How can the Chicago Bears take advantage of the David Bakhtiari injury?
It’s been quite a while since the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers went to battle with this much on the line. Upon Sunday’s matchup, everything ranging from job security to playoff positioning and to even a Most Valuable Player Award seeks answers.
Should he perform to even his average standards, Aaron Rodgers will have an opportunity to lock in his second AP MVP award. But on Sunday, for their sake, the Bears need to ensure the best player roaming Soldier Field is on their side.
That aspiration got easier with the Packers confirming that All-Pro offensive tackle David Bakhtiari suffered a season-ending ACL injury — capping a season in which he was named the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history.
For reference, Bakhtiari finished as the No. 2-ranked tackle according to PFF, and the No. 1 in pass protection. And by now, you likely know where this is going.
Only the San Francisco 49ers devoted more of its payroll to edge rushers than the Chicago Bears ($42.2 million per year, per Spotrac). For 16 weeks, fans wondered aloud if the Bears were receiving their proper return on investment. Given Week 17’s implications and how vulnerable the Packers are, what better time than now?
They put their signature on paper. Now, how about a signature game?
To their credit, Green Bay was able to stay afloat in the three games Bakhtiari missed earlier this year with a broken rib. The three defenses they played — the Texans, Vikings, and 49ers — weren’t effective (though Minnesota did win), which is, in a way ironic, since Mitchell Trubisky fans drew criticism for celebrating his success against some of those very teams.
In that three-game stretch, they only corralled two sacks but did generate 13 pressures (hurries + knockdowns) on 39 blitz attempts. The Bears’ defense was awful during the Week 12 game, but on average, they produce 12.1 blitzes per game, 3.3 hurries, and 2.3 sacks per game. So, slightly better.
Week 12 proved to be an equipment manager’s dream. The Bears registered zero sacks and zero knockdowns. Robert Quinn drew most of the snaps against Bakhtiari, a challenge we’d probably feel more comfortable about him stepping up to in, say, 2015? But as Chicago Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley notes, Quinn is improving with time, accruing 15 pressures since Week 11. And recognizes the moment. He labeled Week 17 “a great game to finally make my mark for the city.”
Chuck Pagano and the Chicago Bears must get creative when scheming against Rodgers
Perhaps Week 15’s Panthers-Packers game offers inspiration when Carolina ran some 3-3-5, softened coverage, and still gobbled five sacks and nearly held them scoreless in the second half? Or maybe timely blitzes from the secondary, the way the Vikings did in their Week 8 upset?
The Packers could have an advantage in being secretive about their lineup for Sunday’s game. But replacing Bakhtiari’s foot speed, perimeter pull blocking ability, and versatility will be impossible to replace. Not too long ago, Bakhtiari played Khalil Mack to roughly a stalemate in 2019, using the Packers’ snap count to offset Mack’s speed off the edge.
Mack has shown that he can play either side, but he mostly took on Billy Turner in the first matchup. Assuming the referees call holding and don’t allow Mack to get handcuffed again on Sunday, it’s not bold to suggest that he could have a game similar to his Chicago debut.
Against these receiving corps, the Bears’ secondary will need a big day from their pass rush more than ever, as Eddie Jackson noted in his presser. Regardless of the circumstances. Aaron Rodgers may very well be named the AP Most Valuable Player in February.
But on Jan. 3 at 3:25 pm? That honor has to belong to someone across from him.