The injury plagued Chicago Bears head into their matchup against Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz without the defense’s top two pass rushers, which seems like a recipe for disaster.
Leonard Floyd joined Willie Young on injured reserve after suffering MCL and PCL injuries in the team’s Week 11 loss against the Detroit Lions. Floyd’s absence is the latest (and arguably, most hurtful) blow for a defense that now has four Week 1 starters on IR. Still, the NFL is a game of opportunity and a handful of Bears players have a chance to make a positive impact with an increase in playing time on the horizon.
Let’s get to know the players who are on deck waiting to get their swings at Wentz.
GM Ryan Pace made McPhee his first big free agent splash with the hope the former Baltimore Ravens standout would take his game to the next step with an increase in playing time. McPhee is productive when healthy, but that hasn’t happened often enough for him to make the kind impact this defense needs. And yet, here we are again with McPhee on the brink of getting an extended look in a year where he was expected to transition into a lesser role.
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio hinted McPhee might be better off as a part-timer, which serves as an admission of sorts that McPhee wasn’t going to live up to the lofty billing he carried when arriving in Chicago. Still, the belief was McPhee – who has four sacks in nine games – had enough in the tank to be useful on defense. He can go a long way toward proving that is still.
McPhee, who was limited in Friday’s practice with a knee injury, is Pro Football Focus’ 39th-highest-graded edge defender with a 79.2 grade. He has six sacks in his last 16 games.
Acho, who has 1.5 sacks in 41 games since joining Chicago in 2015, has flown under the radar as the Bears’ starting linebacker six times in 10 games. He hasn’t been much of a factor (one-half sack in 283 total snaps in 2017), but has played at least 52 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in three of the team’s last four games. Acho’s 69.3 grade rates as “below average” by Pro Football Focus’ standards.
The mounting injuries are starting to take their toll on other units. Because of Acho’s increasing workload on defense, the Bears’ special teams unit takes a hit. Acho played a season-low six special teams snaps in the team’s loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 11.
Irving was an undrafted free agent who got off to a slow start in the preseason, but flipped the switch late and is now in a position to be waiting for his opportunity to make things happen on Sundays. Left off the season-opening roster despite recording three sacks in his final two preseason games, Irving spent time on the Bears’ practice squad before called up to the active roster in early October.
The Bears aren’t probably going to hand Irving the starting job Floyd had before his injury, but it’s clear the team is starting to trust their rookie more with each week. Irving has seen his work load on special teams increase in each of the last two games, playing a season-high 24 special teams snaps (82.8 percent).
The next step would be for Irving to crack the defensive rotation. It’s quite the mountain to climb, considering he has been on the field for just five defensive in six games.
Chicago signed Jones to the practice squad when Young went down with a triceps injury. With Young and Floyd out of the picture, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid type has a chance to get his NFL career back on the right track.
Jones hasn’t played a defensive snap in nearly 13 months. In fact, the last time Jones played a game of consequence was on November 3, 2016 when he played seven defensive snaps against the Atlanta Falcons. Jones flashed here and there as a rookie, which is probably how he ended up on this particular practice squad in the first place. Jones came up with five sacks, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble, and a touchdown in 12 games (including five starts) back in 2015.
If Jones is healthy and placed on the active roster, he could lend a helping hand – if only because he is more experienced than Irving.