Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Robert Quinn could (eventually) give Bears NFL’s best pass rush
The Bears are still waiting on Quinn, who is likely out Sunday with an ankle injury, but if all three are healthy and productive this season, this defense will be scarier than ever.
The Bears’ defense was still very good last season, but it didn’t have quite the ferocity that scared the rest of the NFL in 2018.
That’s what they want to get back to — and then some.
After watching Khalil Mack smothered by double teams and triple teams while playing without another significant pass rusher to draw some attention, general manager Ryan Pace went all out. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was expected to return from a dislocated elbow without any lingering concerns, so that would restore the Bears’ trio of Mack, Hicks and Leonard Floyd, but he was thinking bigger.
“It all starts with affecting the quarterback — hitting the quarterback, getting after the quarterback, affecting his timing,” Pace said. “It makes your whole defense better. If you hit the quarterback, your corners are better, your safeties are better, and it’s just such a value position.”
So rather than settle for another year of Floyd, whom Pace drafted ninth overall, he replaced him with one of the most dominant pass rushers of the past decade: Robert Quinn. Floyd had declined in sacks four consecutive years and bottomed out at three in 899 snaps last season.
The move was costly (Quinn’s five-year, $70 million deal was the second-biggest contract for any free agent this year) and risky (he’s a 10th-year veteran who hasn’t played more than 60% of his team’s defensive snaps the last five seasons), but the upside was irresistible.
Pace essentially prioritized that move, which guarantees Quinn $30.1 million for the next two seasons, over ponying up for a player such as tight end Austin Hooper ($42 million over four years) or quarterback Teddy Bridgewater ($63 million over three).
Even with some concerns, Quinn is enticing. He had 11½ sacks, 22 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles for the Cowboys last season. Pair that with Mack and Hicks, who combined for 20 sacks the last time they played a full season together, and the Bears could have the best pass rush in the league.
“It’s just gonna be fun being out there with a guy that’s going 110 miles per hour on the other side, and I can’t wait,” Mack said of Quinn. “I don’t know what it’s gonna bring, but I know it’s gonna be fun.”
The “fun” Mack imagined is probably on hold for at least a week as Quinn deals with an ankle injury. He did not practice leading up to the trip to Detroit and is expected to be inactive Sunday.
The Bears likely will use journeyman Barkevious Mingo in Quinn’s place, as well as James Vaughters and rookie Trevis Gipson. Mingo has 10 career sacks in 95 games, and the other two will be looking for their first.
When the Bears were rocking in 2018, they were third in the NFL with 50 sacks — about one every 13 dropbacks by the opponent. There’s a correlation between that and leading the league in interceptions (27) and total takeaways (36) and being top four in opponent completion percentage (61.3), passer rating (72.9) and third-down conversions (34.3%).
The difference between very good and very dangerous was illustrated last season, when the Bears were a top-10 overall defense but ranked 23rd in sacks with 32. The effect was that they dropped at least five spots in the rankings — many more, in some cases — in all five aforementioned statistics.
If Quinn returns and plays merely at the level he did last season, the defense should look a lot more like it did two years ago.
“When you take the pass rush that we have . . . and when you couple that with guys who have ball skills in the secondary . . . those balls are going to get thrown up,” Pace said. “With a defense that can generate that kind of pass rush, that can equate to a lot of turnovers.”