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Brad Biggs Looks At The Bears Defense

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Surrounded by secrecy

Brad Biggs Bear Essentials

Poke around Halas Hall trying to find out what the new Chuck Pagano-led defense is going to look like and there aren’t a lot of straight answers.
That’s understandable. The Bears are like every other team. They protect their strategies, game plans and playbooks as if they are the team’s ticket to the Super Bowl.

New coordinator Chuck Pagano will be taking over a defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in several categories last season and figures to be the strength of the team this year. Pagano’s are plans shrouded, but expect aggressive pass rush, more man coverage.

General manager Ryan Pace was assessing the state of the roster Monday morning, standing outdoors on the second level of renovated Halas Hall, when he was asked what should be expected from the defense now that Pagano is more familiar with the roster.

“You know, without getting into specifics from a schematic standpoint, just talking about Chuck as a person, unbelievable person,” Pace said. “Our players have completely bought into him. A great motivator, he cares tremendously about everybody on this team. And that’s why I think this has been so seamless, because of the person he is, the background that he has and how much our players and all of us believe in him.”

That’s been more or less the stock reply in regard to Pagano’s defense. Questions about X’s and O’s receive answers about interpersonal dynamics as the folksy and friendly Pagano prepares to pick up where everyone’s favorite defensive curmudgeon, Vic Fangio, left off.

The Bears have elite players at all three levels of the defense, and 10 starters return from the unit that was No. 1 in points allowed, No. 3 in yards, No. 1 against the run, tied for third in sacks, No. 1 in takeaways and No. 1 in opponent’s passer rating last season. Maintaining those lofty rankings will be a challenge, even with standout players such as Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Prince Amukamara and Leonard Floyd plus a solid cast of reserves and role players.

There is a bit of overlap between

Pagano and Fangio. Pagano was the Ravens secondary coach starting in 2008 when Fangio was special assistant to head coach John Harbaugh. The next year Fangio coached linebackers with Pagano still overseeing the defensive backs.

Pagano has changed the defensive terminology, beginning that transition in April, and it isn’t a small transition. He brought in a longtime assistant in outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, who worked with him in Baltimore and Indianapolis.

There’s little to fall back on when examining Pagano’s background as a coordinator as he did it for only one season in Baltimore in 2011 when the Ravens went 12-4, reaching the AFC championship game. They fell to the Patriots 23-20 after Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt wide left with 11 seconds left.

That was Jan. 22, 2012, the last time Pagano called defensive plays as one year in a coordinator role was enough for him to earn a promotion. He joked that during his six-year stint as head coach of the Colts he only made the defensive calls that worked. That’s why the preseason was valuable for Pagano even if his front-line players were on the sideline.

“It’s like anything else, you knock the rust off,” he said. “So I thought the process was good. I thought the communication was good. Nobody likes preseason. I love the preseason just for that fact. It was great for myself and the rest of the staff to get on the same page and be organized on exactly how that process is going to go.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn’t certain what to expect.

“Well, they haven’t played much in the preseason,” he said. “It’s a great defense, there’s not any holes in it, and I think whether it’s Vic calling it or Coach Pagano there’s a lot of things you can do with that personnel.”

So what is it going to look like? Nickel personnel — five defensive backs — has become more prevalent in the seven seasons since Pagano last called plays. Dime packages — six defensive backs — also have increased in popularity, though the Bears were in it only 5% of the time last year.
Almost everyone familiar with Pagano believes he will be more aggressive rushing the quarterback. Here are the Bears’ tendencies last season versus the Ravens’ tendencies in 2011, according to Football Outsiders.

Number of pass rushers
Rush 3: Bears 12.4%, Ravens 7.7%
Rush 4: Bears 68.8%, Ravens 56.7%
Rush 5: Bears 15.5%, 28.1%
Rush 6 or more: Bears 3.3%, Ravens 7.5%

Three sources with other teams, speaking on the condition of anonymity, discussed how they see the Bears defense differing this year. Here are the highlights of what they said.

“Chuck is much more aggressive calling blitz pressures than Vic. Vic can be very vanilla and bland with it at times. Khalil will be going forward a lot more this year than he has in years past. Chuck is going to play much more man coverage than Vic played.”

“I think Chuck will play more press man with his corners. Vic likes to play the corners off. I am curious about that part on how much he will do. Two things I know about Chuck and how he calls it differently than Vic is he’s going to call more man coverage and he’s going to pressure more than Vic did, particularly on early downs.”

“It will be interesting to see what he does in coverage. The Bears played a lot of split-safety coverages under Vic and there were times it was difficult to see what they were playing. It was hard to decipher. Is this quarters? Is this Cover-6 or quarter-quarter-half? Why are they locking the corner? They did some unique stuff and when you come to the line of scrimmage, you look at Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos and you say, ‘OK, they’re going to rotate down in Cover-3,’ and they don’t. So, he was excellent from a pre-snap perspective of not giving the quarterback a jump on what they were playing.”

“All of Vic’s defenses matched up very well. They disguised well. It’s hard to figure out exactly what he’s doing. Offenses always go off of ‘What’s the structure of the defense?’ And the thing Vic has done a great job with his system is making things look alike. So it puts a lot of pressure on
the quarterback.”

“There is going to be a period of Chuck finding out who he is and who he wants to be with his personnel and learning his personnel. He’s never coached in a game with them yet. His horses weren’t on the field in preseason.”

The curtain will be pulled back Thursday night when the season kicks off against the Packers. Pagano has a wealth of talent to work with and a new era for a franchise will begin at Soldier Field.

“You can see for yourself,” defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris said. “It’s the big reveal. Can’t tell anybody anything.”

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As much as HHCD’s abilities have been discussed the one thing that really hasn’t been touched on much is that his skill set in pass defense is a better fit than Amos’ given Pagano’s proclivity to blitz and put his DBs under more pressure to defend in space. In those situations we aren’t going to be looking for our SS to lay the wood so much as putting him in a position to either cover or, when the pressure gets home, make plays on the ball. Amos is a really good run defender but against the pass he’s just a guy. 

Edited by AZBearsFan

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Reading this article makes me nervous about the Bears D. We have the talent but are we really going to play man defense with the CBs we have?

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2 hours ago, Nads786 said:

Reading this article makes me nervous about the Bears D. We have the talent but are we really going to play man defense with the CBs we have?

Amukamara has been playing some press man all along.  Fuller causes me more concern since he plays much better as a robber facing the QB but all that means is he can play off his guy and doesn't press him.

We'll see how it goes tonight.  Pagano can rush five play man with two deep Safety coverage and still have two ILBs dropping or one ILB and a Slot CB.

Given Jackson's range I don't know that we'd even have to play two deep.  C-Dix could easily come up to help cover the middle along with the others.

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3 hours ago, Nads786 said:

Reading this article makes me nervous about the Bears D. We have the talent but are we really going to play man defense with the CBs we have?

They play man all the time.  Zone too.  Mostly mixed.

Cover 3/Cover 1 is ostensibly zone, but in practice it is man with a deep safety.

If you are covering grass in any kind of zone and you aren't a safety you are doing it wrong anyway.  You got to find a guy and get on him ASAP or you f'd.  Especially in NFL.




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Where zone gets screwy is when teams motion or jet to one side and you have 3 guys standing on one side of field covering literally nothing.

That was a big Lafleur trick in Tennessee by the way.



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Fans should also keep in mind what's written is all opinions of how Pagano "likes to play" his secondary not necessarily how he will play it.

Any good DC should evaluate his units strength and play to it.

He's got a larder full of good to all world pass rushers so I think it's safe to say he's gonna "bring it" at Rodgers more than Fangio did who preferred rushing four most of the time.  If you play a loose zone against Rodgers and those guys don't get to him he will slice up a secondary like a Ginsu knife slices a tomato.  IMHO that's why Lovie's Cover-2 often couldn't stop him.

We actually have two good cover corners so I can't see what man coverage won't work provided the rush is effective.  They're a key.  If they don't get pressure on Rodgers and keep him from extending plays with his legs he's gonna create some problems and some big plays. The key to beating him it to rush the hell out of him, maintain tight coverage, and frustrate him as much as possible.

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