Some players are impossible to ignore. Every time Khalil Mack straps on his pads, he’s the center of attention. His teammates envision one of his patented power-to-speed moves bailing out them out at the best possible moment. When the quarterback is holding the ball outstretched without a care in the world, chances are Mack will make him rue the day he ever chose to be so careless. The opposing offense is praying they survive long enough without the human missile Mack deciding to seek and destroy their game day blueprint. When Mack is accounted for on the rarest of occasions, the Bears have their modern day mammoth Akiem Hicks lying in wait to clean up. Mack controls the edge. Hicks collapses the interior. One man is a modest, silent killer of offensive tackles. The other is an homage to grizzly bears every time he lets off a ferocious growl while swallowing a center whole.
Mack and Hicks help comprise one of the NFL’s premier vaunted pass rushing duos.
But what happens when this duo is somehow contained? Where do the Bears turn when their top two pass rushers are off the board?
For the first time in years, Chicago has a solution to its pass rushing conundrum.
His name is Robert Quinn and he’s here to stay.
There was a time when Quinn was once one of football’s top-tier pass rushers. The 29-year-old former Rams first-round pick had 45 sacks, a whopping 83 quarterback hits, two Pro Bowls, and one All-Pro selection in his first four NFL seasons. He was a bright star on the rise showing no signs of braking for a breather. He was blazing a trail hapless offensive linemen found difficult to follow without getting lost. It’s jarring how quickly a career can have a man devolve into a complete afterthought.
After his turn as a household name, Quinn fell off the map for years. From 2015 to 2019, in remaining stints with the Rams and a one-year journey into the belly of the South Beach beast in Miami, Quinn produced a total of 24 sacks and 40 quarterback hits. After becoming many a quarterback’s worst nightmare, Quinn morphed into a flock of sheep jumping over a fence they counted to fall asleep at peace. A glorified journeyman of the highest order. The presence of titans like Aaron Donald meant little. Quinn had lost his mojo. No one—especially Quinn—knew why.
Sometimes what it takes to get back on your feet is a proper change of scenery. That new locale happened to be Dallas for Quinn. Under the tutelage of wise sage defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, 2019 became something of a Renaissance campaign for Quinn. 11.5 sacks. 22 quarterback hits. The third-best pressure and disruption rate in the entire league. A force to be reckoned with alongside another bona fide star in Demarcus Lawrence. The Quinn of old was back. It was only a matter of time before a team like the Bears came calling to get him to join their mission.
Every elite defense has a fallback plan for when its best players aren’t up to snuff. A common predicament the Bears have found themselves in over the past two seasons is what happens to their defense when Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks are non-factors. It’s not an easy task to shut down two studs in the primes of their careers, but it has happened. Any formidable offensive front worth its salt can and has neutralized these two giants among men. The results have been devastating. When you’re constructed on the back of your defense like the Bears, your defense is a shell of its self when the lead warriors are missing in action. Business as usual for an offense matriculating down the field, disaster for everyone else.
The Bears wanted Leonard Floyd Floyd to pick up the slack when their top players weren’t performing. But Floyd was never up to the task, hence his expected release. Sometimes they leaned on a package of a well-timed blitz from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. If the Bears could send their linebackers every play to generate a pass rush, they probably would. Smith and Trevathan are adept enough to maximize such chances. But issues of what that would mean for a collapsing defensive integrity are too stark to ignore. You can’t vacate the middle of the field of your inside linebackers every play and expect no cracks to show.
The addition of Quinn is the Bears’ expensive mandate of preventing their apocalyptic scenario from occurring with regularity. Two gifted pass rushers can be accounted for, taken off the board. Throw in three in the mix and suddenly the opposition has to make cost-effective decisions. The No. 1 threat, in the Bears’ case most often Mack, has to be double-teamed. The interior presence in Hicks will occasionally receive a double-team assignment, but is left on an island until necessitated. And the complementary edge rusher on the other side gets the coveted baton to go wreak havoc for a full 60 minutes. If they take the baton and sprint to the finish line like the way Quinn did in JerryWorld last season, then the defense has nothing to fear about getting sidetracked again.
No offense can block a Cerberus of pass rushers with no consequences. Ask any of the Super Bowl champions built on defense and they’ll mirror that sentiment.
When Mack and Hicks are be nowhere to be seen, it’s Quinn entering from stage right. When Quinn enters from stage right, the Bears’ pass rush is no longer of tantamount concern. When Quinn has the answer to everything that ails the Bears’ defense, their three-headed monster can never be ignored.
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