Bears’ 3-4 defense starting to take shape

In preparation for MNF, PFF takes a look at Chicago DC Vic Fangio's 3-4 defense using the new Player Grades tool.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Bears’ 3-4 defense starting to take shape


The Bears were one of the few teams to change their system on the defensive side this offseason, as Mel Tucker’s four-man front has been replaced by Vic Fangio’s 3-4. A lot of personnel changes have accompanied the shift in alignment, as Chicago sought out players with experience for the new system. The unit has shown a marked improvement from a season ago, based on some key additions. The Bears have by no means an elite unit yet, but they’ve taken strides in the right direction under their new defensive coordinator.

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The basis of a good 3-4, and any front seven for that matter, is a stud pass rusher who can consistently get to the opposition’s quarterback. That’s why Chicago spent the money they did on Pernell McPhee, PFF’s sixth highest graded edge defender in 2015. McPhee has an 88.8 overall grade and an 85.9 pass rush grade, which is also sixth. He currently holds our highest pass rush productivity rank this season, having recorded five sacks, seven hits and 26 pressures. McPhee finished second overall in that category in 2014 when playing in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense.

Opposite him, Sam Acho fits the role Fangio has created for him. While his pass rushing grade is just 49.6, he has graded out above 80 in both coverage run defense. While McPhee rushes one in every six pass plays, Acho drops and rushes at about an equal rate, making his superior coverage ability an asset. Ideally, he would generate more pressure, but there’s value in strong outside linebackers who can set the edge and cover tight ends.

At inside linebacker, the Bears seem to have finally found a role for Shea McClellin (71.1). He looked lost as an edge rusher in his rookie year, showing an inability to get to the quarterback, but has turned out to be solid in his stand up role. His best work has come as a run defender, which is useful considering his partner Christian Jones (69.9) struggles in that regard. Jones has just a 30.3 grade against the ground game. Then again, his 87.3 coverage grade is seventh in the league, making him useful on passing downs.

Another key component is another offseason addition, second-round nose tackle Eddie Goldman. It appeared a slight reach to grab Goldman at the top of the second round, but his play this season has been solid. A 75.0 grade is certainly respectable, with grades above 70 in both run defense and as a pass rusher. One position the Bears could certainly improve however is the five-technique. Free agent addition Jarvis Jenkins has struggled with an overall grade of 63.3 and a run defense grade of just 50.1. The Bears also haven’t had much of a contribution from Will Sutton or Mitch Unrein.

The Bears’ front seven is hardly a dominant unit, but Fangio has done a good job of fitting players into suitable roles. With an edge rusher and nose tackle locked in for the forseeable future, overhauls are no longer needed. Adding a pair of run stuffing two-gap defensive ends, and perhaps a nickel interior rusher, would take the Bears’ front seven to another level.

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| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • crosseyedlemon

    As a Bears fan I have to think that if Fangio can’t bring this defense back to being a dominant unit then no one can. It will probably take a couple more drafts before he has the final pieces in place and hopefully by then Cutler will be gone.

    • Hekthore Warro

      Problem is they had a poor defensive roster with few players that for on 3-4 defense. Ryan Pace & John Fox just need few pieces for next off season and I guarantee Bears defense will be just as 2011 49ers D

    • AK2= A.KarriemA.K

      Except the part about Cutler being gone. He has a the most come from behind wins in the NFL since 2009

      • crosseyedlemon

        Cutler is certainly adept at throwing interceptions which accounts for why he has so many opportunities to go for come from behind wins in the first place.

        • FCS

          Carefull what you wish for dude. Have you seen the rest iof the QB’s in the NFL right now ? After top 8 or so it’s garbage.

          • crosseyedlemon

            A lot of that has to do with injuries. The Cowboys and Steelers in particular have been hurt by not having their number one QB healthy. A few other QBs that should be doing better have struggled to adjust to new offensive schemes and/or co-coordinators.

  • Mike Riley

    This Bears team has some solid pieces on defense. Lamar Houston looked like a monster on that last drive & McPhee is 1 of the best fa signings in the entire league. Porter shut down Amari in the 2nd half of their game by playing underneath trusting his help over the top. He’s been a good, underrated pro. This team is not as bad as they looked up in Seattle. They can compete in most games & once they have a good draft in place next season, may surprise.

  • derek lundeen

    If we sign some more free agents and they turn out like McPhee that would help a lot.