Usually when there’s a change in coordinators, there’s also a change in priorities. That’s just how things go when it comes to coaching. That doesn’t mean the Chicago Bears defense will be any less dangerous in 2019 than they were in 2018. However, it does mean that Chuck Pagano may likely place different demands on them than Vic Fangio did.
The only way to know for sure is to look back at what the man did as a coach prior to his arrival. Are there any clues from his brief stint as a defensive coordinator in Baltimore or his extended run as a head coach in Indianapolis? Yes. One thing that stands out is Pagano is among the more aggressive-minded coaches.
He believes in finding creative ways to attack the quarterback through the use of disguised blitzes and stunts, trying to sow confusion with the offensive line. At the same time, that aggressive mindset is bled into the way certain positions play, often leading to upticks in their stat production. With that said, who on the Bears defense could end up reaping the biggest reward from his arrival?
One common theme that has become the truth about pass rushers who play for Pagano? They tend to put up their all-time best sack productions under his watch. In 2011, Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Terrell Suggs achieved his career-high with 14 sacks. Two years later, Indianapolis Colts edge rusher Robert Mathis exploded for 19.5 sacks, eight more than his previous high before his arrival.
Even Erik Walden, a longtime rotational player from Green Bay managed to break out for 11 sacks in 2016 with Pagano’s help. So just imagine what he might be able to do with a superstar like Khalil Mack and an explosive athlete like Leonard Floyd. The two combined for 16.5 sacks this past season. Given the aggressiveness that Pagano coaches with, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they trump that number by a fairly wide margin in 2019.
Haloti Ngata had several great seasons for the Baltimore Ravens, but many seem to agree that his all-around best came in 2011 when Pagano was the defensive coordinator. He had a career-high 64 tackles including five sacks, two forced fumbles, a defensive touchdown, and six pass deflections. The numbers don’t even tell the full story of how dominant he was that year. Guards and centers couldn’t block him.
Eddie Goldman really emerged as a stud at nose tackle for the Bears this past year. He had 40 tackles and 3.5 sacks but as usual, the numbers don’t paint the entire picture. The Bears run defense was almost impenetrable because of him. To think that Pagano might get even more out of him, particularly as an interior pass rusher? That’s not something opponents will like hearing.
He had six interceptions in 2018 and was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year for a time. Could Jackson actually somehow get better under Pagano? Yes. The coach knows how to mold talented safeties and there is no greater example of this prowess than what he did with Ed Reed.
Now most people will automatically say he had nothing to do with Reed’s dominance in the NFL since he only coached him in Baltimore for a year. Those people would be wrong. Pagano actually built the future Hall of Fame safety from the ground up. He was the secondary coach at Miami when they recruited Reed there and spent three years transforming him into the eventual 24th overall pick of the 2002 draft.
Reed played under Pagano in 2011 at age 33. He was already past his prime. Jackson just turned 26. With all the creative ways Pagano is able to disguise blitzes that lead to ill-advised throws, there’s no telling how lethal he can become.