There's no doubting that the Chicago Bears' Leonard Floyd was tremendously hyped this past off-season by many pundits (cough, cough). The 25-year-old is the incremental piece of this Chicago defense and time spent away from the game gaining strength and refining his abilities was supposed to be a boon towards a special sophomore NFL season.
For the first four games of the Bears' 2017 campaign, Floyd was anything but special. With one sack, single digit hits on the quarterback, and a back injury that likely limited him, Floyd was struggling to make a meaningful impact as the game-changing star defensive player many had hoped or expected him to become. It's funny what a few extra days of rest and some general confidence building can do for you.
The Floyd that many expected to see in 2017 wasn't necessarily fully on display against the Vikings on Monday night, but signs of the burst and a potential coming dominance were there.
That's because Minnesota had no answer for Floyd as he stuffed the stat sheet with six tackles, four tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, and two sacks. He also recorded the second safety of his career - his second in his last nine games played. Of note, the last Bear to even record a safety before Floyd was Stephen Paea - in 2011.
And of course, Pro Football Focus recognized Floyd's outing against the Vikings as easily his best of the year to this point giving him a stellar 81.5 overall grade according to their metrics. Suffice to say, Floyd was a force to be reckoned against whomever the Vikings dared trot out against him.
Let's break down exactly what he did well on each of his primary impact plays against Minnesota.
The first play is Floyd breaking through with excellent hustle for that mentioned safety against Sam Bradford. With the Vikings backed up on their own goal line on 3rd and 15 in the first quarter, Floyd did exactly what he's paid to do - finish.
Now before you note any technique or effort from Floyd, what allows this play to happen in the first place is excellent coverage downfield by the Bears' defense. Floyd never even touches Bradford if a Vikings receiver comes open at any moment. A stellar job by most everyone on Chicago's defensive unit to take away match-ups.
From the Minnesota perspective, Bradford should have also gotten rid of the ball. When you're backed up in your own end zone, there's no justifiable reason for you to hold onto the ball for over four seconds. Pass rushers in the NFL are too good to have your offensive linemen hold up for that long. Someone almost always eventually gets free on these types of plays as Floyd did here.
As for how Floyd won against often known turnstile tackle Mike Remmers, well, it was his trademark speed that was on display all night to go with a solid tenacity.
Remmers actually does a good job bodying Floyd on his first step but still loses leverage after his initial hand placement - a death knell against top pass rushers. In this instance, running back Jerick McKinnon actually had a shot to help Remmers on a chip, but hesitates and decides to make himself a non-factor as a late check down option.
Once McKinnon passes off the help, Floyd quickly shifts his hands with a swim move, Remmers loses all positioning, and Floyd then walks his way around him with almost no resistance like a cone in a combine drill. With Bradford waiting in the pocket like a sitting duck, one last burst from Floyd after getting past Remmers does the trick to put the electric pass rusher on the board as a scorer in 2017. An example of Floyd's refined hands work and drive all in one.
Jumping forward, to another 3rd and long play for the Vikings and this time near the end of the first half. When the Bears needed an impact defensive play on Monday night (an awful holding call at the end not withstanding), their best defensive pupil more than evidently came to play.
This time around, an excellent and well-designed stunt between Akiem Hicks (who also had a dominant performance) gets Floyd free and he doesn't miss as Bradford has no space to spin away late. These are the kinds of defensive plays the Bears prefer to have their edge rusher get free in timely situations aside from one-on-one battles. In fact, you saw this kind of stunt against the Steelers a few weeks back where Floyd did miss because he unnecessarily jumped in the air when attempting to sack Ben Roethlisberger - a big no-no in pass rushing.
At any rate, Floyd is the Bears' most dynamic defensive playmaking pass rusher due to his speed, so they will almost always feature him in this fashion. With Willie Young out of the picture, I'd go as far to as to say to watch out for more similar Hicks-Floyd combinations through the rest of the season. These are the drive-killing plays you keep on tap.
Getting back, the constructs of this stunt are what was impressive here because so much faith is put on Floyd's natural athleticism to cover an inordinate amount of ground in tight traffic in but a few seconds.
In the blink of an eye, Hicks, after lining up inside as a three-technique, shoots the gap towards Remmers, drawing the attention of both his initial man in right guard Joe Berger and Remmers, who has to compensate for his new assignment in Hicks. That step by Berger to follow Hicks is what in turn opens up the fast lane for Floyd. All Floyd had to then do was take his initial first few steps to the outside to get Remmers moving towards the outside and then shift to the afterburners inside as soon as Hicks makes his move. Its a bang-bang play that requires two special athletes working in conjunction in different roles - one of speed and one of power. It's a stunt that takes a lot of chemistry, trust, and talent between two players. Thankfully, between Floyd and Hicks - "Flo and The Dream" - the Bears' have themselves quite the pass rushing duo to pull this off.
Finally, we get to Floyd drawing a hold on Minnesota's final possession of the first half, looking to build on a "scintillating" 3-2 lead before the break. This hold wasn't a sack in terms of the same level of impact, but the 10-yard loss to create a behind-the-chains play can be as much of a challenge for an offense to recover from. Minnesota never did. In retrospect, Floyd has been doing this all season - i.e. drawing holds - it's just that it isn't always, if rarely called.
Yet again, Floyd abuses Remmers which is an encouraging sign in that the superior potential star-level player had his way with the replacement level starter. There was nothing fancy to this outside of Floyd's bend and speed. Right at the snap, Floyd's already halfway past Remmers before he's even taken two steps. He's a demonstratively better athlete than Remmers, that's all there is to it.
Remmers does himself a disservice in so many ways here. The first, is that he looks inside against Hicks to help, likely some bad memories of the previous devastating stunt. Past success dictates future set-up plays. By the time he turns around, Floyd's already on the prowl and prepared to plaster Bradford. And when Remmers swivels his head towards Floyd, instead of staying balanced and working his hands in a controlled fashion, he reaches his arms too far forward putting Floyd in the driver's seat as if he was riding a mechanical bull. Never, ever reach as an offensive lineman. At that point, all Floyd has to do is work his hands given the step he has on Remmers, which has the offensive tackle then tackling his assignment to the ground with hands full of jersey to protect his quarterback from getting killed.
Obviously in terms of the rules, you can't do that, though, and the hold occurs.
More than anything on this specific play, the superior more dynamic athlete in Floyd wins from the outset with his tight steps and burst, creating the cataclysm of drastic reactions from Remmers in return. A match-up problem through and through. Exactly what you want to see from your top defensive draft pick if you're Ryan Pace and the Bears.
Aside from actual ability to play at the highest level, effective pass rushing is all about rhythm, confidence, and even health. Once you have those aspects of your game firing on all cylinders, suddenly any man in front of you feels like no contest because it's a game of leverage and one-on-one battles as long as you do your job.
Floyd finally enjoyed that golden triumvirate against the Vikings, but he isn't done growing. This was far from a complete performance. With this first great game of 2017 in his back pocket after a slump, Floyd can use it as a springboard to consistent impact through the rest of the Bears' season.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.