Bears blockers brace for ‘elite, elite, elite’ Cowboys pass rush
How well the Bears’ blockers can shield Mitch Trubisky from the storm could sway the Bears’ latest — and, if they’re not careful, last — must-win game Thursday night at Soldier Field.
Guard James Daniels was detailing the Cowboys’ defensive linemen — how their high motors help them win one-on-one matchups and allow Dallas to get to the quarterback without blitzing — when he was asked where they ranked among Bears opponents.
“Recently?” he said. “It’s not even close — they’re the best.”
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich used another word three times to describe the havoc the linemen bring to opposing blockers — and the quarterback — on passing downs.
“These guys are elite, elite, elite in that regard,” he said. “Every O-line gets beaten by these guys. Every quarterback gets sacked by these guys, gets hit by these guys. And you have to weather that storm.”
How well the Bears’ blockers can shield quarterback Mitch Trubisky from the storm could sway the Bears’ latest must-win game Thursday night at Soldier Field.
Coming off one of its best performances — though, of course, the Lions’ defense is awful and defensive tackle Damon ‘‘Snacks’’ Harrison didn’t play — the Bears’ inconsistent offensive line will face its biggest test of the year.
“That’s one of the ways we’ve built our team: getting different guys that can be really good run defenders and affect the quarterback,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
It’s a familiar formula for Bears fans: The Cowboys’ defensive coordinator and line coach is Rod Marinelli, who coached the Bears’ defensive line in 2009 and was the team’s defensive coordinator the next three years.
The Cowboys made three moves this year to lock up their stud defensive ends.
In March, they traded a 2020 sixth-round pick for the Dolphins’ Robert Quinn. They signed him to a one-year deal that has netted him $10 million — less than what he would have made with Miami, which was beginning to go into tank mode.
“A proven high-level pass rusher,” left tackle Charles Leno said.
In April, they gave their own DeMarcus Lawrence a five-year, $105 million contract with $65 million guaranteed.
“An elite pass rusher,” Leno said.
And in October, they traded for versatile lineman Michael Bennett, whom the Patriots had suspended after he argued with a coach, and employed him on situational downs.
“A savvy veteran who knows how to get home,” Leno said.
Quinn’s 9½ sacks are tied for ninth-most in the league. Bennett has 5½ and Lawrence five. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins — who starts alongside Antwaun Woods — has four sacks.
Through Week 12, the Cowboys led the NFL in pass-rush win rate, according to ESPN Analytics. The stat measures how often pass rushers beat their block within 2½ seconds. In the Cowboys’ case, they do it 56 percent of the time.
Bringing in Quinn — a nine-year vet who had 19 sacks in 2013 — gave the Cowboys something the Bears themselves have struggled to find this year: an edge rusher who stands out opposite their star.
Quinn (33 percent) ranks first in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate. Lawrence (26 percent) is fifth.
‘‘We wanted to keep [Lawrence] here for a long time, but you have to bring other people to the defensive front so you can attack a lot of different ways with different guys,” Garrett said. “To have a chance to get Robert Quinn, who has been such a good player in this league for a long time, I thought was really important for our team. He has come in and done a great job. I think those two guys have been a great tandem.”
Because of the pass rush, Cowboys opponents convert only 32.45 percent of their third-down attempts — the third-lowest clip in the NFL.
They don’t blitz often — because they don’t have to.
“That’s a team, a defense, that gets home with four guys,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “They can get after you.”