This Fanpost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.
There hasn’t been a season with as much anticipation as the Chicago Bears’ upcoming one. How will the offense take the next step? When will Justin Fields make his debut? One of the most important questions is how the change in defensive coordinator will better the talented lineup of defensive players.
In 2018, the Bears had one of the best defenses in the NFL. After that season, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left for Denver and Chuck Pagano took over with a new look defensive scheme.
The defense retained almost all of it’s key players but failed to untap it’s full potential as a top-5 NFL defense. Injuries haven’t helped, but players like Eddie Jackson have taken huge steps back during the last two seasons. Jackson was one of the best ball-hawk safeties in the NFL in 2018, recording six interceptions and two forced fumbles. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson earned a league-best 93.2 grade in 2018 but posted a disappointing 67.0 in 2019 and a career-low 59.5 in 2020. His play is declining and it’s all because of his usage in the defense.
Pagano’s scheme used Jackson as more of an in-the-box strong safety instead of a zone-coverage free safety. In 2018, Jackson played 149 snaps in the box, 652 snaps at free safety, and 102 snaps in the slot. In the past two years though, his snap number in both the box, and the slot, has increased each year. In 2020, he played 313 of his snaps in the box, 542 at free safety, and 243 in the slot. Pagano tried to use him as a downfield tackling safety when he plays best as a deep coverage safety who uses the field in front of him to make plays on the ball in the air.
Jackson and other Bears defenders should return to their 2018 form this upcoming season with new defensive coordinator Sean Desai. Desai was promoted this offseason from his role as safeties coach. Desai has been with the team since 2013 and has earned the nickname "Doc" because of his doctorate degree from Temple. In 2018, Desai soaked up Vic Fangio’s scheme and taught it well. Fangio wanted to bring Desai with him to Denver but he stayed in Chicago instead. The Bears will try to emulate last year's Los Angeles Rams defense that was led by Brandon Staley. Staley was another of Fangio’s students of the game that followed him to Denver in 2018 and was hired by the Rams in 2020. According to PFF, Staley’s Rams defense ranked #1 in the league last year in both defensive grade and pass coverage grade.
Can Desai become the latest Vic Fangio prodigy to reignite the Bears defense? We’ll find out this year when a lot of familiar faces, and some new ones, try to bring the defense back to its 2018 form.