Chicago Bears Need to Start Using Depth at Linebacker

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Chicago Bears Need to Start Using Depth at Linebacker
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The injury to defensive tackle Henry Melton left the Chicago Bears dangerously thin in the middle of their defense, and the best way to counter that may be to play second-rounder Jon Bostic in a four-linebacker alignment.

This, of course, is not suggesting they should switch completely to a 3-4 alignment. They don't currently have the personnel for that, especially without a lane-clogging nose tackle. The team also spent a third-round pick on linebacker Khaseem Greene, who clearly doesn't fit in a 3-4. This is merely suggesting something the Bears can do to throw off the offense and get their best 11 players on the field.

If you had to list the Bears' best defensive linemen and linebackers, recently signed journeyman Landon Cohen would probably be last on the list. However, he was on the field against the Lions this past Sunday while Bostic didn't play a single snap.

In fact, it's hard to even figure where current starting defensive tackle Nate Collins would fit in the Bears' best front-seven players. The list is obviously headlined by Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs, but one could argue three of the next five best players are all linebackers.

James Anderson has been a pleasant surprise for the Bears, D.J. Williams has been solid in the regular season and Bostic showed a knack for making big plays in the preseason.

Despite being one of their better defensive players, the Bears haven't even been able to keep Williams on the field. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Williams has played just 53.7 percent of the Bears snaps. While that has been mostly because of their usage of the nickle package, it seems inarguable that he's a much better player than Shea McClellin.

Not to pick on McClellin too much, but it's painfully obvious that he's not a defensive end. Obvious to everyone except those who matter, anyway. He can't hold his ground in the running game and hasn't been able to beat offensive tackles.

The Bears found a way to successfully utilize his speed last year, as they allowed him to stand up and blitz from wherever he found a weakness in the offensive line. As you see in the screenshot below, he's standing up to blitz in the middle of the Packers offensive line. He got pressure and forced a dump-off on that play. He's a specialty player and should be used as such.

In addition to putting their best front-seven players on the field, using four linebackers would give the Bears a much-needed boost in speed. With Bostic and Williams in the middle of the field, the Bears shouldn't have a problem getting from sideline to sideline on the short passes that have hurt them this season.

It will also spice up blitz packages, as they've had a hard time putting pressure on the quarterback with the front four. They could play Peppers at one end and either Collins or Corey Wootton at the other with Stephen Paea in the middle. They could also rotate the linebackers with Briggs, Williams, Bostic and either Anderson for coverage or McClellin as a rush linebacker.

This obviously wouldn't be a base defense because they'd be susceptible to power runs, but it's something they could roll out on 2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-medium plays. It could also add a different look to their nickel package with a 3-3-5 alignment with Peppers, Paea, Wootton, Briggs, Bostic or Williams and Anderson.

The Cover 2 scheme is fine in theory, but that theory is based on getting pressure from the front four. When that doesn't happen, the Bears are in trouble. It hasn't been happening and their defense has given up far more scoring drives (20) than they've forced punts (12).

The Bears' defensive statistics are misleading because of the scores their offense and special teams have given up. Still, even if you take those away, the Bears have still allowed over 23 points per game. They're also ranked 20th in yards allowed—simply unacceptable for a unit that has been so good in the past.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker adapting to the Bears' past ways of doing things was a nice thought, but it hasn't been working. The scheme they used to run also doesn't work without pressure from the front four.

The other option is putting new players, such as rookies Cornelius Washington and Zach Minter, in to try and get pressure from the front four. Regardless of how they do it, they have to start hitting the quarterback. There's no evidence suggesting Cohen is going to give them any pass rush, especially considering he doesn't have a single sack in his career. 

A successful defensive coordinator is one that gets the most out of the roster he's been given. Right now, the strength of the Bears roster is at linebacker, and they need to utilize that.

This won't suddenly make Chicago's defense great. It still has fundamental issues with tackling and blown coverages. This will, however, put the Bears' best players on the field for at least part of the game.

The Bears defense, as currently constructed, is a problem. It has the talent to be one of the 10 best units in the league, but the Bears have to use all the talent on the roster.

While it may not be the most conventional approach, the Bears would be much better off playing talented linebackers than journeymen defensive tackles. 

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