It’s a winnable game for both teams, but the Bears will need all hands on deck defensively in order to stop the NFL’s second-leading rusher, Saquon Barkley, who has 317 yards and four explosive runs over his first three games.
Chicago holds a 31-21-2 edge in the regular season series, winning the last three. Before their Week 4 kickoff, though, one analyst thinks the Bears should bench a defensive starter in order to give other young players more opportunities.
Bears Should Bench Al-Quadin Muhammad, B/R Analyst Says
Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad signed a two-year contract with the Bears for $8 million ($3.3 million guaranteed) in March of 2022, and he has started all three games for the Bears so far this year. The 27-year-old pass rusher is familiar with head coach Matt Eberflus’ defense after having spent the 2018 through 2021 seasons playing for the current Bears coach in Indianapolis, where Eberflus served as his defensive coordinator.
Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report named one player every NFL team “should bench ASAP,” and for the Bears, he chose Muhammad. “As a veteran who previously played for new head coach Matt Eberflus, he brought knowledge of Eberflus’ system and a veteran presence to a group of edge-rushers that lost Khalil Mack,” Ballentine wrote on September 28. “But it no longer makes sense for Muhammad to be part of the Bears’ starting lineup.”
Ballentine also noted he thinks the team’s younger pass rushers have earned more opportunities with their play over three games.
“Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson have done everything in their power to earn bigger roles,” he wrote. “They are the most efficient pass-rushers on the team … but they are playing only 37 and 34 percent of the snaps. Eberflus needs to get both on the field a lot more, even if it means playing his trusted veteran less.”
It’s Possible Gipson or Robinson Could Supplant Muhammad By Season’s End
Muhammad hasn’t put up gaudy number so far through three games. He has six pressures and six hurries in 52 pass rush snaps, earning a 58.2 run defense grade and a 52.2 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus.
Ballentine does have a point — Gipson and Robinson have been better statistically. In 43 pass rush snaps, Gipson has amassed 10 total pressures, two QB hits, six hurries and 2.0 sacks, while Robinson has five pressures, two hurries and 3.0 sacks in 37 pass rush snaps, according to PFF, although Pro Football Reference has him credited with 1.5 sacks.
While Gipson and Robinson have both been arguably better so far, they’ll have to continue performing at a high level for at least a few more games if they want to steal the starting spot away from Muhammad, who has the full trust of Eberflus and the new regime.
“Quan represents the play style coach Eberflus wants our entire team to have,” Bears general manager Ryan Poles said in a statement after the team signed Muhammad. “His motor and desire to affect the game stands out. We are excited to have him.”
Still, if Gipson and/or Robinson keep balling out, it won’t be a surprise to see one of them overtake Muhammad by the time the end of the regular season rolls around.