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Friday, October 24, 2014

Is Lance Briggs holding the Bears defense back?

The three opening day starting linebackers for the 2014 Chicago Bears were first year linebacker and converted DE Shea McClellin and veterans DJ Williams and Lance Briggs.  After training camp, after preseason, after evaluating all options, these three were deemed to be the best option for the Chicago Bears defense.

The general thinking was that having two veteran linebackers would help out the first-year linebacker and help stabilize the revamped defense.  After last year, the draft picks, and the free agent signings, the full focus from Phil Emery down to the practice squad defensive players is that they need to stop the run.  Veteran linebackers give you the best chance to stop the run.  But is what we are seeing the best option?

Other than week 1 against Buffalo, where the defense gave up nearly 200 yards on the ground, the defense has been fairly decent against the run (especially considering how abysmal the unit was against the run last season).  127 yards on the ground in a win in San Fran, 114 yards in a win versus the Jets, 56yards for the Packers, 90 for Carolina, 42 for Atlanta, and 137 rushing yards for Miami making the Bears almost perfectly in the middle of the pack (#16) rush defense.  So, for the most part, not being able to stop the run isn't the reason for the Bears 3-4 record.

Where we are seeing the disconnect on the defense is pass coverage and getting off the field on 3rd downs.  If you are watching the product on the field and you're paying attention, you'll see two old men plodding around the field. DJ Williams and Lance Briggs know where they need to be on running plays, but on pass downs and read option plays and misdirections, the pair are finding that father time has hit them ridiculously hard.

Against the Falcons, one of the most potent passing attacks in the league, all three starting linebackers and primary backup Jon Bostic were all injured and out.  The Bears were forced to start three young linebackers: Greene, Sharpton, and Jones.  What they lacked in experience, they more than made up for in speed, hitting, and athleticism.  Where we see the impact of this youthful speed over the veteran experience most is on the third down efficiency. Atlanta was only 4 of the 13 on third down attempts.  Fact: you stop the opponent on third down and you give the ball back to your offense and get to rest up for a few minutes.  Are the lost steps on the veteran linebackers the key to why the Bears can't get off the field on third downs?

With the rich history of linebackers that the Chicago Bears have had (Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus, Otis Wilson, Doug Buffone, Brian Urlacher, Bill George, etc), it's a hard pill to swallow that the well seems to have run dry and the talent pool at linebacker is no longer there.