The 2023 NFL season came to an end on Sunday Night after the Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl 58 with a game-winning touchdown in overtime to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 25-22. It is Kansas City’s third Super Bowl title in the last five years and the second time where they overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to win the game. The 49ers’ inability to protect the leads, in both the 4th quarter and overtime, shows how vital it is for the Bears to solidify their pass-rush position this offseason.
The 49ers’ Defensive Failure Should Serve As A Warning For The Bears
In the two Super Bowl games between the Chiefs and 49ers in the past four years, both contests featured very similar outcomes, in that Kansas City fought back in the 4th quarter when trailing to prevail with victories. In Super Bowl 54, All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs’ offense to 21 points in the game’s final quarter, as his team trailed 20-10 at the end of the third quarter. In Sunday’s game, Kansas City trailed by three points twice in the 4th, with Mahomes leading the offense to game-tying drives each time before the game-winning drive in overtime.
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The key stat for both Super Bowls has been a lack of consistent pass-rush pressure created by San Francisco’s defense. In the 2022 championship game, The 49ers sacked Mahomes twice in the final quarter, but only one aided in a Chiefs’ drive ending in a punt. In Super Bowl 54, San Francisco’s defense didn’t record a sack in either the fourth quarter or overtime, which was part of the reason for Kansas City’s three consecutive scoring drives.
The difference between these two Super Bowls and the one that the Chiefs lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021 was pass rush pressure, especially to close the contest. Two of Tampa Bay’s three sacks in Super Bowl 55 came in the 4th quarter during the second-to-last offensive drive for Kansas City. The Buccaneers’ defense consistently applied pressure on Mahomes, which forced him to hurry his throws and throw off target, resulting in numerous incomplete passes.
Despite only winning seven games in 2023, the Bears’ defense was one of the better defensive units in the NFL, as they led the league in interceptions and recorded 17 sacks in their final seven games. Despite having a consistent pass rush led by Pro Bowl defensive end Montez Sweat, Chicago lost two contests after failing to hold onto a fourth-quarter lead of ten points or more. In the losses, the Bears’ defense did not force a sack on any of the opposing offense’s fourth-quarter scoring drives.
One of the reasons for the lack of pass-rush pressure was that Chicago didn’t have any reliable defensive line pressure to pair with Sweat, especially after the loss of Yannick Ngakoue. Sacks created by the defensive line are vital for the Bears’ Cover 2 defense because it relies on the ability to drop the linebackers in pass coverage. With opposing offensives scheming to neutralize Sweat, there was no one on Chicago’s defense capable of constantly rushing the quarterback when the game was on the line.
Free Agency Could Present Chicago With A Chance Form The Best Pass Rush Tandem In The League
With the new league year set to begin in one month, it appears that the Bears’ are poised to address their pass-rushing needs in free agency, as they could have the second-most salary cap space to operate with after a few roster cuts. With the cap space surplus, general manager Ryan Poles will likely look to add one of the best available defensive ends. Also, Poles could add a veteran defensive tackle via trade, which would further solidify Chicago’s ability to sack opposing quarterbacks.
The two best defensive ends that are likely to reach free agency are the Vikings’ Danielle Hunter and the Panthers’ Brian Burns. Both are considered to be some of the league’s best pass rushers and have been named to multiple Pro Bowls. Hunter has had four seasons in which he recorded 12 and a half sacks or more.
Pairing either Burns or Hunter with Sweat while adding a proven defensive tackle to the defensive line would give the Bears arguably the best defense in the NFL heading into 2024. The ability to apply relentless pressure on opposing quarterbacks would also create more opportunities for turnovers, whether be sack-strip fumbles or hurried throws resulting in interceptions. More defensive pressure would allow Chicago to win more games, potentially creating a deep playoff run.
San Francisco had the same concern and desire to solidify their defensive pass rush this season when they traded for Chase Young at the trade deadline to pair with All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa. Young struggled significantly in the 49ers’ playoff run, and neither he nor Bosa were difference makers in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. If the Bears plan to make the playoffs or contend for a Super Bowl in 2024, they will need to have a legitimate pass rush capable of finishing off their opponents.