Analyzing the Mess That Is The Chicago Bears Interior Defensive Line

Remember the good old days of that 2018 Chicago Bears defense? That year, the Bears finished 2nd overall in rush defense only allowing a staggering 1280 rush yards all season. Over the course of 16 regular season games, that averaged out to only 80 yards per game. Run defense starts with nasty interior defensive lineman, and that year the Bears had two beast upfront headlined by Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks. Fast forward to 2022, and the memories of the 2018 defense seem like something of a mirage.

Through 8 games, the 2022 Bears defense has allowed 1248 yards on the ground. That’s the same amount of rushing yards the Bears 2018 defense allowed during an entire 16-game season. As mentioned, run defense starts up front with getting off blocks and getting up-field. The Bears interior defensive line has simply not been able to do that this season.

General Manager Ryan Poles attempted to address this issue in the offseason by offering stud 3-tech tackle Larry Ogunjobi from Cincinnati a three-year contract to play for the Bears. Unfortunately, Ogunjobi was unable to pass his physical and winded up signing with the Steelers later in the offseason. This miss on a solid interior lineman has definitely hurt this Bears run defense.

Looking at the current roster, the Bears are throwing these four names in rotation for the Defensive Tackle and Nose Tackle positions: Armon Watts (acquired from the Vikings via waivers), Justin Jones (acquired via free agency), Angelo Blackson, and Mike Pennel. Simply put, these four have not been performing up to standards.

According to PFF, Mike Pennel is currently rated 34/100, Angelo Blackson is 40/100, Armon Watts is 55/100, and Justin Jones has a 39-100 grade. To put these grades in perspective, All-Pro DT Aaron Donald has a PFF grade of 90/100. Besides the PFF grades, just from watching the games live, it seems the line is getting no push off the ball.

One of the best attributes of Akiem Hicks was his ability to push guards and centers into the backfield and totally disrupt run plays. One other thing I’ve noticed is the lack of double teams the interior line draws. Eddie Goldman was the king of always having to have a guard/center combo having to block him. This freed up the DT next to him to attack a single guard and make a play on the RB. It also freed up the Linebacker’s to have a clear path at the Running Back without having to shed a guard. This year, it seems our Defensive Tackles aren’t drawing any double teams and all offensive lineman are able to single up and get a free lineman up to our linebackers.

With all this being said, it seems unlikely the Bears run defense will improve. Roquan Smith was recently traded and it’s tough to lose the NFL’s leader in tackles on your defense. An already bad linebacker corps just got worse, and combine that with a horrid defensive line and this run defense could be historically bad by years end. Oh to be in 2018 again.
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