The One About Chuck Pagano

| December 30th, 2020

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.

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2019 Season Preview Volume I: The Facts

| August 27th, 2019

Today is the beginning of a three-part season preview, broken into specific categories: Facts, Hopes and Predictions. 

After Marc Trestman’s first season in Chicago, fans became irrationally optimistic.

No, the team didn’t have a winning record. No, they didn’t make the postseason. No, they couldn’t play a lick of defense. But the offense was fun to watch and Bears fans didn’t know how to handle that. So they jumped right to, “This team is winning it all in 2014!”

This space fought that optimism from day one. Teams don’t win Super Bowls with terrible defenses and the coach/quarterback relationship looked combustible to any objective observer.

What followed was the most embarrassing season in the history of the franchise. The Kromer Campaign.

This year the optimism is warranted. The Chicago Bears are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And there are three facts to support that contention.

Fact 1. The Bears have the best defense in the league.

Does it require any more explanation? This Bears defense is frighteningly talented and Pace/Nagy added Chuck Pagano – one of the more aggressive defensive play callers in the sport – to lead them. If this group is ranked outside the top five in any of the important categories it’s because they have suffered several debilitating injuries. If the Bears find themselves with home field advantage in the postseason, this defense would make them overwhelming favorites to make it to Miami.

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ATM: If Leonard Can’t, Roquan Can.

| August 21st, 2019

Much has been written about the Bears needing one Georgia product — Leonard Floyd — to break out and complement Khalil Mack in the pass rush department. But if that doesn’t happen, perhaps Roquan Smith can ease the pain. While nothing of actual substance can be gained by watching preseason games, seeing Roquan burst through the line faster than anybody could react for a sack two weeks ago was a nice reminder of what the second-year linebacker is capable of when he’s sent after the quarterback.

Floyd’s lack of pass rush has been disappointing. But his ability to drop back in coverage and move in space is extremely rare for players at his position. His exceptional coverage skills will allow new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to do what he does best: design creative blitz packages. And Roquan has already proven to be exceptional at finding his way to the quarterback. Smith’s very first NFL play was a sack and he followed with four more, many looking similar to his sack in the preseason against Carolina.

Pagano never had a plethora of great pass rushers in Indianapolis, so he had to get creative. One year Jerrell Freeman had a career-high 5.5 sacks. The next year it was D’Qwell Jackson with four. Smith is a lot better than both of them and had five last year despite a coordinator who has been more conservative upfront than Pagano.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: Massie Extends, McCaskey Speaks, Jahns Writes & Bear Movies!

| January 28th, 2019

Bobby Massie Inks Extension

Many folks around the Bears blogosphere (and beyond) like to DM me when players are negotiating (or thought-to-be negotiating) contracts. There are two reasons for this: (1) They know I have friends inside the building and (2) I’m rarely, if ever, going to publish the information myself before it becomes public. That is why I’m still able to acquire the information I do. But I’m usually happy to confirm stuff.

Here’s what I know about the Massie deal:

  • During the season, several people inside the the Bears commented to me that Massie was playing at an outstanding level. Offensive linemen are very difficult for the average fan (and folks like PFF) to evaluate because it’s all about assignment football. When the Bears sat down and did their post-season roster evaluation they determined Massie was going to be impossible to bring back should he hit the open market, especially with tackle-needy teams like Buffalo and the New York Jets having buckets of money to spend.
  • The money isn’t a big deal but it values Massie as one of the best right tackles in the sport. I have news for you. He was every bit that in 2018.
  • The organization’s attention has now moved to their other in-house free agents: Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan.
    • Amos’ agents are pains in the ass and they passed on an extension last off-season, citing the PFF grades as reason the Bears were low-balling their client. Bears don’t view Amos as a top safety. And they won’t pay him like one.
    • Two things on Callahan: (1) He’s switched to Roquan Smith’s agents. (2) He’s got a chronic hip issue that he’s learned to manage over the last few years but that many inside the organization believe leads to his frequent injuries. The Bears want him back. The locker room loves him. But his health history and position make the deal tricky.

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ATM: Pagano Hire Solidifies Bears As Nagy’s Team

| January 15th, 2019

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.

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