How Chuck Pagano will aim to make the Bears the best defense in NFL history

How Chuck Pagano will aim to make the Bears the best defense in NFL history

Chuck Pagano is embracing the lofty expectations that come with replacing Vic Fangio and taking over the league’s No. 1 defense, one which will be heavily scrutinized if it takes even a small step backward in 2019. But Pagano, who held his first press conference as the Bears’ defensive coordinator at Halas Hall on Thursday, isn’t merely viewing his task as maintaining that prior level of success. 

Instead, as he approaches what he called the “opportunity of a lifetime,” he doesn’t see a reason why the Bears’ defense can’t be even better this coming season. 

“Our vision for this defense is to be the best,” Pagano said. “Can we be the best in the history of the game? The pieces are there and they will continue to add pieces. Can we continue to be better than we were last year? Absolutely. It's going to be very, very difficult and a huge challenge, but one we will be up for.”

Having the best defense in NFL history, of course, is an ambitiously subjective goal. But when Pagano was hired earlier this month, he said Bears players texted him with the message: “We can be better, I can get better.”

How Pagano will go about trying to make a defense stocked with All-Pros, Pro Bowlers and ascending talents better will be the tricky part. But a theme of his 30-minute press conference on Thursday was continuity, from scheme to language to personnel. 

Pagano is a 3-4 guy, like Fangio, whose main difference within base and sub packages is a more attack-based focus. When Pagano was the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator in 2011, his teams averaged about 14 blitzes per game, per Pro Football Focus. The Bears in 2018 averaged about nine blitzes per game. 

So the first thing Pagano said when asked about his defensive strategy was telling: “Wreak havoc.” It’s a message Bears that should resonate among the players he’s inheriting, if impending free agent Adrian Amos’ social media reaction to it is any indication:

Pagano’s goal is to make things simple for his players, which could involve him learning the existing terminology left over by Fangio instead of having a full roster of defensive players learn his language. There’s a middle ground to be found, one which allows the Bears to understand their assignments and still play fast while operating a new coordinator’s scheme. 

“The roster will change a little bit, but 90 percent of those guys are going to be back,” Pagano said. “So if I can put it on myself and (senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach) Ted (Monachino) being new, those kind of things, and learn that and make it easier on (players) and harder on me, I’ll do that.”

All of this is important given the difficulty of sustaining a top defense over the course of multiple years. 

Only four of the top 10 defenses in 2017 by DVOA ranked in the top 10 again in 2018, with the Jacksonville Jaguars slipping from No. 1 to No. 6. It’s not impossible, though: The Denver Broncos repeated as the No. 1 defense by DVOA in 2015 and 2016, yet slipped from Super Bowl winners in 2015 to 9-7 and missing the playoffs in 2016.

The best-case thought with Pagano is his tweaks to the defense will not only allow the Bears to avoid a luck-based regression (with injuries and/or turnovers), but improve on their massively successful 2018. The worst-case still isn’t all that bad, with the Bears slipping a bit but still having loads of talent to comprise a good defense — though one that may not be good enough to make the Bears legitimate Super Bowl contenders without the aid of a much-improved offense. 

But whatever Pagano does sounds like it will, in large part, be an extension of what Fangio and players like Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks did in 2018. 

“They’ve been playing great defense here for a long, long time,” Pagano said. “Last year was no exception. So again, for us to just throw everything out and start anew, that would not be very smart on my part.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell releases statement on death of George Floyd


NFL commissioner Roger Goodell releases statement on death of George Floyd

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement Saturday evening regarding the tragic death of George Floyd.

"The NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country," Goodell's statement reads. "The protesters' reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel.

"Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Mr. George Floyd and to those who have lost loved ones, including the families of Ms. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, the cousin of Tracy Walker of the Detroit Lions."

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As protests break out nationwide, Goodell said "there remains much more to do as a country and league," to combat racial inequality.

"These tragedies inform the NFL's commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action," he said. "We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners."

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Leadership lessons Ryan Pace learned from time with Sean Payton, Saints

Leadership lessons Ryan Pace learned from time with Sean Payton, Saints

Every organization in the NFL is working hard to adapt their workflows while under COVID-19 restrictions. Rookie minicamps have already been missed. Organizations are still unable to meet as a full team, and that’s obviously a challenge. But Bears GM Ryan Pace may have a leg up due to the lessons he learned while working in the New Orleans Saints’ front office.

Pace joined Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk’s podcast “PFT PM” to explain exactly how that time in New Orleans helped to shape him as a leader, both in “normal” times and times of crisis.

“There’s no excuses in our league,” Pace said on the podcast. “That happened in New Orleans during Katrina-- really every time a hurricane came towards that city, we adapted.

“What I felt from the leadership from (Saints head coach) Sean (Payton) and (Saints GM) Mickey (Loomis) is there was never an excuse. It was: let’s adapt and let’s adjust, and that’s what we did. From 2005 to 2006, I mean that was a major shift in that team under trying times.”

Pace is referring to the Saints firing Jim Haslett and hiring Sean Payton, and installing Payton’s new systems, all while recovering from Hurricane Katrina. The Saints were incredibly successful working through those hard times too, improving from 3-13 in 2005 to 10-6 and NFC South winners in 2006.

Beyond learning to not let hard times affect his team’s success on the field, Pace says he learned a lot about how to run a team from Payton and Loomis.

“First of all, (Payton’s) very aggressive, he's not afraid to make hard decisions. He’s decisive and Mickey’s the same way: aggressive and decisive, no regrets, never looks back, not afraid to think outside the box, but also very conscious of the culture of that team.

“I think any time you drift away from that-- and it’s easy to do, and enticing to do-- but usually when you do that, once you realize you’ve done that to the locker room, the damage is already done. You try to correct yourself or police a player, the damage is already done in the locker room. So I think it’s being aggressive with the moves you make, not looking back, operating with decisiveness, but then being very conscious of the culture in the locker room.

“It’s a fine line. 12-4 to 8-8, it’s a fine line I think, because the people, the staff, the people in your building are conscious of that.”

Pace has certainly acted decisively when building his roster, trading up to draft Mitchell Trubisky, Leonard Floyd, Anthony Miller and David Montgomery.

But he later says, there’s more nuance than simply acting decisively to become an effective leader.

“When you’re making a hard decision, what’s best for the organization?” Pace said. “Not letting your ego get in the way because ‘Hey, this was your idea,’ ‘You selected this player,’ whatever it is, what’s best for the team? And sometimes those are decisions when you have to remove emotions.”

Pace has shown the ability to set aside his ego to make those hard decisions too. Most recently he opted not to pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option. He already cut Leonard Floyd. And after he didn’t offer Kyle Fuller a fifth-year option, he paid even more to keep Fuller since the cornerback proved he deserved to stay.

“For me, to be honest, I think that’s come pretty natural and pretty easy, and I think it’s because of my experience in New Orleans.”

RELATED: Why Ryan Pace ultimately decided to trade for Nick Foles

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