Pernell McPhee Leading Improving Chicago Bears Defense
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Bears have a long way to go after just notching their first win of the season with Sunday’s 22-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders. Things are starting to come together as the season hits the quarter pole. Most importantly, the Chicago Bears defense is starting gel a bit and it’s in large part thanks to some of Ryan Pace’s free agent acquisitions. Headlining the strong free agent class of Chicago Bears defenders is outside linebacker Pernell McPhee.
McPhee leads all Chicago Bears players with a +16.1 grade from ProFootball Focus. That’s good for the third best grade for all 3-4 outside linebackers, trailing only Denver’s Von Miller (+19.1) and Kansas City’s Justin Houston (+16.3). McPhee got off to a slow start in his Chicago Bears debut, but has been on fire the last three weeks. He’s second on the team with 24 tackles and two sacks while adding 12 QB hurries and five QB hits to his pass rushing resume. He’s added three tackles for loss and an interception to his impressive stat line. It’s not just his stats, but the leadership and swagger that he’s brought to the Bears that has made a big impact on the rebuilding team:
"McPhee made an impassioned team speech on Saturday night in which he asked his teammates to lock arms to symbolize their togetherness. After the game, it was clear he made a strong impression. Here’s what running back Matt Forte said about it:“It’s more than just playing football together. It’s actually knowing the person, knowing their family, and we’re not just teammates. We’re out there and (we’re) brothers, and you go out there and fight for each other. I’d fight more for my brother than somebody who was just a teammate. It’s about getting to know each other and being a family, really a family on the field.”"
McPhee is just one of a few key new additions to the Bears defense that Ryan Pace brought to the Bears. Another diamond in the rough is free agent Jarvis Jenkins. Jenkins leads the team with three sacks, more than he had in his three previous seasons combined with the Washington Redskins. Jenkins has 17 tackles already this season while he didn’t have more than 28 tackles in any of his seasons with the Redskins. I’m not sure if he’s found a better fit with Vic Fangio or if the light bulb finally went on, but Jenkins has stepped up to lock down one of the defensive end spots and keyed the improved Chicago Bears front.
On the back end, free agent Antrel Rolle has helped stabilize the secondary. Rolle is second on the team with 23 tackles and that’s despite missing time last week when he suffered an ankle injury early in the second half of the Raiders game. Rolle has helped mentor rookie Adrian Amos and together the duo both earned positive grades from PFF, a rarity for Bears safeties.
A new face that made a positive impact on the defense last week was cornerback Tracy Porter. Porter held Raiders rookie sensation Amari Cooper to four catches for 49 yards last Sunday after Cooper put up back to back 100+ yard games. Cooper’s touchdown came out of the slot while matched up with Sherrick McManis. If Porter can step up and be the cover corner while Kyle Fuller adjusts to the demands of Vic Fangio’s system, it will really help settle down the Bears shaky secondary.
Even Sam Acho has made an impact in his limited opportunities. After battling mono late in the preseason, Acho has come back and recovered a fumble in last week’s win. He’s another Bears free agent defender who’s earned a positive grade from PFF (+1.8). The Bears saw enough in the veteran that made Jared Allen expendable as an outside linebacker.
The Bears may rank last in the league for points per game with 31.2 PPG, but they’re seventh in the NFL in total defense, giving up only 309 yards per game. As the offense settles down and sustain more drives, the defense should benefit as well. It’s nice to see some of Ryan Pace’s additions making an immediate impact. With a number of these free agents here on one year deals, Ryan Pace and the Bears will have some interesting decisions to make as they go forward.