Leonard Floyd

Hiring Chuck Pagano as defensive coordinator a Nagy call; Bears to pick up Leonard Floyd 5th-year option

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AP

Hiring Chuck Pagano as defensive coordinator a Nagy call; Bears to pick up Leonard Floyd 5th-year option

The process of replacing Vic Fangio with Chuck Pagano as defensive coordinator was a simple change within the evolving organization that is the Bears. That kind of step hasn’t always been so simple, however.

What was immediately clear, as general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy did their joint year-in-review briefing, was that the high-level staff hiring decision belonged to the head coach, a statement in itself.

Pace was asked what drew the Bears toward Pagano. “Really, those are Matt’s hires,” Pace said, turning to Nagy, “so he’s better to speak on that.” 

For an organization that once told an incoming Mike Ditka that he’d be keeping Buddy Ryan as defensive coordinator, and told Marc Trestman that his defensive coordinator would be Mel Tucker and that the Bears would remain a 4-3 team, the process revealed both a confidence in the head coach as well as well-defined areas of responsibility. That has not always been the case.

Where Ryan would tell Ditka to get out of the defense’s meetings, Nagy was largely hands-off as far as Fangio’s operations and views Pagano as a continuation rather than a makeover.

“We're in a position here where they both have the 3-4 scheme family,” Nagy said. “We've talked about it before where you see all these ‘11’ [one back, one tight end] personnel offenses that teams are playing, you're in more ‘sub’ defense, four down [linemen]. You're talking about a minimal part of the game as far as 3-4 versus sub.

“But then there's the language part of it and where they're at. Again, there's some familiarity there. You got to remember, Vic and Chuck worked together in Baltimore.”

Personnel happenings

Pagano takes over a defense that will include linebacker Leonard Floyd for at least the next two years, with Pace stating that the team would pick up the fifth-year option on the 2016 ninth-overall pick. The price will be north of $14.2 million but “he played well and we’re happy where he’s at,” said Pace, who did not pick up that fifth year for his first No. 1 pick, Kevin White, last offseason, nor the fifth-year option for 2014 No. 1 Kyle Fuller, drafted by former general manager Phil Emery.

“I feel like Leonard is still going [up] and I think he felt that as the season was still going on, so [picking up the option] is something we plan on doing.”

Floyd did not post dominant sack numbers opposite Khalil Mack but started all 16 games for the first time in his three seasons. Playing 75.4 percent of opponents’ snaps was a jump from 55 percent in 2017 and 49.9 percent in 2016.

The Bears still have starting safety Adrian Amos and nickel corner Bryce Callahan heading into unrestricted free agency but have nearly two months before the opening of free agency on March 13.

“We have 14 UFAs so we have to go through all of them, some of whom are starters, some of whom are key players,” Pace said. “And that’s kind of where we’re at right now, with our coaches and scouts evaluating our own roster. We need to get that right first and then establish the offseason plan.”

The offseason plan is not expected to include lavish spending. For one thing, the foundation has been solidified with a roster that includes five Pro Bowl players, four on defense. For another, the Bears have an estimated $20 million in available cap space, enough to get business done but not likely enough for another Khalil Mack gambit or a play for the likes of running back Le’Veon Bell or a pricey replacement at right tackle to replace Bobby Massie. The Bears already have linemen Charles Leno and Kyle Long at tickets above $8.5 million this year, plus center Cody Whitehair hitting free agency after 2019.

“That’s my job, to ensure the roster is always getting better, whatever avenue that is,” Pace said. “Whether it’s cap space or draft picks, we’re going to strive to improve this roster in every area.

“I think back. There was a draft in 2012 in an organization I was part of [New Orleans]. We didn’t have a first-round pick. We didn’t have a second-round pick. But we had a third-round pick, and that was Akiem Hicks. There’s ways for us to nail this offseason even when the resources are a little bit more limited.”

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Bears grades: Leonard Floyd keeps getting better and better

Bears grades: Leonard Floyd keeps getting better and better

QUARTERBACKS: B+

Mitch Trubisky had a solid take-what-the-defense-gave-him game, completing 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 120.4. More than anything, though, Trubisky’s game can be summed up like this: He didn’t make any blatantly bad decisions, and he made a few special plays when he needed to. 

Some of those special plays: Avoiding a cornerback blitz from his left, scrambling away from it and then sliding back to his left while floating a perfect strike to Adam Shaheen for 23 yards; a 14-yard scramble on third down to pick up a first down and avoid a three-and-out after Green Bay tied the game; and another excellent throw avoiding pressure while sliding to his left to Taylor Gabriel to pick up 15 yards on second and 13. 

This was the kind of game the Bears need from Trubisky in the playoffs. The strong efficiency, sound decision-making and occasional play with his feet was enough to earn the Bears a win on the back of another excellent showing by the defense. 

A few other notes: Trubisky had good rhythm on the handful of run-pass options called, and did make the correct decision on an RP hand off to Taquan Mizzell on third-and-2 that was ultimately stopped short of the line to gain, Nagy said. His knack for sensing pressure and avoiding it showed up, too, and is one of the reasons why no regular starting quarterback has been sacked fewer than Trubisky this year (21 times). 

RUNNING BACKS: B-

Tarik Cohen set up his acrobatic dive into the end zone at with a scything 22-yard dash, with those two plays helping provide the Bears with a critical seven points just before halftime. Cohen, though, did strangely go out of bounds a yard short of the line to gain in the red zone in the fourth quarter, and knew he made a mistake as soon as the play ended. 

Jordan Howard ran tough to start the game, but finished with only 60 yards on 19 carries. He powered the Bears’ first scoring drive, though, with five carries for 22 yards — including an untouched nine-yard touchdown run — and one catch for 15 yards. 

Dinging this unit’s grade is the bungled read option between Cohen and Howard, which resulted in a fumble recovered by the Packers. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Sunday wasn’t the most productive day for this group, but Allen Robinson, Gabriel and Josh Bellamy all made some excellent plays. Robinson picked up two chunk plays early, first bodying up cornerback Jaire Alexander to catch a quick Trubisky throw and dash for a 30-yard gain, and in the second quarter bouncing off a weak tackle attempt for a 19-yard gain. Bellamy’s 18-yard snag was an outstanding catch that helped set up Cohen’s touchdown. And Gabriel caught all three of his targets, picking up some well-earned yards in the process. Anthony Miller, notably, wasn’t targeted on the 20 receiving snaps he played, per Pro Football Focus. 

TIGHT ENDS: B

Trey Burton delivered a good block coming across the line of scrimmage to help spring Howard’s touchdown run, and he slipped open in the end zone for a go-ahead 13-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Adam Shaheen had a solid game, too, catching two passes from Trubisky for 39 yards and doing some good things as a run blocker, too. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B+

Credit Charles Leno, James Daniels and Cody Whitehair for solidly blocking up Howard’s touchdown run and Bobby Massie and Bryan Witzmann for paving the way for Cohen’s 22-yard run in the second quarter. This group did well in pass protection, too, though it was penalized three times. We’ll forgive Leno for his false start on the first play of the game given he was probably a little jittery about proposing to his girlfriend after the game

DEFENSIVE LINE: A-

Holding Aaron Jones (four carries, eight yards) and Jamaal Williams (12 carries, 55 yards) to an average of 3.8 yards per carry is a good starting point here. This group was only gouged on the ground twice: First, on a run toward the end of the first half, which can be forgiven; second, at the end of Green Bay’s lone touchdown drive, which came after the Bears’ blew a fake punt and had to bring their defense back on the field. 

Akiem Hicks had another solid game, totaling four pressures while tipping a screen on third-and-15 to force a punt after the Bears took a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. Bilal Nichols combined with Khalil Mack on a sack, while Roy Robertson-Harris and Eddie Goldman had some disruptive moments in the second half. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A

Leonard Floyd followed what was his best game of the year last week against Los Angeles with a new best game of the year, sacking Aaron Rodgers twice while providing a constantly-disruptive pass rushing presence and defending the run well. Floyd led the Bears with five “stops,” defined by Pro Football Focus as plays that constitute a loss for the offense. He also held his own while occasionally dropping into coverage, too. 

Mack, of course, had another monster game, with 2 1/2 sacks and seven pressures while making Green Bay’s offensive line and Rodgers uncomfortable all afternoon. Aaron Lynch had a big-time tackle for a loss, dropping Williams for a loss of four as soon as Green Bay entered the red zone for the first time Sunday — a drive that ended in a field goal. Isaiah Irving chipped in with a fourth quarter pressure of Rodgers, too, after Lynch left the game with an elbow injury. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A-

Roquan Smith led the Bears with 10 tackles, and a well-designed and well-executed blitz set both him and Mack free on Rodgers, with Mack getting the sack to end Green Bay’s first drive of the game. Smith’s tight coverage and pass deflection in the end zone on Jimmy Graham led to Eddie Jackson ending Rodgers’ streak of passes without an interception at 402. Danny Trevathan had a solid game while playing all 68 defensive snaps, too. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A-

Massive credit goes to Sherrick McManis for how well he played in his first full game as part of the Bears’ defense since 2015 — he played 62 of 68 snaps and made a critical pass break-up of a throw to Randall Cobb that Nagy said Monday usually would’ve gone for a touchdown. The Bears’ coverage was largely good, allowing the front seven to get after Rodgers with some second-effort pass rushes. Kyle Fuller had an excellent break-up of a pass to Davante Adams early in the third quarter, while Adrian Amos made five sure-handed tackles. Jackson, of course, was in position to be only the second player to pick off Rodgers in 2018. And while Prince Amukamara was beat a few times by Adams — one of which on a perfectly-placed throw by Rodgers — he helped make sure Green Bay didn’t get any truly game-breaking plays on offense. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

We’ll put the fake punt that didn’t work more on coaching than execution from this group, because otherwise, it was a strong day for Chris Tabor’s unit. Pat O’Donnell is probably punting his way into a job next year — he’s only on a one-year, $1.5 million contract in 2018 — as he dropped two punts inside the five-yard line, both of which were downed by Bellamy. And Cohen’s 44-yard punt return — which was sprung by good blocks by Daniel Brown and DeAndre Houston-Carson — gave the Bears a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter when Cody Parkey hit a chip-shot field goal. 

COACHING: C+

Nagy’s aggressiveness and creativity, which on the whole have been a significant positive for the Bears in 2018, wound up backfiring twice on Sunday: First, with a fake punt near midfield on which Benny Cunningham lost a yard, allowing the Packers convert a short field into a game-tying touchdown. And second, when on third and 1 Nagy called for a read option between Cohen and Howard that resulted in a lost fumble in Packers territory. 

So those two miscues drop the coaching grade. But from a larger picture, this was still a well-coached game. On a smaller scale, Vic Fangio’s defensive calls confused Rodgers — which is no small feat — and the Bears’ defense didn’t allow the Packers’ quarterback to throw for a touchdown as a result. And after Nagy preached finishing all week, the Bears did just that to clinch their first NFC North title in eight years. 

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Bears-Rams shaping up as Smiths-vs-Grabowskis II?

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USA TODAY

Bears-Rams shaping up as Smiths-vs-Grabowskis II?

“Some teams are fair-haired. Some aren't. Some teams are a Smith, some are a Grabowski... We're a Grabowski.” -Mike Ditka, 1985
 
*                          *                          *

A long time ago in an NFL galaxy that now seems far, far away… .
 
…a Los Angeles team exuding Hollywood came to Soldier Field for an NFC Championship game. They were the “Smiths,” aka the Rams. Waiting for them were the Ditka-styled Grabowskis, the Bears. Ditka, missing no opportunity to cast any event in apocalyptic terms, set the game as an epic struggle between the fair-haireds and the scruffies.
 
History usually doesn’t repeat itself verbatim. But sometimes it can come interestingly close...

Then
 
Those Smiths were LA Flash. Eric Dickerson running the football. Henry Ellard catching it. Ron Brown with his Olympic gold medal opposite Ellard. All three of them All-Pro’s. A Heisman Trophy winner (Charles White) as a backup. Four of five offensive linemen with Pro Bowls on their football curriculum vitae, topped by Hall of Fame-bound tackle Jackie Slater. 

Waiting for them were a bunch of Grabowskis, who had their own elites (No. 1’s Jim Covert, Willie Gault, Dan Hampton, Jim McMahon, William Perry, Keith Van Horne, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson, and Walter Payton).

But they were relative mutts compared to the LA Flash, or at least Ditka set it up that way. Jay Hilgenberg was undrafted; Mark Bortz and Richard Dent would’ve been now, being eighth-round selections back then. New England didn’t want Steve McMichael and cut him.

Now

So here’s another bunch of “Smiths,” with seven No. 1 picks (theirs and others’) on defense alone, plus three more on offense (quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, wide receiver Brandin Cooks) and four No. 2’s. All this topped by a head coach – Sean McVay – hailed as the embodiment of the new NFL flash and innovation.
 
Waiting for them Sunday night will be the “new” Grabowskis, who have their own No. 1’s (theirs and others’): Prince Amukamara, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith (how’d an actual “Smith” slip in here?) and Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears traded up for their quarterback just like the Rams did for theirs. And their coach Matt Nagy is certainly offense-cool ’n’ all.
 
There are some similarities. Both have high No. 1’s at quarterback; both teams jettisoned defense-based head coaches (Jeff Fisher from Los Angeles, John Fox from Chicago) in favor of young-ish guys from backgrounds of offense.

But sorry, it’s just not the same.
 
Aaron Donald’s press conference was national stuff when the Rams made him the highest-paid defensive player in history before this season.
 
Mack brought his mom and dad to his.
 
Donald’s original team (Rams) just kept throwing money at him until he signed; Mack’s (Raiders) didn’t want to pay him and preferred college kids in the form of draft choices.
 
The Rams were hailed for being bold for dealing up to get their quarterback (Goff). Bears GM Ryan Pace was widely dubbed an idiot for doing the same to get his.
 
The Smiths have arguably the best running back (Gurley) in the NFL. The Grabowskis finish each week answering questions about where theirs (Jordan Howard) is.
 
The Smiths have a galaxy of star No. 1’s up front on their 3-4: Donald, Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh. The Grabowskis don’t have any No. 1’s in their “3” and their best defensive lineman (Akiem Hicks) was cast aside, traded by the team that drafted him (New Orleans) and not re-signed by the team (New England) that traded for him.
 
The first Smiths-Grabowskis confrontation ended with the snow swirling as Marshall picked up a fumble and was escorted to the end zone where the Super Bowl waited.
 
This one could end amid swirling snow, and Mack could reprise the Marshall drama. No one expects these Grabowskis to go on to the Super Bowl, of course, but…

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