Coming into the year Leonard Floyd was supposed to be the Bears’ primary pass rusher. A top-ten pick just a few years ago, Floyd was expected to make a big jump in his third year and become the guy we all thought he could be.
Then the Bears traded for Khalil Mack.
He no longer had to be the guy and instead found himself as a complimentary speed rusher to the powerful and more technically refined Mack.
However, with the Mack acquisition, the assumption was Floyd’s job became much easier. That he would face more single teams and in turn become more productive, especially as a pass rusher.
So far that has not been the case if you look at the stat sheet. He has zero sacks as the starting outside linebacker on the team that leads the league in that category. If you dig a little bit deeper it becomes more concerning. He has only three total pressures (hurries, quarterback hits and sacks combined) in the four games he has played.
So what gives? Has he really played as poorly as his early season stat line suggests?
The answer is somewhere in the middle. Yes, he has not produced but this is most likely due to a few factors rather than him regressing.
It is easy to attribute his lack of production thus far on his hand injury. And probably fair as well. It is just impossible to play in the National Football League with only one hand and be as effective as you were with two. No matter what “twitter doctors” try and tell you.
Floyd played the first two games of the season with a club on his right hand and only generated one pressure in 48 pass rushing snaps for a pressure rate of two percent.
In the last two games, he ditched the bulky club for a smaller brace, which allowed him greater use of his hand. He didn’t exactly light the world on fire in those games, but he did generate two pressures in only 37 pass rushing snaps or a 5.4-percent pressure rate.
After the bye week, if he can shed the brace completely he might increase his production. However, there are other factors that are contributing to his lack of production.
His role in the defense has changed
Floyd is dropping into coverage much more than he has in years past. This season he has been used in coverage on 16.6 percent of his snaps as opposed to 11.7 percent over the rest of his career.
This could be a result of Vic Fangio realizing he will not be as effective with his injury as a rusher. Although it is more likely that Fangio realizes he doesn’t need Floyd to rush the passer as often in order to get pressure.
The Bears lead the league in sacks despite blitzing the least amount in the NFL. But 10 non-defensive lineman have rushed the passer multiple times this season. So while they aren’t rushing more than four guys, Floyds ability to drop into coverage, and be successful in that regard, has allowed Fangio to be more creative with who rushes the passer on each given play.
And Floyd has been great when dropping into coverage. He has a coverage grade of 75.3 when dropping into coverage this season according to Pro Football Focus. He has only been targeted five times on the year but has recorded two pass breakups. He is giving up a passer rating of 78.8 when targeted, good for fourth in the league among edge players who have dropped into coverage at least 25 times this season.
His ability to drop into coverage has allowed Fangio to be more creative with how they generate pressure. He might not be getting sacks, but the pass rush has benefited greatly from Floyd’s versatility.
Floyd is focused on stopping the run
When Fangio was in San Francisco he had two main outside linebackers: Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. When Floyd was drafted, he was often compared to the former as they had similar frame and skills. And the last few seasons he filled that role in Fangio’s defense when healthy.
But after trading for Mack, Floyd has transitioned into the strongside linebacker role that Brooks occupied for so many years in San Francisco.
His job now is to play the run first, rush the passer second. And again, he has performed well in this regard. He has a run defense grade of 76.8 according to PFF, a career-high mark, and 10th in the league at his position. His ability to set the edge and force runs back inside have helped keep opposing running backs to only 2.3 yards per carry on runs to the outside of the left tackle, where Floyd has primarily lined up this season.
I don’t want to make excuses. Floyd’s pass rush productivity has not been where it needs to be earlier in the season. While his injury and his role certainly play a factor, he needs to be better at rushing the passer.
Even if he never becomes the dominant pass rusher some were projecting when he was drafted, his skill set in other areas make him a valuable player on a championship caliber defense.
But if Floyd can improve to be an average or slightly above average pass rusher after his brace comes off, this defense could contend to not only be the best in the league, but in the conversation for best all time.