The first domino in the Chicago Bears’ post-season has fallen.
And for the second time in three years, the Bears are looking for a new defensive coordinator:
— The Athletic Chicago (@TheAthleticCHI) January 13, 2021
Sources have informed The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain and Adam Jahns that Chuck Pagano is retiring. The Bears hired Pagano in 2019 after Vic Fangio left to become the Denver Broncos’ head coach. And while Pagano’s defense ranked in the top-10 of Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric in each of the last two seasons, it wasn’t the same as the Fangio-run scheme in 2018.
Despite its lofty ranking in the analytics community, Chicago’s defenses hit regression. Since forcing 36 turnovers in 2018, the Bears defense has collected just 37 in 2019 and 2020 combined. Star safety Eddie Jackson has seen his production taper off just as the turnovers took a nosedive. The 2018 first-team All-Pro has just two interceptions in his last 32 games — and none came in 2020. In the first 30 games of his career, Jackson grabbed eight interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and scored five defensive touchdowns. Seeing Jackson’s production drop while playing for a long-time defensive backs coach stings.
The pass-rush has fallen off, too. Khalil Mack has made two Pro Bowls and earned second-team All-Pro honors just last week, but the defense snagged just 34 sacks in 2020. That’s up from the 32 they had in 2019, but that dip in production is significant considering the resources poured into the group. Between the draft picks and free agent signings, that simply wasn’t enough.
All this to say, I wouldn’t go as far as to blame Pagano as the singular reason as to why the Bears are in search of a new defensive coordinator. Pagano is a football lifer and respected defensive coach. Let’s not lose sight of that. However, recent production suggests a new direction couldn’t hurt.
Speaking of which, the story from Fishbain and Jahns delivers some potential replacement options the Bears could sort through. You’ll see some familiar names and fresh faces. Check it out … but know that this feels like just the first step toward an offseason that should feature some changes.