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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Better defensive front 7: Texans or Bears?

By Dan Riccio & Mike Bonzagni, ESPN Stats & Info

This is the latest installment of a weekly NFL discussion that takes a closer look at one of the week’s hot topics. Today’s discussion focuses on whether the Houston Texans or Chicago Bears have the better defensive front seven.

TEXANS HAVE THE BETTER DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

The Texans boast a league-leading 18.0 Total QBR allowed and have the best defensive front seven in the NFL. While there’s no arguing the Bears’ ferocity with the second-ranked Total QBR defense, there’s also no denying the unstoppable J.J. Watt.

At the season’s midpoint, the Texans star is leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Watt ranks third in the NFL with 8.5 tackles for loss. Brian Urlacher and Major Wright are Chicago’s top two in TFL and combined don’t equal that, not to mention Wright plays in the secondary. Watt is the league’s co-leader with six batted passes and nine total passes defended, tied with three cornerbacks. The icing on the cake is Watt’s outright lead with 10.5 sacks.

It isn’t just Watt however; if you include all defensive linemen and linebackers, the Texans lead the NFL with 16 batted passes and 22 total passes defended.

The Texans are the NFL’s most aggressive pressure unit, as they send five or more pass rushers on 44.9 percent of opponent dropbacks. They rely heavily on the front seven to do so, as that fifth member is a defensive back only 21.7 percent of the time. The Bears use a member of the secondary to help with added pressure more than twice that at 42.5 percent of dropbacks.

--Dan Riccio

BEARS HAVE THE BETTER DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

The Bears’ dominant front seven is not really a front seven because they can rotate so many impact pass rushers on their line. Seven of Chicago’s defensive linemen have combined for 23 of the Bears’ sacks, second-most by a defensive line in the NFL.

The Bears have 21 sacks, all by defensive linemen, when they send four or fewer pass rushers, tied for most in the NFL. The defensive line’s ability to get to the quarterback with standard pressure allows their athletic linebackers to drop into coverage and make plays. Bears linebackers are second in the league in defended passes (11) and fourth in interceptions (3). All three picks were returned for touchdowns.

Even better, the Bears’ front seven step up on third down. Overall, opponents have converted only 33 percent of third downs against the Bears, the fourth-best rate in the NFL. The Bears have an NFL-leading 12 sacks by front seven players on third downs and have sacked, hit or put quarterbacks under duress on 33 percent of third downs, the fifth-highest rate in the league. As a result, quarterbacks have a 9.1 QBR on third down against the Bears, second-lowest in the NFL.

The Texans may have Watt, but the Bears’ front seven is deeper, allowing defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to rotate fresh pass rushers and drop more players into coverage where they can exploit quarterback mistakes. Those mistakes usually lead to six points for the Bears.

--Mike Bonzagni