The Bears are allowing 22.3 points per game.
The Packers are scoring 31.6 points per game.
Split the difference. 26.95. Let’s round it up for a good time. 27.
That’s the number. Chuck Pagano needs to keep the Packers under that number. Would everyone around the Chicago Bears like to see his defense keep Aaron Rodgers WELL below that number? Of course. But they just haven’t been that kind of unit since returning from the bye. Rodgers, the last time, got to 41. Stafford got to 34. Even Cousins got to 27.
Criticizing a defensive coordinator is always tricky. So many times it devolves into, “We’re not getting enough pressure with our front so why don’t we blitz?” Or even the sillier, “That wide receiver is good, why don’t we cover him?” So many times what looks like bad defensive coordination is actually orchestrated by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage. So often that matchup that leaves a fan scratching their head has been mapped out all week by the opposing offensive coordinator.
The problem with Pagano’s defense is they’ve often looked like a passive group. They don’t dictate the terms of play. They are reactionary. Yes, that’s a product of the modern rules. But it’s also a product of attitude.
Why Are They Struggling?
A lot of that is the result of a pass rush that has failed to live up to expectations.
Khalil Mack has been reliably disruptive but offensive coordinators have been willing to use as many players as necessary to keep him off their quarterbacks. (Several times Sunday the Jags used two OL and a chipping back to keep Mack at bay.) Robert Quinn has played better of late but has had perhaps his most forgettable season. Akiem Hicks has had his least productive (healthy) season as a pass rusher since coming to Chicago.
The Bears pass rush ranks middle of the league in most viable categories: sacks, pressure rate…etc. Middle of the pack is poor when the GM has committed this much money to it. The pockets have been too clean, too often, and that’s left the secondary vulnerable.
A clean pocket for Aaron Rodgers is a death sentence.
What is Sunday?
Which brings us to the bigger point. There’s been much talk around this team that Sunday is a season-defining game. Dan Pompei went so far as to suggest it’s the only game of the 2020 season that matters. But I’ve got some sad news for Bears fans: the Bears aren’t as good as the Packers. And as long as Rodgers is the quarterback up north, that’s likely to be the case. Does that mean the Bears can’t win Sunday? Of course not. Anybody can beat anybody in this league, especially this year.
But if I had an abs off with Brad Pitt, guess what? I’m going to lose. He has intense dietary restrictions, a tireless workout regiment, and an expensive personal trainer ensuring he stays sculpted. When I walk into my local bodega, I don’t even tell them which beer I want. I just give them a number and that’s how many 24 oz. Coors Banquets show up on the counter.
But if Brad and I contest our battle on a different playing field, perhaps the golf course, his abs become a secondary issue.
The Bears can’t make this game about Rodgers’ success. If that’s the playing field, they’ll lose.
Sunday is a definitive game for the 2020 Chicago Bears offense. The success has to continue. The scoring has to continue. The quarterback’s productivity – even with the weekly errors – has to continue. If the Bears are going to lose Sunday they can’t lose with 14 points. They have to be the team they have been for the last month and force Rodgers – the best player on the field – to take them out.
And if he does so it should signal the end of the Pagano era in Chicago. If the Bears put up 30 Sunday and lose, the Bears will have failed to have a winning season in 2020 despite one of the greatest offensive surges in the history of the franchise. If the Cardinals win, the Bears would fail to make the playoffs because of their defense. What universe is this?
What Can Chuck Do?
When I asked the individual referred to around here as [REDACTED] what he thought of Pagano’s schemes, he gave me a one word response: “Predictable”. Pagano is never going to be confused with Bill Belichick, or Vic Fangio, or even Todd Bowles. Pagano relies on predictable formations; he brings extra pressure at predictable times. Pagano’s predictability is predicated upon his belief that he has one of the most talented defensive rosters in the league and if they win their one-on-one battles, the defense will win on most plays.
The problem is that hasn’t been happening.
Sunday is a day for wrinkles. Sunday is a day for risks. Sunday is a day for Pagano to throw things at Rodgers he hasn’t seen on tape because we’ve seen the results when Rodgers recognizes what he’s looking at.
Sunday is a day for Pagano to coach like his job depends on it.
Because it should.