Once again, the Bears front four struggled to generate any pressure on Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. For the majority of the first half, head coach and defensive playcaller Matt Eberflus opted not to send extra pass rushers in the hopes that extra defenders in coverage would help contain Herbert and his numerous playmakers. It didn’t work. The lack of pressure afforded Herbert, who is known as one of the most accurate passers in the NFL, the time to pick apart the Bears secondary.
It’s a story Bears fans have heard on repeat over the past two years: Bears can’t get home with four, as they prefer, and QB slices and dices the defense. GM Ryan Poles tried to address the issue by signing bonafide edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue and drafting two young tackles in Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens. So far it hasn’t been enough, and on NBC Sports Chicago’s “Football Aftershow,” former Bears defensive end Alex Brown argued that Poles should have remained aggressive throughout the season to address the problem.
“Frank Clark was out on the streets for two weeks,” Brown said on “Football Aftershow.” “Where were the Bears, pouncing on that opportunity to get a pass rusher? We need a pass rusher. Why are we just allowing the pass rushers to be out on the streets?
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“Randy Gregory, he was available apparently, and he left and went to somebody else.”
Each player has a history of success in the NFL, regardless of their slow starts to the 2023 season. Clark has 58.5 career sacks, 14 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries in 123 games. Gregory has 20.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 63 games.
“We need them in order for this defense to work,” said Brown. “We have to have guys that can get after the quarterback.”
The Bears defense is predicated on pressuring the QB with the defensive line alone so that the unit can drop seven defenders in coverage. That’s essential for the team to take up as much space as possible in their zone schemes, or to double-cover an opposing offense’s best playmaker.
Throughout the year the defensive line has been unable to create that pressure, so Eberflus has had to adjust by bringing blitzers more often. It’s great when the extra rushers get home, but when they don’t it leaves the secondary vulnerable to explosive plays.
The Broncos let both Clark and Gregory go earlier this month as they focused on giving younger talent an opportunity to shine in a disappointing season. Clark eventually signed a reported one-year, $1.165M contract with the Seahawks. The 49ers sent a sixth-round pick to Denver in exchange for Gregory and a seventh-rounder. In each case, the Bears could’ve easily afforded the price. However there’s a debate as to whether they would want to.
If the Bears don’t meet the NFL’s salary cap this year, they’re allowed to roll over the savings to next year. Further, Poles may want to keep as many draft picks as possible, even low picks like sixth-rounders, to continue adding as much young talent as he can, especially considering how last year’s Chase Claypool trade flopped. Alternatively, the Bears may have reached out to a player like Clark and they may have been rebuffed if Clark wanted to join a team with real playoff aspirations.
Either way, it’s clear that the Bears are still in rebuild mode, and not serious playoff contention mode.