Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this article, let’s just cut to the chase and give my top 10 reasons why the 2019 Chicago Bears defense isn’t going to regress.
- Khalil Mack
- Eddie Jackson
- Akiem Hicks
- Roquan Smith
- Kyle Fuller
- Eddie Goldman
- Leonard Floyd
- Prince Amukamara
- Danny Trevathan
- Bilal Nichols
You’ve heard the phrase, ‘It’s about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, and not the X’s and O’s,’ right?
Chicago’s defense is loaded with talent with Pro Bowl caliber players at every level, and these guys are hungry to get back to the playoffs.
There will be no regression in 2019.
Let me say it again for those in the back.
There will be no regression in 2019.
As soon as the Bears lost defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, talk of regression started to creep up. And I get it. Fangio was a good coordinator and he helped improve the defense all three years he was employed in Chicago, and that improvement culminated with a number one ranking in Football Outsider’s DVOA last year. Staying ahead of the other 32 teams in the NFL in that rankings will prove to be difficult, but that’s the not the challenge the 2019 Bears are chasing.
The 2019 Bears defense is chasing history and trying to become one of the greatest defenses to ever play.
A year ago, Bears’ defense had a -26.5% DVOA, which was far ahead of the second place Buffalo Bills at -14.5%, and with as great as the Bears were, they weren’t even among the top ten DVOA’s of all-time. Sure the game has changed over the years, but relatively speaking this Bears’ D has as much talent as some of the best ever, so they should have their sites set on some of the all-time greats. Team like the 1963 Bears (-26.7 DVOA), the 1985 Bears (-26.8%) and the 2012 Bears (26.8%).
With the collection of talent on the Bears and with a more aggressive defensive play caller in Chuck Pagano, there’s plenty of reason to think this team can be special. And for those worried about a change in philosophy hurting the development of the defense, it’s still a 30 front base, the terminology is very similar if not the same, and head coach Matt Nagy recently told Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports, “What he (Pagano) didn’t want to do was come in and say this is my defense, this is how we’re gonna do it. There’s some things we kept and some things we got rid of.”
Pagano came in with the right approach to win over his defense, and the tweaks he’s making will keep things fresh, new, and fun for his players. “Schematically, you can’t tell too much,” Khalil Mack recently told the Chicago Sun Times about the new D. “He’s going to put you in position to make plays, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Mack also called Pagano “one of the best people that I’ve had the chance to work with,” and that probably stems from Pagano’s attitude when coming in and his understanding that he has to build around what Fangio did in Chicago the last three years.
“I walked into the very best situation -- I said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times -- that anybody could walk into,” Pagano said. “Now it’s just my job, our job, the staff’s job, we always talk about us. It’s unity over self. It’s all of us. Team first. It’s Coach Nagy’s vision. It’s just our job to make sure that we do the right thing and put these guys in the right spots so that they can play fast and continue to build on the foundation that’s already been laid.”
Back in January I wrote this article, Don’t assume the 2019 Bears defense will decline with Chuck Pagano calling plays, and I feel even more strongly about that now. Pagano won’t sell out on the blitz every play, but he is a calculated blitzer and we’ve seen evidence of some interesting looks at camp so far. He’ll move his linebackers around, he’ll stand his defensive ends up, he’ll bring a safety up to the line of scrimmage, he’ll send a corner, and he’ll mix in some zone blitzes so he’s not putting his coverage in jeopardy.
And speaking of coverage, Pagano is an extremely adept secondary coach and he can disguise coverages with the best of them, something Fangio did as well.
Look, I know the odds are that the Bears are going to see some defensive regression in 2019, which is something our own Josh Sunderbruch dissected back in March. Josh broke down the historical numbers with an emphasis on turnovers and sacks, and while it’s hard to argue against those two numbers not going down for the Bears in 2019, I did find a couple arguments to the contrary.
The Bears were tied for 3rd in the NFL with 50 sacks a year ago, which was eight more than they had in 2017. Last year was the first year of the Khalil Mack experience in Chicago, so the bump was expected. While Vic Fangio did blitz on occasion, he was usually content to allow his pass rushers to get home on their own. Pagano will bring the heat more often, which could put them in position to get burned more, but it could also increase their sack numbers.
Did you realize that in Pagano’s year as the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator (2011), their sacks increased by 21 and their quarterback hits increased by 27? Pagano will design inventive ways to get his pass rushers home and that could lead to more sacks.
More sacks could also lead to more turnovers, as there could be more opportunities for strip sacks, and more pressure could lead to quarterbacks throwing earlier than they’d like, or to more errant throws, which leads me to takeaways.
History says that takeaways aren’t sustainable year to year, and since Chicago lead the league with 36 in 2018, getting anywhere near that number again is next to impossible.
Or is it?
Did you realize that during the nine seasons that Lovie Smith coached the Bears, his defenses averaged 34.4 takeaways each year?
His defenses were not only well coached, but they had talent at every level.
Does that last sentence remind you of anyone?
Regression, while likely, isn’t a foregone conclusion, and while some of the numbers could dip from 2018, they could rank even higher in DVOA.
For those that want even more in-depth defensive predictions, I gave my picks on the stat lines for 13 different Bears in my latest article here. I got the 2019 Bears’ D having 3 All-Pros and 6 Pro Bowlers.