From former Bears defensive coordinators Greg Blache and Vic Fangio to current outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, football coaches have bristled at our obsession with sacks as a defining statistic.
There’s more to defensive football than sacks, they insist. And the counterargument is always the same: When NFL teams stop paying for sacks, we’ll stop using them as a measurement of success for pass rushers.
So even though outside linebacker Leonard Floyd did other things that made him valuable to the Bears’ defense, his three sacks last season — only one in the last 15 games — opposite Khalil Mack left a sizable void in a defense that lost its bite.
And general manager Ryan Pace, while supportive of his 2016 first-round pick, tacitly agreed. He didn’t just try to find a better Leonard Floyd, a multifaceted outside linebacker. He signed the best pass rusher/closer he could find: Robert Quinn, a 4-3 defensive end wired to get the quarterback.
The message was clear. The Bears desperately needed a pass rusher who could finish, and they were willing to take some risk to get one. Quinn has played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense before — with the Rams in 2017, when he had 8½ sacks. But even Bears coaches acknowledge there will be a transition, and adjustments will be needed to make it work.
As with any player making the transition, a lot depends on how quickly Quinn learns, Monachino said. But the Bears aren’t going to try to make him something he’s not. Quinn is probably not going to be in coverage as much as Floyd was. He might not be as effective against the run as Floyd was. The Bears just want him to be the best pass rusher he can be.
“Robert Quinn has a dominant trait, and we are going to try to use that dominant trait as much as we can,” Monachino said. “I think what we’ve gotta understand is that this guy is a situational football player. He’s a guy that can play in every situation, but there are some situations that he’s going to be better in, and those are the things we’re going to focus on with Robert.”
The limited offseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic stunted Quinn’s transition to Chuck Pagano’s defense and the outside linebacker position. Even Pagano has acknowledged it’s not going to be easy. But early indications are that Quinn — who once called his 3-4 role with the Rams “suffocating” — has the right temperament to handle it.
“Robert is as calm and collected as any player I’ve ever worked with,” Monachino said. “You can’t shake the guy. He’s been through enough in his life that you can’t throw anything at him that would get him sideways.”
It remains to be seen just how “situational” Quinn becomes in the Bears’ defense. For what it’s worth, Monachino listed holdovers Isaiah Irving and James Vaughters and newcomer Barkevious Mingo as competitors for the No. 3 spot in the outside linebacker rotation.
Mingo, the sixth overall pick of the 2013 draft by the Browns, has made his biggest impact in seven NFL seasons on special teams. But in a defense with many playmakers, a player of his ability could make an impact.
“I have a 100% confidence that Barkevious can etch himself out a role defensively,” said Monachino, who also coached Mingo with the Colts in 2017, when he started six games. “We were in a situation in Indy when [John Simon] got hurt that Barkevious had to play a ton of defense for us. [He] made plays, [played] sound, solid defense for us. So [I’m] not nervous at all or afraid of putting him in the game at any point in any situation — coverage, rush, run game. We can do all that with him.”