two rookies sitting behind their two defensive tackles on their project depth chart but one can only assume that it will be open competition during training camps.
Ferguson (51st overall pick), at 6 3' and 315 pounds is a good side for a 4-3 DT in the league given the fact that their size requirements are 6 2' 300+ pounds. (If you want an insight into defensive tackle size in the NFL - read this)
Ferguson won't get a lot of sacks but all he needs to do is draw attention while the Bears' other defensive linemen can get to their man. Ferguson will not let runs up the middle, which is huge for this Bears team, and does well at locating the ball carrier and standing him up.
Will Sutton put on a lot of weight in his senior season at ASU that has been well documented and if the Bears can get the 2012 Sutton, who had 13.5 sacks during that campaign, they will have a starter on the defensive side of the ball. He told draft reporters that he is currently 290 pounds and played the Senior Bowl at 315. While there is always room for interpretation in these estimates, that is a significant difference and with Sutton's technique and speed, the Bears picked well with the 82nd overall selection, as long as he keeps his weight down.
The Bears production from their defensive ends was also poor in 2013.
They all ranked in the red according to ProFootballFocus with Shea McClellin ranking as the worst with -28.2.
Julius Peppers (-4.3), David Bass (-7.8) and Corey Wootton (-9.6) were not great but were markedly better than McLellin who may have been played out of position. The question was put to Phil Emery recently and it is becoming clear that the former DE first round pick will move to linebacker where the bears need help.
The pickups of Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Jared Allen are the most significant during free agency.
Pressure off the Edge
Lamarr Houston ranks 11th overall in ProFootballFocus' 4-3 defensive end rankings with a score of 11.4 and some big name guys ahead of him on the list. He only had 6 sacks last season with 16 QB hits and 41 QB hurries. Houston started every game as a right defensive tackle.
Willie Young comes over from Detroit and knows the NFC North, two of his three best games came against the Packers and Minnesota last year. Again, his sacks (4) and hits (8) did not set the NFL on fire but he does rank 16th overall which is a massive upgrade at the position.
Despite the big name signing of Jared Allen, he is the one coming in with the least impressive 2013 season. He ranks just 3 places higher than Julius Peppers at 36th overall. What Jared Allen offers is big play potential and with 13 sacks last season, he is the kind of guy that can draw attention, similar to Julius Peppers when he arrived in Chicago and with Houston and whatever combination is on the field, this can only mean good things for the Bears. He also has the added incentive that he knows the NFC North and the Vikings in particular who could be a surprise package this year.
On The Sideline
New defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni is getting ready for a very fluid mix of players this upcoming season. With the injuries that occured last year, it would appear that Pasqualoni is getting his defensive linemen to play inside and outside, just in case, there needs to be changes made.
He had this to say about Lamarr Houston -
I enjoy working with Lamarr. He’s playing the end position, but in his career at Oakland, he played some inside. He’s a good pass rusher, and he could be a good pass rusher from inside, too. He doesn’t necessarily have to stay outside
You can read the short interview here with the new D-Line coach who was the head coach at Syracuse, defensive line coach at the Miami Dolphins and D Co-ordinator with the Dolphins too.
Another interesting article states that Ego Ferguson will become "The Paul Pasqualoni Project" which seems exciting given the upside of the second round pick.
This was probably the easiest line on the field to write about as so much has happened with big name signings but it does have to be said that Bears management should be applauded for their tenacity in the open market and drafting (and quickly signing) Ferguson and Sutton more recently. Houston, Allen and Young are great additions and it will lead to exciting time for the Bears defensive line in 2014 and beyond.
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