New Bears defensive coordinator will blitz even less than old ones did
Only one team in the NFL blitzed less often than the Bears in every one of the previous four seasons: Matt Eberflus’ Colts. While the head coach won’t be calling the Bears’ defense, you can bet new Bears coordinator Alan Williams, who followed him from Indianapolis, is strategically similar to his boss.
For as different as they were, the Bears’ previous three defensive coordinators had one thing in common: They rarely blitzed.
Only nine teams blitzed less often than Vic Fangio did — on 20.3% of passing downs — in the Bears’ dominant 2018 season. Chuck Pagano’s blitz percentage was the eighth-lowest in the league in 2019 and the fourth-lowest in 2020. And Sean Desai brought an extra rusher 22.6% of the time last season; only 11 teams blitzed less often.
If this is the point of the story where you expect us to say the Bears’ new regime will blitz more, think again. Only one team in the NFL blitzed less often than the Bears in each of the previous four seasons: coach Matt Eberflus’ Colts.
While Eberflus won’t be calling the Bears’ defense, you can bet coordinator Alan Williams, who followed him from Indianapolis, is strategically similar to his boss.
‘‘It will be pressure when needed, blitz when needed,’’ Williams said after practice Sunday. ‘‘Different situations — if it helps to get the [opponent] off-schedule, to get them in second down-and-longer, to put them in a situation advantageous for the defense, to play those third down-and-longs — but when needed.’’
That won’t be often. In Eberflus’ four seasons running his 4-3, cover-2-heavy scheme with the Colts, his blitz percentage was the second-lowest in the league once, the fourth-lowest once and the sixth-lowest twice.
Last season, the Colts blitzed on 20.2% of passing downs. The league-leading Bucs did so twice as often.
‘‘Some games it may be 10%, 20%,’’ Williams said. ‘‘Other games it may be higher if it dictates that’s how we need to win ballgames.’’
Williams didn’t blitz often in his previous stint as a coordinator. Only five teams brought an extra rusher less often than the Vikings did in 2013, Williams’ final season running their defense.
Williams said his mindset has changed a bit since then, but that might be a bluff. Any coordinator would want his future opponents to busy themselves preparing for as many blitz packages as possible.
‘‘I do think there needs to be, from time to time, something to throw the offense off-schedule, things they may not have seen on tape,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I think the coaches in this league do such a great job of scouting you, preparing for you. And when you make them play left-handed, that is always a good thing, something they haven’t seen.’’
It takes a lot of faith in your pass rushers to rush only four. The Bears had the stars with whom to do that last season: Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks have 10 Pro Bowl selections among them.
Only Quinn returns this season. He’ll be teamed with Trevis Gipson or Al-Quadin Muhammad. Or perhaps all three will be on the same line on obvious passing downs.
‘‘[Williams] says all the time we’re the engine of the team, the defense is gonna go as we go, so we’re gonna work hard,’’ Gipson said of the line. ‘‘We’re gonna get after the quarterback, but first we’ve got to stop the run in order to do that.’’
Williams said he might send a blitz or two in the Bears’ preseason opener Saturday against the Chiefs, but that sounds only slightly more plausible than him rushing five or six players frequently during the season.
‘‘If Quinn were sitting up here, he’d say, ‘Hey, Coach, I got ya, and all we need is four,’ ’’ Williams said. ‘‘And we’ll get home with four if you’re talking about the passing game. But there’s some times where you need to blitz because you need to knock them back in the run game. Again, that’s wait to be seen.’’