If you had to guess which player currently leads the Bears with four sacks and is tied for the team-lead with three tackles for loss, you’d probably be quick to name Khalil Mack. But you’d be wrong. Instead, it’s his edge-rushing teammate, Robert Quinn.
Yes, that Robert Quinn, who Bears fans were quick to label a free-agent bust after general manager Ryan Pace signed the pass rusher to a five-year, $70 million contract prior to the 2020 season. It’s not like the bust designation was wrong, either. Quinn ended his first year in Chicago with only two sacks in 15 games. As a result, expectations for Quinn were low this summer. Could he provide something resembling a pulse opposite Mack?
Through three games, Quinn looks like the Bears’ most dominant sack artist.
Mack’s name is mentioned in that clip, but it was Quinn’s pass rush that created the disruption required to bust the Cleveland Browns’ second-down play. And this isn’t a flukey moment; Quinn has been that kind of player since Week 1. He had 0.5 sacks against the Los Angeles Rams in the opener and two sacks against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
The analytics support Quinn’s early breakout, too. He trails only Akiem Hicks as the Bears’ most effective pass rusher, per Pro Football Focus, and his 68.3 pass-rush grade is a full point higher than Mack’s.
Quinn’s four sacks rank third in the NFL after three weeks, and Chicago is the only one of two teams in the league with two players that have three or more sacks.
This was the vision Pace had when he signed Quinn to such a lucrative free-agent contract. Sure, Quinn has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but when healthy, he’s been a force. He totaled 40 sacks in a three-season stretch from 2012-2014 and enjoyed a resurgence in 2019 with 11.5 sacks for the Dallas Cowboys. Quinn now has 86.5 sacks in 143 career games, and with his hot start in 2021, he’s on track for his fourth season with double-digit sacks.
One change that’s helping Quinn and Mack’s effectiveness is defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s decision to line them up next to each other on certain passing downs. It’s a pick-your-poison scenario for opposing offensive lines when determining who to double-team.
“It seems to give offenses a headache,” Quinn said. “Who are they going to double-team? … So I think it’s just a nice little change up every now and again to give the offense some problems.”
Quinn’s ability to take advantage of early pass-rush opportunities should open things up for Mack as the season marches on. Since his arrival in Chicago, Mack has been on an island without a competent or reliable edge rusher opposite him. Leonard Floyd, who’s since emerged with the Los Angeles Rams, failed to produce as a former first-round pick of the Bears and was replaced by Quinn, who made a less than positive first impression in 2020.
Last season is now a distant memory. Quinn has ascended to a prominent role in Chicago’s defense and for the Bears to have any chance at competing in the NFC North or for a wild-card spot, Quinn’s continued success is a necessity.