Pass Rush Plan B
The Chicago Bears made a bold move this week trading Jared Allen to the Carolina Panthers for a sixth-round pick in next year's draft.
The Bears paid $11.5 million to Allen this season, all of which was guaranteed, and his compensation was equal to that which the Bears sent to the Houston Texans for undrafted rookie tight end Khari Lee.
GM Ryan Pace essentially got what he could for a 32-year-old defensive end playing out of position, one who isn't in the team's future.
Allen does not have a sack this season but he ate up defensive snaps through the club's first three contests. Allen played 104 snaps this year, second only to Pernell McPhee (140) among outside linebackers.
No other Bears outside linebacker has logged more than 50 snaps: Sam Acho (48), Lamarr Houston (47), Willie Young (40).
So how will Bears defensvie coordinator Vic Fangio distribute a substantial percentage of the OLB reps?
"We’ll roll those guys in there," Fangio said. "I think Sam will play a good bit of the base stuff and then Lamarr and Willie, and Pernell and then Sam, in the mix to play the sub stuff."
Translation: Acho and McPhee will line up on the edges in 3-4 looks, while all four will rotate in nickel situations, when Fangio deploys 4-2-5 and, sometimes, 4-1-6 defenses.
Acho's previous experience in 3-4 defenses gives him the nod in base sets.
"Well, he’s had the most experience playing in this type of defense," said Fangio. "So he has picked it up fast and is very comfortable in what we are doing and is very knowledgeable and does a solid job when he is out there."
Remember, Acho was one the top performers in training camp this year and played very well in the preseason, showing well in all three phases: pass-rush, run defense and coverage. So he should give the Bears more consistency on the left edge.
Young, who led the team in 2014 with 10 sacks, was a healthy scratch last week. He's a pure 4-3 defensive end who, like Allen, is playing out of position. Young, along with Houston, are rumored to be on the trading block but the team still likes what they brings to the table on passing downs.
"We had a pretty good player in my estimation that we had in street clothes Sunday in Willie Young," John Fox said. "I think with the trading of Jared Allen to Carolina it opens the door a little bit. So I think they're making the transition to outside linebacker in the 3-4, we need to take a look at them and we will."
Houston said he's motivated to make the most of the opportunity, especially in light of the club's 0-3 record.
"I think you see who's willing to work and you find out who has character," Houston said. "Everybody loves it when you're winning and everybody's down when you're losing you've got to see who's willing to work and who's working to get better every single day."
The Bears had 4.0 sacks last week and Jeremiah Ratliff is expected back this week.
"It will be a big boost," Fangio said. "A player of his quality always helps the cause."
McPhee will be moved around on passing downs, which should offer Houston and Young plenty of playing time in nickel sets. If they can provide consistent edge pressure, something Allen just wasn't able to accomplish this year, along with a resurgent Ratliff, the Bears' pass rush could be a team strength moving foward.
Leno on the Left
Jermon Bushrod (concussion) will not play Sunday, meaning Charles Leno will make his first career start at left tackle, the position for which the Bears believe he's best suited.
"Skillset-wise, I think he’s probably more adaptable to the left side than the right side," Fox said. "I think it’s a huge opportunity for him and we’re all excited and anxious to see how he performs."
Leno, who said he's better in "every way, shape and form" compared to his rookie year, said Bushrod has been his biggest supporter this week.
“Bush is a great professional. He’s helped me out a lot. I’m just ready for the moment," Leno said. "It’s a great opportunity. I’m really excited, ready to play some football and get back to playing the way I know I can play.”
Leno struggled during the preseason at both right and left tackle, so his presence protecting the blind side is cause for concern, yet Chuck isn't concerned.
“I don’t look at it as fear," said Leno. "I look it as embracing the opportunity. That’s how I look at it.”
For the record, the Bears have not considered moving Kyle Long to the left edge.
"Right know I think we’ve kinda given him plenty on his plate on the right side," Fox said. "I can’t predict what’s going to happen down the road, but the fact that he’s a tackle, in particular in this case, right tackle, I think that’s kinda a good start."
Problematic Edge Rushers
Howie Long played 13 seasons for the Raiders during his Hall-of-Fame career. Not surprisingly, Kyle Long grew up surrounded by silver and black.
“I know there was a lot of Raiders stuff in my house," Long said. "We were given freedom to choose I guess, freewill. I didn’t really like football until I was 15, 16. I became a Rams fan I’d say before anything else because of (his brother) Chris. But there was definitely a lot of Raiders stuff in our house.”
Long will face his father's old employer on Sunday for the first time in his career. It will be a tough test for him, attempting to block outside linebackers Kahlil Mack and Aldon Smith on most downs.
“They do a good job of rotating those guys," said Long. "If Aldon Smith’s off the field, then Khalil’s on the other side and they bring somebody else in. They have a lot of options and when you have good edge rushers it gives you a lot of options.”
Mack had just 4.0 sacks his rookie season but he's still considered one of the most versatile, disruptive and athletic defensders in the game, and he already has 2.0 sacks this season.
"He is going to be a guy that’s going to be an elite player," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. "Just going against him last year, he didn’t have a lot of sacks early in the year but he was almost always there. He was very disruptive in the run game. You could see quarterbacks felt him on the edge. He just wasn’t getting home. Now you see him being very disruptive from play one to the end of the game. He’s getting to see the thing that he didn’t see in college and you can see how he’s really developing into an elite player."
Smith was an elite pass rusher under Fangio in San Francisco the past four years and once had three sacks in a game against the Bears.
Yet again, despite the prowess of these two edge rushers, Chuck's not worried.
“Really good. Mack’s really explosive, Aldon’s really long. But I feel like I can do a good job against those guys with my athleticism.”
Catch-less in the Rye
Matt Forte set an NFL record for running backs last year with 102 receptions. Yet last week he did haul in a single pass.
"For what they do coverage-wise it’s not just a man-to-man thing," said Gase. "I know everyone thinks Seattle is this big man-to-man team but they play a lot of zone. It’s hard to get him out and find those soft spots in the zone. Their linebackers do a great job of hugging down on what you’re doing and they take away what you want to do, especially with what we like to do with the tight ends and the running backs."
It was only the second time in his career Forte has failed to catch a pass in a game, and the first time since Week 1 of 2009. For a sputtering pass attack, getting the ball to your most reliable pass catcher should be a recipe for success, expecially for a struggling passer like Jimmy Clausen.
"I think we can open things up with our offense," Forte said. "A lot of guys, especially the young guys who were out at receiver, they’re getting a lot of game experience, so now they’re getting confident, especially being at home and being able to communicate."
Alshon Jeffery is questionable for Sunday and unlikely to play. It will be the third game in a row he's missed.
Jeffery is in a contract year and denied he's being overly cautious with free agency just around the corner.
"My contract, I’m not talking about that. That will take of itself," Jeffery said. "I’m just trying tog et healthy and just play football for the Bears. And try to have a great season. My main thing is I’m trying to win games. The contract, that’s going to take care of itself. I’m just trying to win games and trying to go out there and have fun with my teammates."
Jeffery has just five catches for 78 yards on the season.