All anybody could talk about for a long time was how the defense just wasn’t the same. Vic Fangio was gone and turnovers had suddenly dried up. This had to mean that losing the defensive coordinator was the reason why. Chuck Pagano was the wrong choice to replace him. The sky was falling. Except it actually wasn’t. If anything the job done by Pagano this season is even more impressive than the one Fangio displayed in 2018.
Here’s something to keep in mind. The Bears offense had one of the best running games in the NFL last season. That allowed them to control the clock and keep the defense fresh. They also got out to more leads. Chicago ran 518 offensive plays while ahead on the scoreboard in 2018. That’s 51.18% of their total output. This year? That margin has tanked to just 34.9% through 13 games. It’s hard to force turnovers and get sacks as a defense when you’re playing from behind.
Then there are the injuries. Akiem Hicks? Out for over two months. Danny Trevathan? Out for weeks now. Roquan Smith? Probably done for the year. Pagano has lost a number of the key pieces Fangio had for almost all of 2018 at various points. Yet the defense continues to find ways to do their job. With three games left, the Bears are on course to give up 285 points. Just two more than they did last season. They’ve allowed 30 or more in a game once this year.
Backups like Nick Kwiatkoski, Nick Williams, Kevin Pierre-Louis, and Kevin Toliver have all stepped up when called upon. The job Pagano has done is nothing short of outstanding.
Chuck Pagano delivered his finest game yet vs. Dallas
When looking at the scoreboard, people might disagree with that but it’s true. Dallas delivered a nice opening drive that went 17 plays and took nine minutes for a touchdown. If that weren’t bad enough, the Bears lost Smith to a pectoral injury after it was over. Pagano now had backups at four key positions including the entire inside linebacker unit. He was going against the #1 passing attack in the NFL. Not to mention a Pro Bowl running back in Ezekiel Elliott.
Despite all of that, Pagano didn’t flinch. He made some adjustments, including the idea of bringing only a three-man rush several times, dropping eight into coverage. This worked to fluster Dak Prescott, giving him smaller windows to throw. As a result, the quarterback went just 10-of-22 for 95 yards in the first three quarters. Elliott? He had 65 yards on his first 10 carries of the night, but just 16 on his final nine.
Dallas did not score again until the 4th quarter when the game was well out of hand. By then Pagano bled down the clock as they managed to get some garbage time points. It was a masterful performance in primetime despite limited resources at his disposal. He may not be entertaining like Fangio was, but it’s time to give the man his due as a good defensive football coach.