Last year, the Matt Eberflus era started off with an litany of problems. Most Chicago Bears fans ignored all the issues because the expectation was that 2022 would be the year to pay off the sins of the Ryan Pace era. Don’t look over here at the termite damage and definitely don’t look over there at the rotting window sills. We’ll get to it. Trust us.
The problem is that while the talent has seemingly improved across the roster, the results have remained unacceptable. One stat that I keep coming back to is quarterback sacks recorded by this defense. Now, to be fair, sacks are not a perfect indicator of how well a defense is playing and pressure numbers can sometimes tell a more accurate tale. However, sacks are easy to track, have a longer tracking history than pressure numbers, and have a known benefit to killing drives. They can also lead to quarterback fumbles, which the defense can pick up and give advantageous field position to their offense or even score themselves. (It’s true, I looked it up. Completely allowed)
The 2022 Bears fell off a cliff, dropping from a high performing 49 to an awful 20, about half of the league average. The argument coming into 2023 was that with the signing of Yannick Ngakoue and the investment of multiple Day 2 picks, this defensive line would pick up the pace. Not so through nine games.
The image below tracks the Bears team sacks since the stat became official in 1982 (remember that ‘82 was a strike-shortened campaign). The bar represents the team total, with the corresponding number to read on the lefthand vertical axis. The orange dot denotes the team leader with the corresponding number to read on the righthand vertical axis. Finally, the grey line tracks the league average. If you see the bar above the grey line, the Bears were better than the average that year. The final two columns are the 2023 actual and the 2023 pace.
A couple of things to note with this chart. The Bears are generally competitive with sack totals throughout the history of the statistic, with more above average years than below average. Even the 2003 low water mark is buttressed by two years where the Bears finished near the league average. Another thing you’ll note is that the team leader on the Bears last season finished with the lowest total of any Bears player since the start of the statistic. That player was Jaquan Brisker, the Bears rookie safety. This year the Bears have two players with two sacks each, TJ Edwards and Ngakoue.
Obviously, the trade for Montez Sweat is aimed at increasing these sack totals in the final months of the year. At this point though, can we assume the Eberflus scheme will put those players in a position to record those sacks? They are barely ahead of the pace necessary to avoid resetting the franchise worst mark, currently at 18. In terms of a two-year total, well, the Bears defense would need to go on a heater. The 2002-2003 Bears recorded 52 sacks, 22 more than what the Bears have recorded thus far in the Eberflus era.
Not great for a defensive-minded head coach.