Analyzing Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols roles for Chicago Bears

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 29: Roy Robertson-Harris #95 of the Chicago Bears celebrates after a sack during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on September 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 29: Roy Robertson-Harris #95 of the Chicago Bears celebrates after a sack during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on September 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

How can the Chicago Bears find ways to get the most out Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris in 2020?

Having too much depth is never going to be a problem. However, the Chicago Bears likely would not mind being able to spread out the talent that is in their defensive line room to the rest of the roster. That is easily their most talented and deepest group.

The Chicago Bears are traditionally a 3-4 defense, but we all know that the NFL is moving into a nickel league. That was more apparent than ever when the Bears added Robert Quinn, who has almost never dropped back in coverage in his career. He is an edge rusher, and if anything a 4-3 defensive end. Dropping Khalil Mack into coverage too often never made sense, so the Bears are likely to run a base nickel defense that features two interior linemen sandwiched between Quinn and Mack.

So, when the Bears run 3-4, it will be a sub-package, and the “starting” defensive end will be playing less than nickel corner Buster Skrine.

If Akiem Hicks is healthy, there is no reason to believe that he and Eddie Goldman take up a good portion of the snaps as the interior rushers. Goldman is a rotational nose tackle, who will not play much more than half of the snaps, but if Hicks is a full-time player, it does leave little room for Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols.

RRH and Nichols went from competing for what would typically be deemed starting snaps in a base 3-4, to competing for any type of rotational snaps in a four-man front that features Hicks, Quinn, and Mack.

The good news is that the Chicago Bears may have a plan to leverage both of them to the best of their abilities.

Analyzing the usage of Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols in 2019

Nichols got hurt in Week Two last season, and RRH missed Week 15 as well. Beyond that, Eddie Goldman missed Week 16 and 17, so they both played more than usual. However, from Weeks Seven through Week 14, there was certainly a trend in how the Bears wanted to implement the two.

Below you can see the chart of how many snaps each has played from weeks seven through 14. Nichols is in red and RRH in blue.

There is not much here at first glance. Nichols played more the first three weeks, RRH played more in Week10, but Nichols played more again in Weeks 11, and 12. RRH saw more time in week 13, and Nichols slightly more in Week 14. Where is the trend?

Now, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, we look into the number of pass rush snaps that each was on the field for.

Robertson-Harris only played more overall snaps than Nichols in Weeks 10, and 13.  However, in Weeks Seven, Eight, 10, 12, 13, and 14, RRH played more overall snaps as a pass rusher. So, where was Nichols seeing the field more? You guessed it, check out the run defense snaps.

RRH saw more playing time as a run defender one week, and most weeks it was not close. On early downs, or when the team suspected run, it was Nichols, and when they knew they were going to be defending the pass, it was RRH.


According to PFF, Robertson-Harris had 27 pressures last season. 15 of those came from Weeks seven through 14. That span of the season was clearly when he was most effective. On the other end, Nichols only had four pressures las season, and one over that span. Mainly because his role was not to rush the passer.

Run Stops

According to PFF, Nichols was credited for 19 run stops to 17 for RRH. That does not seem like a lot, but remember, Nichols missed Weeks 2-6.  In the span from Weeks Seven through 14, Nichols recorded 16 of his 19 run stops. RRH had six run-stops over that span. He had 11 stops otherwise, and eight of those came with Nichols injured.

How Nichols and Robertson-Harris can be used

You could see a bit of a split in their 2018 seasons as well, as Nichols finished the year with more stops, and RRH more pressures. As the Bears tried to use a platoon to replace Hicks, they realized that by using the best of both worlds, they could use Nichols to plug the run and RRH to get after the passer.

If Hicks is healthy in 2020, they are going to use these two less than they have in previous years. However, rotationally, they are going to want to get the most out of both.

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This means that on early downs, or any time they face a team that goes heavy with tight ends or full backs, you are going to see Nichols on the field. RRH could slide outside at times, and even sub for Quinn or Mack on a given snap. However, you are most likely to see Robertson-Harris next to Hicks on third downs, getting after the quarterback. Goldman and Nichols will both be on the sideline, after stuffing the run early. From there, Hicks, and RRH join Mack and Quinn for a pass rush attack.