Tape study: Is Chicago Bears OLB Leonard Floyd close to breaking his zero-sack streak?

November 3, 2018

Leonard Floyd currently is in the midst of a seven-game streak without a sack (10 games without a full sack dating back to last season). His other statistics are fairly tame, too: no more than four tackles in any game, plus one tackle for loss, one QB hit and one fumble recovery all season.

Fans reasonably are starting to wonder: Is something wrong with him?

The third-year pro has flashed some excellent potential at times in each of his first two seasons, with injuries seemingly coming right when he’s started to come on. And true to form, he suffered a hand injury in the preseason that limited Floyd the first few weeks of the season as he played with a cumbersome club on his hand.

That clearly can explain his lack of big plays early on. But will the player who turned 26 one day prior to the season opener get on track?

We decided to take a look strictly at Floyd’s play against the New York Jets in Week 8 for some answers. Instead of doing a season-long tape study, we thought it best to see how he performed — coming off one of his least effective games — in a contest where Khalil Mack was on the sideline.

It was fairly revealing. For a player with a stat line that featured a mere two tackles in playing 47 of the Bears’ 54 defensive snaps, Floyd actually had himself a pretty good game. Good not great, mind you. But it was an improvement over some recent performances and an indication that he might be ready to make more plays on the ball and behind the line of scrimmage.

The Bears started Floyd and Aaron Lynch at the two OLB spots, and the pair played the vast majority of the snaps there, with rookie Kylie Fitts and second-year man Isaiah Irving rotating in. It was a far different game plan in this contest vs. what Floyd and Mack were asked to do the week prior against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, which was mostly to drop, fearing Brady’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly. That plan proved to be less than effective on a full-time basis.

The Bears got back to rushing against Sam Darnold and the Jets. And even though Darnold was asked to throw a lot of quick passes, the Bears’ pressure did still manage to affect things. Floyd was a part of that overall pressure, although the Bears managed a mere one sack in the game and Floyd was not credited with a QB hit.

This game, Floyd rushed on every snap but one, dropping into coverage one time on a second-and-10 play in the second quarter. He primarily rushed from the left side (39 snaps), shifted over to the right a bit (seven snaps) and also lined up for one snap as a stand-up rusher over the interior. Let’s start with that particular play and go from there.

It’s third-and-10 midway through the first quarter in a scoreless game. The Jets come out in “11 personnel” and motion into a bunch formation — a very popular set in college football for many years and one that’s become more common in the NFL the past six or seven seasons. Often with bunch formations, you see at least one vertical route, so Chicago has aligned a deep safety (Eddie Jackson) shaded over that side of the formation.

On this obvious passing down the Bears are showing a look they’ve sprinkled in lightly this season on occasion: Floyd (No. 94) standing up lined up over the offensive right guard. But is he “sugaring” the gap only then to drop? Or is he coming on a rush? The Jets won’t know until the snap.

They’re running a mesh concept play, an “Air Raid” offense staple, with the two outside receivers — one from the bunch (Rishard Matthews) and one from the opposite side of the formation (Charone Peake) — running crossing “unders” through the middle of the defense. The back (Trenton Cannon) releases into the flat on the defense’s right side; the inside receiver in the bunch (Jermaine Kearse) is doing the same to the defense’s left. So what they’ve attempted to create is space and confusion in the middle that can make it tough on a zone defense that’s designed to cover chunks of grass and match up when needed.

Jets TE Chris Herndon is on the line in the bunch, and he’s running what we believe is a “choice” route where he’s reading the defense to determine where to go. With the Bears in nickel and a three-deep zone, they should have most of the deep stuff accounted for. Herndon runs a curl route, and he appears to be Darnold’s third read on the play after bypassing the flat (Kearse) and the underneath crosser (Matthews) the other direction.

First, just watch this play from the field view to soak up the idea of what the Jets are doing here:

Normally with this call, the ball comes out pretty fast. Quarterbacks often take the open flat all day for easy yards, but it’s third down and 10 yards to the sticks, so Darnold must hold onto it to wait for more to open up.

Frankly, this is a strange play call in our eyes on third-and-long from the Jets’ own 30-yard line, with only one route (Herndon) running to the sticks. Maybe you run this with great yard-after-the-catch receivers vs. man defense, but then again we’re not drawing an offensive coordinator’s salary.

Now let’s run the back view of the rush:

Either way, it allows the Bears’ rush to be felt. Floyd and Lynch, lined up outside Floyd’s left shoulder, run a nice stunt on the left side. The Jets’ blocking is a bit muddled, and after a nice jab step inside, Floyd has a lane to the quarterback with Lynch helping run interference for him. Floyd is in a bit of a tricky spot here, as taking the most direct route to Darnold leaves Floyd vulnerable to surrendering outside contain.

But in third-and-long with zone behind them (defenders’ eyes in the backfield), it’s probably worth the risk of a QB scramble that Floyd can take. Is Darnold really going to run for a first down here? Instead, Floyd takes a bit of a false step on his upfield rush, running too wide an arc outside. As a result, he runs past Darnold in a situation where he might normally have generated a pressure, a QB hit or perhaps even a sack. Bottom line: Floyd had a chance to affect the pass more than he did here.

Now let’s look at maybe Floyd’s best rush of the afternoon, where he took a more direct path to the quarterback.

It’s second-and-10 at the Jets’ 13-yard line, and they come out in a “trips” formation to the offense’s right side, with one back and one tight end. The Bears are in off coverage except for nickel CB Bryce Callahan, who is coming on a blitz off Floyd’s outside shoulder on the trips side of the formation. Darnold smells the pressure, but he’s also desperately trying to get the snap off before the play clock expires. There’s a bit of panic by the rookie QB here.

Akiem Hicks does a great job engaging two blockers, RG Brian Winters and RT Brandon Shell. Floyd starts with an upfield rush on his first step to get Shell leaning that way before he rips underneath on the stunt to the other side of Hicks. What’s good here is that Floyd knows Darnold has to get rid of it quickly, and he wastes no motion on his rush in a direct path to the ball. Floyd is the first to arrive at the QB, joined quickly by Callahan and Eddie Goldman, as Darnold’s hurried pass is knocked away by LB Danny Trevathan.

This is what the Bears want to see more of from Floyd and an example of how he can start generating sacks again in short order:

Stunts are a good way to generate pressure and create mismatches, and the Bears used a few of them in this game. In fact, they helped Floyd a couple of times create a little stress along with Hicks. But stunts also can backfire if the players don’t keep an eye on the ball and keep their contain assignments. Darnold is no Mike Vick, but he moves pretty well inside the pocket to sidestep the rush and occasionally pull it down for a scramble when those opportunities present themselves.

Let’s fast-forward a bit in the first quarter and show another second-down play, this time with 6 yards to go for a first at the New York 29-yard line. This time it’s not a stunt from the Bears but rather a six-man pressure, with Roquan Smith blitzing and Trevathan coming late after reading the back, who stays home.

It appears to be a run-pass option call from the Jets here, and Darnold keeps it, wanting to hit Deontay Burnett (Darnold’s USC teammate and most trusted receiver last season for the Trojans) on what looks like an “Opie” route — in essence an option route for the receiver. If the DB is more than five yards off, the receiver runs a slant; if the DB is up tight in press coverage, the route converts to a hitch. Bears CB Kyle Fuller is six yards off, so Burnett is slanting here.

But it appears either Burnett bails on the route too soon, or Darnold doesn’t get rid of it fast enough. Floyd is temporarily stalled by the run fake, sees Darnold still has the ball, shifts gears, keeps his balance and hurries to maintain outside contain for the QB run option. Maybe Darnold fears Fuller jumping the route for an INT, so he keeps the ball and floods out to the flat.

Credit to Burnett for breaking off his route and working back to the ball eventually, and once more it appears he’s open if Darnold wants to throw it. But the rookie QB keeps the ball, and Floyd closes in a hurry. This one might be more on what the Jets didn’t do, but we can’t ignore the good pursuit.

If Floyd doesn’t keep that edge, Darnold might run for close to a first down. Instead, it’s a modest 2-yard gain. This is nice recovery by Floyd here:

Next let’s look at two “almost” plays by Floyd, where he impacts things but not enough to make a tackle against the run. Let’s first take a look at a second-and-15 play from the Jets’ 15-yard line early in the third quarter. It’s a run play with LG James Carpenter pulling toward Floyd’s side of the formation and RB Isaiah Crowell designed to run behind his block.

Floyd defeats the initial block of TE Chris Herndon and knives inside. That’s key because it causes Carpenter to slow up a bit and prevent him from getting a reach block on Smith, who is coming from the outside. Nothing wrong from Floyd here at all — he caused disruption to the blocking scheme, which is a win in the Bears’ eyes.

But Floyd just can’t quite make the spectacular play and take Crowell down for what might have been a 2-yard loss. Instead it’s Smith who comes in to clean the play up. That’s good team defense and a little indicator that Floyd is still making things happen positively.

Here’s another “almost” play that won’t go down as a big win for Floyd but nonetheless nets a desired result for the Bears’ defense. This time the Jets are pulling the front-side guard (Winters), whose job is to clear out Floyd on what’s sometimes called a “G block.”

This is an old-school trap concept that’s used sometimes in conjunction with a tight end on the play side. The idea here is to stress the end — in this case Floyd — who must be mindful of what the tight end and tackle are doing, as well as keeping an eye on the ball. The guard coming around to lead the way can sometimes catch an unsuspecting end man on the line off guard.

Winters actually appears to get great positioning on Floyd but doesn’t finish off the block. Credit Floyd for keeping a wide base, attacking half a man on Winters to cut off his momentum and force and be able to stay upright. He sheds Winters and sets a nice edge here to force Crowell back inside, where there’s help, but Floyd can’t quite bring him down for another potential loss.

After the play Floyd clapped his hands out of frustration, knowing he had a chance to take the runner down behind the line. Still, Floyd did his job and his teammates flowed nicely to help finish it off:

Speaking of tight ends, one thing I noticed in watching Floyd was that it was common to see one lined up in-line on his side of the formation. Oftentimes having that tight end (typically Eric Tomlinson or Herndon) in front of him forced Floyd to slow up his rush just a hair or change his pass-rush plan slightly. That simple formational adjustment by the Jets seemed to prevent Floyd from generating a quality get-off, even if the tight end was not blocking him off the line.

When Floyd was being single-blocked by tight ends, he was able to make nice plays such as this for a no-gain:

But when there was a tight end in front of him running a route, it appeared to slow up his rush. Watch Floyd (this time on the other side of the formation) start and stop ever so slightly to get around TE Jordan Leggett:

The point here is not that Floyd should have made a sack on this play. That just wasn’t happening with the protection the Jets used and how quickly Darnold got rid of the ball. It’s more that I think the Jets had seen this on tape before and used it several times in the game to get Floyd thinking — and hesitating — just a tad on plays.

If you were grading this tape with the blind eye of justice and didn’t know that Floyd had been struggling, you might give him a B for his effort. The lack of big plays once again stands out, even if Floyd more often than not did his job — even a little better than the scheme asked him to on a handful of occasions.

We can’t say for sure whether this performance portends better things, with or without Mack on the field. The assumption is that if he plays to this level of performance most weeks, especially against offensively challenged teams such as the Buffalo Bills (the Bears’ Week 9 opponent), that Floyd will create enough luck to break his sack-less streak.

It’s not fair to say he’s struggling after watching this tape, although you’d be hard-pressed to say he’s had a season befitting of the former No. 9 player in the draft either.

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