In the NFL, change is inevitable.
Regardless if a team wins a Super Bowl or fails to make the playoffs, each one will look to make the necessary moves to help their organization become successful.
Sometimes, though, those changes are not entirely under the team’s control. For instance, former Bears’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who has been coaching football for nearly 40 years, finally landed one of 32 possible head coaching jobs in the NFL.
And, although he had plenty of success in Chicago, who can blame him for leaving to Denver? That’s right, nobody.
In 2018, with the help of his four Pro Bowlers in Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson, Fangio lead the Bears’ defense to allow the least points per game (17.7), have the most turnovers (36), with 27 being interceptions, which was most in the league, and to finish third overall in total yards, allowing just 299.7 yards per game.
Fangio knew what he had in the Bears’ defense, but he made what he believed to be the best decision for himself, and now the Bears will have to adjust to life without him.
Up to the task of continuing the Bears’ dominance on defense is new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. At first glance, one would think Pagano should have a fairly easy transition at his new job, considering he will be taking over a unit that has a variety of playmakers.
Well, that isn’t necessarily true.
The last two times the Bears were ranked in the top five in least points allowed and total yards and lead the league in turnovers was when Lovie Smith was head coach: first in 2006 and second in 2012.
And each team had a great defensive mind calling the plays and had multiple defensive playmakers. The 2012 Bears were led by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and their four defensive Pro Bowlers in Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
In 2006, Ron Rivera was the defensive coordinator, and three Bears made the Pro Bowl on defense that season: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Tommie Harris.
There are definitely similarities amongst the three stand-out defensive units. However, Bears fans will hope that the 2019 Bears’ defense, under Pagano, doesn’t undergo the same collapse that happened to the 2013 and 2007 defenses.
Here is a refresher on some changes that each defense experienced after the 2006 and 2012 season.
2007 Defensive Moves:
- Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was not retained
- Linebackers coach Bob Babich took over as defensive coordinator
- Defensive line coach Don Johnson was not retained
- DT Tank Johnson was waived
- CB Charles Tillman and CB Nathan Vasher re-signed to multi-year contracts
- LB Lance Briggs was franchise tagged
- S Chris Harris was traded to the Panthers
2013 Defensive Moves:
- Head coach Lovie Smith was fired
- Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was not retained
- Mel Tucker took over as defensive coordinator
- Assistant defensive backs/safeties coach Gill Byrd was not retained
- Linebackers coach Bob Babich was not retained
- LB Brian Urlacher was not retained
- LB Nick Roach was lost in free agency to the Raiders
- CB D.J Moore was lost in free agency to the Panthers
- DE Israel Idonije was lost in free agency to the Lions
Now, here is a chart that reflects what happened statistically to the defenses from 2006-2007 and 2012-2013.
With the 2007 defense led by Babich and the 2013 defense led by Tucker, the units weren’t nearly the same from the season prior.
To be fair, both teams did had to deal with losing a defensive starter for a significant amount of time. In 2007, Vasher was placed on IR after four games, and in 2013, Melton and Tillman, both Pro Bowlers in 2012, had their seasons cut short due to injury.
Although there were injuries, which are as common in the NFL as the Patriots playing in the Super Bowl, the 2007 and 2013 team couldn’t overcome the turnover on the defensive side of the ball.
The turnover that happened in the past is also happening to Pagano’s defense now.
2019 Defensive Moves:
- Vic Fangio became head coach of the Broncos
- Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell joined the Broncos
- Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley joined the Broncos
- Safeties coach Roy Anderson was not retained
- Inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires was not retained
- OLB Aaron Lynch is a unrestricted free agent
- S Adrian Amos is a unrestricted free agent
- CB Bryce Callahan is a unrestricted free agent
Along with the roster changes, it can’t be assumed that the Bears will be as healthy as they were in 2018. Arguably the two biggest injuries on the defense were to Callahan, who played in 13 games, and Mack, who only missed two games.
The last thing Pagano would want to have happen is to see one of his defensive starters go down early in the season, but, unfortunately, it could happen.
Unlike Tucker and Babich, Pagano’s legacy as the Bears’ defensive coordinator is not written yet. So there is no telling what will happen in the 2019 season.
The changes have been made. Now only time will tell if these were the right ones to fuel the organization to have sustained success for years to come or the ones to set them back to square one.