The great fear last year after Vic Fangio left Chicago to become Denver Broncos head coach was how the defense of the Bears would regress.
The concern came to fruition—or did it?
The defense gave up scores on 31.5% of opposing possessions, the fifth best percentage behind only the Patriots, Bills, 49ers and Steelers. It was worse than last year, when they led the league, but was less than 3% worse.
Considering the major injuries to Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, and the turnover in their secondary, this is largely insignificant.
Chuck Pagano's coaching decisions and strategy were expected to be more aggressive than Fangio's in terms of blitzing more, with more risky pass coverage as a result. It was expected they'd be in more fire zone or man-to-man coverage due to the blitzing instead of sitting in zone and waiting for interceptions.
In the end, the Bears did blitz more and the effectiveness of their pass coverage declined. They definitely had fewer interceptions, falling from 27 to 10. But it wasn't necessarily due to Pagano's decisions or even the strategy.
In fact, heading into 2020 it's not even clear Pagano's style is a great deal more aggressive than Fangio's was. The difference would be very small and all things being equal in terms of player health, .there's no indication Pagano would even be significantly more aggressive than Fangio.
A breakdown of numbers supplied by Sportsradar.com, the NFL's official stat partner, shows the Bears did put pressure on their secondary by blitzing, but it wasn't to an extreme amount.
The Bears blitzed 146 times last year, 23.5% of defensive plays. In 2018 under Fangio, they blitzed 140 times, or 20.3%. A 3.2% change isn't entirely significant over an NFL season.
Pagano definitely was more aggressive, though. When he blitzed, he brought the house much more often than Fangio did.
While the Bears blitzed 146 times last year, individual players blitzed 244 times. So they had multiple players blitzing far more often. Fangio had only used 187 blitzers on his 140 blitzes.
Before getting all over Fangio about being too quick to hit the panic button, consider how the defense had trouble stopping the run this season without Hicks and for part of the year without Trevathan and Smith. It put the defense in vulnerable down-and-distance situations.
And this showed in the amount of pressure the accomplished.
All the blitzing only got the Bears 32 sacks, ranking 24th overall. The previous year they sacked quarterback 50 times, third most.
When you blitz because you want to, it's much more effective than blitzing when you are desperate. Pagano sent more blitzers because he had to with the pass rush less effective.
In general, the amount of heat they put on quarterbacks wasn't much different with their blitzing than in the previous year. They simply didn't get home, and passes got completed.
This much showed up in far worse individual passer ratings against for both starting cornerbacks, and a drop in overall team passer rating against to 85.2 from a historic low of 72.9 in 2018.
What Pagano does with a pass rush which includes Hicks all year, and with starting inside linebackers—whoever they'll be this year—might better indicate how much more aggressive he is than Fangio.
Players age, players change in free agency. The Bears aren't going to recapture exactly what they had in 2018 on defense.
However, they can regain a similar level of effective play with health and if some individual players like Leonard Floyd or Bilal Nichols suddenly attain a higher level of play with maturity.