The hiring of Chuck Pagano to replace Vic Fangio confirmed one thing: this is Matt Nagy’s team.
The Bears won in 2018 because of their defense, first and foremost. It was a defense and coordinator Nagy inherited. When Fangio left, it would’ve been easy to go with the continuity candidate Ed Donatell. But Nagy took a chance, bringing in someone from the outside, someone who more represents Nagy’s style.
There is no measure that tells us if being aggressive is better than being conservative defensively, but there’s no question that Fangio was on the conservative end and Pagano fits Nagy’s aggressive mentality.
During the end of the season presser, Nagy described Pagano as having an “attacking style” before saying again that Pagano is aggressive.
Pagano’s lone season as a defensive coordinator, in 2011 with the Baltimore Ravens, represents that. Pagano’s Ravens sacked opposing quarterbacks on 8.2 percent of their drop backs, even better than the 2018 Bears’ rate of 7.5. Opposing quarterbacks finished with a passer rating of 68.8, throwing for just 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, all numbers comparable to the 2018 Bears.
Pagano’s style has been described as “organized chaos”, designed to confuse protection schemes and get pass rushers more one-on-one looks. This should be good news for Khalil Mack. Under Pagano, Terrell Suggs set a career-high with 14 sacks and Robert Mathis exploded for 19.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles at 32 years old in 2013.
Don’t rule out what it could mean for Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks, among others either.
Even if Fangio had returned, the Bears were likely to regress defensively. Recent history — Minnesota and Jacksonville, for example — has shown us it’s nearly impossible for teams to replicate outstanding defensive performances. As we saw with Minnesota, opposing offenses have a full offseason to find flaws in the defense and it usually works.
Donatell was certainly qualified to take over. He had two somewhat successful stints as a defensive coordinator for teams that didn’t necessarily have the talent. He has been Fangio’s righthand man and a big reason for the success of the new Broncos head coach. (Fangio’s record as a coordinator without Donatell is not good.)
There’s something to be said about not fixing what isn’t broken and that’s what Donatell would’ve represented. But, sometimes, it isn’t a matter of if things are going to break, but when. The Philadelphia Eagles were able to find holes in the Bears defense, not enough to gash them, but enough to make people think.
Throughout the season teams that had good receivers were able to get the ball out quickly and have at least some success against Fangio’s unit. The offseason would’ve given everyone the opportunity to figure out why.
And, make no mistake, they would have.
Now Pagano brings the unknown. The reality is, we don’t know how much blame he deserves for the failures in Indianapolis. It seems quite clear, however, they didn’t have the players needed to be successful. Now Pagano has a defense that is possibly even more talented than the one he coached in Baltimore.
If Pagano’s aggressive style doesn’t work with the Bears, it’ll be on Nagy. And if it does work, Nagy will deserve credit for bucking conventional wisdom and bringing in his kind of coach. Because this his his team. There is no longer any doubt about that.