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.”

WWE Superstar Seth Rollins is all Bears fans right now

WWE Superstar Seth Rollins is all Bears fans right now

WWE Superstar and current Universal Champion, Seth Rollins, has made his fandom for the Chicago Bears well known. And like all Bears fans, he's suffering quite a bit after Week 7's loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Rollins, who's known for his signature finisher -- the stomp -- and for figuratively burning down arenas across the country, had this to say on Twitter after Sunday's embarrassing loss:

Rollins serves as a really good visual for what's happened to the Bears' Super Bowl hopes through seven weeks. In this scenario, Chicago is Rollins' opponent, Braun Strowman: 

The Bears are surviving, much like Strowman, but the end feels inevitably near. For now, Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy are avoiding the proverbial three-count. But for how much longer?

Chicago has a chance at a get-right game in Week 8 against the Chargers. At least, it should be. But with the way this team is trending right now, you never know.

Bears fans prefer Jay Cutler over Mitch Trubisky after Week 7's loss

Bears fans prefer Jay Cutler over Mitch Trubisky after Week 7's loss

It's a storyline that just won't die in Chicago: The never-ending struggle for the Bears to find a franchise quarterback. Jay Cutler was supposed to be the answer in 2009. He wasn't. Mitch Trubisky was drafted in 2017 to solve the riddle. And now 31 starts into his Bears career, the fanbase is more confused than ever.

Cutler ended his tenure in Chicago with a 51-51 record as a starter. Trubisky is 18-13. And while coach Matt Nagy said the Bears will stick with Trubisky despite what may have been the worst start of his career in Week 7 against the Saints, Bears fans are starting to jump off the bandwagon.

We ran a poll after the game asking which quarterback, Cutler or Trubisky, would be the fans' choice under center if they could make the call. The results weren't particularly close. 

Granted, this poll ran shortly after Sunday's game concluded, but it was a landslide: 81% of fans wish Cutler was the guy right now.

Cutler, 36, isn't coming back. But that's not the point. Instead, this is pretty strong evidence that Trubisky hasn't done enough in an ever-growing sample size to convince Bears fans that he's the one to lead this team to a Super Bowl. Will he suddenly figure it out? Is it possible that a player who's thrown over 900 passes as a starter can suddenly snap into form? It isn't impossible, but it's becoming increasingly more improbable by the week.

For all the shoulder-shrugging and 'Smoking Jay' memes that Cutler inspired during his mediocre run as a Bear, he did more on the field to create a presumption that he'd be a winner with this supporting cast around him.

Trubisky isn't there yet. And he's losing a lot of fans along the way.

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