Pagano brings experience to Bears defense

By Marcel Carrasco

The Chicago Bears have brought in an experienced defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano. His time in the NFL and his extensive coaching career give the Bears the perfect fit for the job.

His career began at the University of Miami as a secondary coach for the Hurricanes under legendary head coach Butch Davis. Pagano has coached many incredible talents at the collegiate and professional levels, including Ray Lewis, Andrew Luck, Frank Gore, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and many more.

Pagano will be in charge of leading a dominant defense to another stellar year in 2019.

The Monsters of the Midway finished 2018 first in the league in points per game allowed, first in rushing yards allowed and seventh in passing yards allowed. The Bears’ defense closed out the season with 36 league-leading takeaways, including 27 interceptions.

During the Bears’ end-of-year news conference, Head Coach Matt Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace admired the “aggressive” style Pagano plays with.

“[Pagano’s] been in this league for a while,” Nagy said. “He’s had a lot of success. He’s been around some really, really good defenses. The more we talked, the more I felt that this is a really good, perfect fit for us.”

Pagano and the Monsters of the Midway should have no problem clicking. Like former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Pagano runs a 3-4 scheme defense, but more aggressive with different blitzing packages and secondary blitzing, including dime packages.

Fangio’s defensive influence on the Bears focused on the front seven, which aimed at power rushing and keeping the inside linebackers free for one-on-one coverage, while working its secondary in zone coverage. Fangio and Pagano worked alongside each other under Head Coach John Harbaugh with the Baltimore Ravens.

Defensive backs Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. Two defensive backs that helped mold the current league-leading Chicago defense.

Under Pagano, the secondary will see a shift in technique and coverage, meaning resigning Callahan and Amos should be a main focus the Bears. Although both players will have to adapt to Pagano’s schemes, Amos and Callahan will keep the defensive chemistry flowing, especially following a great season.

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Aside from retaining defensive players, the Bears will have to meet the defensive needs Pagano’s schemes require. Only four of the 10 defensive backs rotated throughout the season have had more than four years of experience, Pagano should look to bring in experience. If the Bears fail to retain Amos or Callahan, both of whom came into the league in 2015, more defensive experience will be needed.

Pagano took a year break from coaching during the 2018 season after leaving an Indianapolis Colts team that finished 2-14 the year before his arrival in 2012. Under Pagano, the Colts went on to finish 11-5 in three straight seasons including two AFC South Championships and an appearance in the 2014 AFC Conference Championship.

Indianapolis released Pagano following a 4-12 season in 2017, ending his Colts’ tenure with a 53-43 record.

Before his head coaching position in Indianapolis, Pagano spent a year as the defensive coordination for the Ravens in 2011. His defense finished third in points allowed and total yards allowed. In 2011, his front seven included Lewis, Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

The Ravens have always been known for their ability to stop the run, but with Pagano running the show, Baltimore drastically improved its pass defense, which finished fourth in the league in pass yards allowed and improved from 26th in 2010.

Pagano first stepped foot in the NFL when Davis made the move from the University of Miami to the Cleveland Browns in 2001. Pagano stepped into the same role as secondary coach, serving there through 2005.

Pagano’s immediate influence was seen when the Browns’ defense posted a league-leading 33 interceptions that year. Following a 3-8 start in 2004, the Browns cleaned house by firing Davis and his crew, including Pagano.

Pagano has pressure on him to perform. Unlike Fangio, who had to completely recreate a non-existent Marc Trestman era defense, Pagano will have stellar defensive team players to work with, including 2018 Associated Press All-Pros Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller.

“It’s an old cliche, but you’re never staying the same; you’re either getting better or getting worse,” Pace said. “We need to make sure that we’re getting better. So a guy like [Pagano], the more research we did, it was almost like [Nagy], everybody you talk to, it just starts bringing you into this person. [Pagano] checks a lot of boxes that are exciting to be a part of.”

While the 2019 offseason has yet to officially kick off, it is safe to say the Bears have had their foot on the pedal since the day after their 2018 Wild Card exit.