clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Football Outsiders’ 2017 stats suggest QB pressure will be X-factor in Packers-Bears

New, comments

Both Chicago and Green Bay were inconsistent getting to the quarterback a season ago, but their quarterbacks have been just as inconsistent when facing pressure of their own.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

All eyes will be on the debut of Khalil Mack in Chicago this week after the Bears pulled off a blockbuster trade to acquire the sack artist, and rightfully so. But Mack makes up just one part of the pressure equation that will loom large over Sunday night’s outcome.

Reviewing Football Outsiders’ 2018 almanac, it became apparent that the Chicago Bears’ and Green Bay Packers’ overall performance a season ago hinged significantly on how well their units created and countered pass rush pressure.

To better display that notion, here are the numbers broken down by three key position groups.

Defensive Front Seven

While the Bears added Mack to their front seven in the hopes of bolstering their pressure on the edge this season, the Packers left their unit largely the same. On paper, that would seem to benefit the Bears and lead to question marks for the Packers after both squads finished with middle-tier pass rush rankings in 2017.

In fact, the two teams’ numbers were eerily similar. Separated by just five recorded sacks, the teams posted adjusted sack rates and pressure rates that mirrored one another. Here is a look at descriptions of these statistics and how the teams fared.

Pass Rush Pressure Last Season

Category Description Packers 2017 Bears 2017
Category Description Packers 2017 Bears 2017
Adjusted Sack Rate Divides all sacks and intentional grounding plays by total pass plays. Takes into account opponent and situation vs. raw sack totals. 7.3%, Ranked 9th 7.6%, Ranked 8th
Pressure Rate Percentage of pass plays with marked pressure. Sacks or scrambles due to coverage are not counted as passes with pressure. 29.0%, Ranked 26th 29.9%, Ranked 19th

The stats suggest that while both teams struggled to create pressure at times, they were fairly solid at getting home to the quarterback when they did. Akiem Hicks led Chicago with 8.5 sacks, but no other Bear eclipsed 5.5 (Leonard Floyd). Mack’s presence could help the talented, yet inconsistent Floyd become a nuisance himself. Green Bay’s Clay Matthews and Nick Perry led the team with 7.5 and 7.0 sacks, respectively. However, sacks were very hard to come by after Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark’s combined nine. Mike Pettine’s system with the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson should aid the pressure rates that led to tough sledding for the defensive backfield last year.

In last season’s November 12th meeting with a starting Trubisky, the Packers were able to sack the Bears’ quarterback five times. Perry notched three alone, helping the team to one of very few wins without Rodgers. It’s not likely that the Packers will record another five sacks this weekend, but even a couple with heightened pressure throughout the game could swing the outcome in favor of Green Bay if the offense holds up its end of the bargain.

Offensive Line

Green Bay was impacted significantly from a lack of continuity on the offensive line last season, receiving a “continuity score” from FO close to the NFL’s lowest (Detroit). While injuries may not be as hot and heavy on the line as they were during opening week last year, the Packers still face some uncertainty at right tackle with Bryan Bulaga’s return from injury and at right guard with up-and-down Justin McCray.

Chicago’s continuity score was closer to the league average, but the team must replace its best lineman, according to FO, in Josh Sitton. Eric Kush and rookie James Daniels are expected to battle for starts in his place at left guard. Otherwise, the Bears’ line is largely the same as a year ago.

The continuity factor, as well as quarterback changes, probably played a role in a wide difference in pressure rate on the offensive side of the ball in 2017.

Offensive Line Pass Protection Last Season

Category Description Packers 2017 Bears 2017
Category Description Packers 2017 Bears 2017
Adjusted Sack Rate Divides all sacks and intentional grounding plays by total pass plays. Takes into account opponent and situation vs. raw sack totals. 8.6%, Ranked 28th 7.7%, Ranked 23rd
Pressure Rate Percentage of pass plays with marked pressure. Sacks or scrambles due to coverage are not counted as passes with pressure. 35.1%, Ranked 28th 30.3%, Ranked 13th

Simply put, the expected improvement from the Bears’ defensive front puts pressure, no pun intended, on the Packers’ offensive line to hold up. While Brett Hundley’s indecisiveness did contribute to higher sack totals last season, it was not necessarily always accounted for in the pressure rate above. Defenses were able to get to Green Bay’s passer at a high rate, an issue that must be corrected immediately in week one. For all the Bears’ struggles last season, pass protection was not among the top. The ability to give their quarterback time to throw against the Packers - especially to new weapons like Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller - is imperative as will soon be pointed out.

Quarterbacks

While keeping Aaron Rodgers healthy and upright is always a priority, it’s also a key to sustaining drives. In recent seasons, inconsistency in that regard has been detrimental for Rodgers and the Packers.

According to FO, from 2009-2014, the All-Pro quarterback ranked second in the league in yards per pass attempt when facing the blitz and 11th when under pressure. Over the last three seasons, however, Rodgers’ yards per attempt ranking fell to a startling 29th against the blitz and 18th versus pressure. FO notes that Rodgers has faced his three highest pressure rates in the last three years. Although the pressure percentage has diminished just minimally, FO credits that to Rodgers’ ability to escape the rush. How willing Rodgers will be to extending plays after last year’s injury is unclear. But the Bears will be looking to put plenty of hits on the Packers’ quarterback Sunday.

Likewise, though his pass attempts and snaps have been limited, Mitch Trubisky has not been as effective in his young career when under pressure.

[Trubisky’s] DVOA under pressure (-99.9%) was the third-lowest in the league. He was basically league average (46.9%) when kept clean, but suffered the second-biggest drop in DVOA when pressure was added in 2017.

Another offseason of NFL experience should help Trubisky feel more comfortable in the pocket in year two. But there is a clear, proven difference in the effectiveness of Rodgers and Trubisky in the face of a strong pass rush. If the Packers can amp up the pressure and quicken Trubisky’s decision-making Sunday night, it could have a true impact on the game as it did most of last season.