Below is a debate between Chris Bocker and Will Ingalls on the best approach to improve the Bears’ defense. Would they be better served selecting a cornerback or an EDGE rusher in the first round of the NFL Draft? ?
The Case for a Corner
Throughout this offseason, many analysts, and Bears fans for that matter, will argue that the Bears must take an outside linebacker with their No. 8 overall pick in order to make it count.
I am here to tell you that there might be a better option and one that will make the defense even better than reaching on a high-risk, high-reward EDGE rusher.
That option is taking a complete cornerback in an effort to make the move from a good defense to a great defense.
One model for a great secondary carrying a team is the 2013 Seattle Seahawks whose defense was anchored by an intimidating defensive backfield with Earl Thomas, Cam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman.
The 2013 Super Bowl winning Seahawks had zero Pro Bowlers on their front seven but three All-Pro players in the secondary with Sherman and Thomas making the first team and Chancellor making the second team.]
They rode the number one DVOA pass ranking to a 13-3 season and one of the most dominant Super Bowl performances of all time even though they had no elite pass rushers.
All-Pro Quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees were held to 10 points or less during the regular season. In the Super Bowl the Seahawks held the record-setting offense of the Denver Broncos to eight points and 306 total yards.
A more realistic model for a one year turn around is the 2017 New Orleans Saints who added Marshon Lattimore with the 11th overall pick. Lattimore helped them jump from the 30th ranked pass defense to the fifth-best (according to footballotsiders.com DVOA) on his way to defensive rookie of the year.
The 2018 Bears could make a similar leap from middle of the pack to top tier by adding the best cornerback in the draft, whether it is Jaire Alexander, Denzel Ward, Isaiah Oliver, or if he falls, Minkah Fitzpatrick (fingers-crossed) and free agency.
If the Bears go into 2018 with Kyle Fuller as their No. 2 cornerback, the defense will be in good shape. In 2018, Fuller had 22 passes defensed but only two interceptions which will hopefully increase as I am sure we can probably all think of a few missed opportunities by Fuller.
It is also important to consider the teams you play most often and how you can have the best chance to beat them. The Bears won only four divisional games under John Fox, a putrid number that was largely due to the Bears not being able to stop Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and a variety of Vikings quarterbacks.
A great secondary can limit the effectiveness of the quick passing game and give the pass rush substantial time to get a sack or force an errant throw. Honestly, it does not matter how quickly Leonard Floyd and company can get to the quarterback if the wide receivers are wide open right at the snap of the ball.
My colleague Will is going to talk about the 2015 Denver Broncos as a team to model a pass rush after. But that team had corners who could shutdown receivers in the passing game as well as a good pass rush. Interestingly enough, that Broncos defense utterly dominated Rodgers who completed 14 of 22 passes for 77 yards passing in their Week 8 matchup.
In that game, the secondary made it incredibly difficult for Rodgers to use quick passes to mitigate the pass rush. Plays like the one shown below prove that the secondary not only stopped the quick game but gave pass rushers ample time to get to the quarterback and force an errant throw.
Keep in mind I am not saying the Broncos pass rush was not great, but rather that the secondary made it even better, to the point that their defense was in the conversation for the best of all time.
By adding two better cornerbacks via free agency and the draft, Vic Fangio can trust his secondary members will not get burnt in coverage and enable him to use the creative blitzes in his playbook much like Wade Phillips was able to do in Denver.
The Case for an EDGE Rusher
When it comes to drafting by position in the 2018 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears have to target an EDGE rusher if they want to take their defense from good to elite.
This is due in large part to the Bears running a 3-4 defensive front which showcases the outside linebackers. They exist in this defense for one reason and one reason only: put the QB on his back each and every time he has the audacity to drop back.
The Bears find themselves in a rare and advantageous position to utilize a 3-4 like few teams ever have. The most difficult part of building a 3-4 usually stems from the front three who rarely get the recognition they deserve.
At this point in time, the Bears have one of the best two-gap nose tackles in Eddie Goldman, and top-tier defensive end Akiem Hicks, and two solid youngsters with a lot of upside in Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris. Better yet, the Bears already have a dynamic piece at one of the outside linebacker spots in Floyd.
As everyone saw last season, having one dynamic rusher with an above average line isn’t enough to log consistent pressure. Offensive lines were able to slant towards Floyd, or they could double team Hicks and utilize a running back to help the tackles with Floyd. This all stemmed from offenses being able to disrespect the other pass rusher that Chicago played.
Whether it was an aged and ineffective Pernell McPhee, an overall ineffective Sam Acho, or an undersized and inexperienced Isaiah Irving, the Bears didn’t field anyone worthy of attention to NFL offense opposite of Floyd.
This is where the Bears can capitalize on a draft with a few promising pass rush prospects. The dream is that Bradley Chubb falls to eight, but that is unlikely and unnecessary considering the other prospects that will almost certainly be available at eighth overall. Marcus Davenport, Arden Key, and Tremaine Edmunds have all displayed that they could be the missing piece to Chicago’s pass rush.
Some historical examples of success with two superb OLBs in a 3-4 include the 2014 Baltimore Ravens which saw Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and a much younger Pernell McPhee combine for 26.5 sacks on the season.
For those who think the corners ran the show in that defense, the Ravens only picked off 11 passes on the season, five by cornerbacks.
Perhaps a better comparison to what the Bears could become if they established a more fierce pass rush is the 2015 Denver Broncos. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware teamed up for 18.5 sacks while defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson each added another 5.5 sacks to the team’s total.
For anyone who believes pass rush can’t get to a quarterback with a quick release, I urge you to watch what happened to Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game that season. If you aren’t satisfied, watch what they did to the high-flying Panthers two weeks later.
As for the examples of the 2013 Seattle Seahawks and the 2017 New Orleans Saints, these teams utilize a 4-3 defense which often times focus on gap integrity over pass rush.
That’s not to take anything away from what those secondaries accomplished, but their defenses by design focused more on coverage with a four-man rush over the exotic blitzes from a 3-4.
Now I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the Bears should ignore the secondary in attempts to recreate the ’85 Bears pass rush, but looking at recent examples of elite 3-4 defenses, a blue chip pass rusher will move the needle farther than a blue-chip cornerback.
Whose side are you on?
What’s the larger need: EDGE or Cornerback? Let us know by commenting below!