Pass Rush Invisible in Chicago Bears Loss to Packers


One week in the books, and predictably the Chicago Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers in a game that was unexpectedly competitive. The Bears led 13-10 at halftime and trailed 17-16 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Packers scored 14 points and the Bears were unable to take advantage of a pair of possessions inside Green Bay territory.

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On offense, the Bears battled through some pass protection issues – both Jermon Bushrod and new right tackle Kyle Long struggled against Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers – but ran the ball incredibly well, with Matt Forte in particular picking up 141 yards on 24 carries.

If Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and offensive line coach Dave Magazu work with Long, and Gase makes more of a point of helping Bushrod with chips from a running back or tight end, hopefully the line will round into form in pass protection.

Defensively, though, I’m not buying into the idea that what they showed Sunday was much of an improvement from last year.

If you take out the possessions at the end of the second and fourth quarters — where Green Bay took a knee both times — the Bears allowed Green Bay to score points on five of seven possessions. On four of those five scoring possessions, the defense was unable to hold Green Bay to a field goal. The Bears are going to struggle on defense, but holding teams to a field goal will go a long way toward giving Chicago a shot at competing in most games this season.

Sep 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) passes the ball during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers didn’t have many passing yards (189), but had almost as many touchdowns (3) as incompletions (5), and the only pass a Bears defender knocked down was when Jarvis Jenkins got a hand on a Rodgers pass at the line of scrimmage early in the contest.

Eddie Lacy ran for only 85 yards, but had 4.5 yards per carry, and the 4.4 yards per carry allowed by the Bears in the game was actually worse than the 4.3 yards per carry they allowed last season. Alan Ball struggling against an aging James Jones is a bad sign for Ball’s ability to handle better receivers down the road, and Kyle Fuller didn’t look great against Davante Adams. Both cornerbacks will face better receivers than Jones or Adams this season, so improvement is definitely needed if the Bears’ secondary hopes to slow down any passing game.

Most of all, though, the biggest problem on defense was the pass rush.

Playing without Jeremiah Ratliff – the team’s best defensive lineman and a talented pass rusher – the Bears generated no pass rush on most plays, and frequently allowed Rodgers to escape the pocket. Three of Rodgers’ scrambles resulted in first downs, and on another play he escaped the pocket only to flip the ball backwards to tight end Richard Rodgers, who then ran for 11 yards and a first down.

Sep 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) drops back to pass against the Chicago Bears during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers, of course, is dangerous whether he is in or out of the pocket, but allowing him to get outside – thereby scrambling both offensive routes and the coverage – is a mistake. The Bears needed to contain him in the pocket and collapse the pocket on him. An inside pass rush is part of what’s needed in that recipe, which is where in particular having Ratliff on the field would have helped.

Too often, particularly with Jared Allen, the Green Bay offensive linemen were able to push Bears defenders upfield past Rodgers, creating gaps for him to scramble and extend plays, increasing the pressure on an already overmatched Bears secondary.

More troubling was that even with the Bears having a handful of proven pass rushers on the roster in Allen and Willie Young, plus shiny new acquisition Pernell McPhee, the Bears collected zero sacks and failed to even register a hit on Rodgers.

Sacks are hard to come by, and Green Bay has a decent offensive line, so there isn’t shame in not sacking Rodgers once. But I counted 35 dropbacks for Rodgers – counting passing attempts, scrambles and plays that included penalties – and the Bears failed to hit him once. That’s a problem, and one that has to be corrected in a hurry. More blitzes may be the answer, but with the Bears thin on talent in the secondary, it may be difficult to call blitzes for fear of creating even more favorable match-ups for the offense down the field.

The pass rush will improve once Ratliff returns from his suspension, and I expect that Allen, Young and Lamarr Houston will need some time to adjust to rushing as outside linebackers rather than defensive ends. McPhee, meanwhile, simply needs to generate better rush. He was held on one play where he may have had a shot at sacking Rodgers and was able to prevent Rodgers from scrambling on another play, essentially forcing the Packers quarterback out of bounds; other than that, he didn’t show much in pass rush.

Sep 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) is tackled by Chicago Bears outside linebacker Shea McClellin (50) during the second half at Soldier Field. Green Bay won 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

To be clear, the defense did show limited improvement from last year. They forced a three-and-out after the Bears offense failed to score on four plays inside the Green Bay six yard line, giving the offense another chance at tying the game when it was 24-16 in the fourth quarter. They didn’t give up the big plays to Green Bay that last year’s Bears team allowed. The longest Green Bay play of the day was a completion to Jones against Ball for 34 yards. A few other completions topped 20 yards, but no running plays did. That’s progress, even if it’s not as fast as we’d all like. Rookies Eddie Goldman and particularly free safety Adrian Amos were impressive against the run.

If the Bears can push the pass rush to where it should be, they have a shot at knocking Arizona off next week in Chicago.

Next: Aaron Rodgers Leads Packers Past Chicago Bears

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