Peak performance is defined loosely as a group or individual achieving at such a high level that the odds of them reaching similar heights is difficult to imagine. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you the 2019 Chicago Bears defense.

In this world of lazy opinions, quick takes, and unsubstantiated claims, a vast majority of NFL analysts, pundits, and talking heads believed the Chicago Bears would have natural regression defensively this season. Practically each one believed it was due to losing Vic Fangio as Defensive Coordinator. Never mind the only two non-returning members of last year’s defensive unit were the most expendable in Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan. While respected by players, coaches and front office men across the NFL, even Fangio himself believed the unit he helped build would be fine without him. The day of his hiring in Denver, Roquan Smith addressed Fangio’s loss by stating via the Bears website, “I’m sure we’ll pick up right where we left off. We just have to continue to stay hungry. We’ve got a lot of great guys; I don’t think that’s going to change. We’ll just have to stay true to who we are and get behind a new coach.” Enter Chuck Pagano.

Pagano’s recent history has been well chronicled. His early stints in the NFL began with the Cleveland Browns where he served as defensive backs coach for three years. Next he moved on to Oakland where he served in the same capacity for the Raiders for another two years. Eventually Pagano landed in Baltimore in 2008 where he again held the title of defensive backs coach before getting his big break in 2011 as defensive coordinator. During his stint as defensive backs coach, he got the opportunity to learn under Rex Ryan and Greg Mattison. Ryan had finished up a four year run during which the Ravens ranked no worse than sixth and the high of first in not only total defense, but also in points per game total yards per game. Mattison took the helm and continued that defensive run for two more years before departing to the University of Michigan. During this time, the Ravens preferred to promote from within as Mattison took over the top defensive job from Ryan who succeed Mike Nolan who followed Marvin Lewis. Each man brought a special touch to the role, but one characteristic was present throughout the year, strategic blitzes that always seemed to take the opponent off guard. Though he only held the defensive coordinator title for one season, Chuck Pagano continued that tradition of timely and strategic defensive agression. Week after week the defense provide highlight reel plays from every position which culminated in Terrell Suggs being voted AP Defensive Player of the Year for his 14 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits, 7 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. While Suggs has been a constant disruptive force during his career, he has never approached the same type of stats he tallied during Pagano’s year as defensive coordinator. In additon Suggs and Haloti Ngata were voted 1st team All-Pro and they were joined on the Pro Bowl squad by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on the defensive side. While the team fell to New England in the conference championship game, Pagano impressed enough to land the Indianapolis Colts Head Coaching job.

Not to short change his stint as a head coach, but with the notoriously awful Ryan Grigson as his General Manager, Pagano’s run with the Colts was less than memorable. With the exception of the Andrew Luck, who was a no-brainer selection as the number one overall pick, Grigson’s draft choices are a who’s who of highly questionable picks. Combine that with the trade of a first round pick for Trent Richardson, it’s easy to see Pagano had an uphill battle from the beginning. Still, he did manage to make an AFC Championship game appearance in 2014. Of course, we all recall his courageous battle with leukemia early in his Colts stint. His willingness to discuss and chronicle his battle publicly helped fans sympathize with his health struggle and eventual struggle to win games with a less than stellar roster. When he was fired following the 2017 season, Pagano took the 2018 season off as a coach, though he worked as a consultant in the NFL. The entire time, he was watching and breaking down film from any and every game he could, just keeping his eye sharp with the intent of returning to the NFL in 2019.

“We are excited to add Chuck to our staff as defensive coordinator,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said in a statement. “He has successful experience at many different levels in this league and he is a great teacher with an aggressive mentality that fits our style of football. He is a man of high character and has a passion for the game that will no doubt add to the culture we have already started building at Halas Hall.” On Pagano’s introductory press conference, Matt Nagy summed up his new defensive coordinator perfectly. Successful. Great Teacher. Aggressive Mentality. High Character. Passion for the game. All of which has translated into the Bears sitting at or towards the top of the NFL in total points allowed (145), average points per game (11.2) and rushing yards per game (61.5) all of which currently rank 2nd. They have only allowed 5 total touchdowns (1 rushing, 4 passing) and have 4 interceptions, 8 turnovers, 17 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, 20 tackles for loss, and are only allowing a league low 3.0 yards per rushing attempt. Chuck Pagano and his dominating defensive unit have single handedly not only put the Chicago Bears back in the upper echelon of the NFL, but have the same talking heads who were talking about a dip on defense recanting these statements and instead are now heaping praise on this unit and their early season performance. 

Four games is a small sample size and the upcoming slate of oppenents stands to pose more of a challenge than the first four teams.  Pagano has brought exotic schemes, timely blitzes, and constantly has defenders aligned properly to make plays. Right now, this unit and this team are demonstrating why they belong in serious discussions as one of the best teams in the NFC and in the NFL. Never mind the slow offensive start. People talk about it with such concern because it seems like they are afraid to actually think that, “the Chicago Bears might actually be good”! Well, they are good. Damn good in fact. So much so that early season injuries aren’t seen as season enders, or “issues” the media clamor magnify in attempts to generate internet clicks. At this point we should have faith. Faith in Ryan Pace who constructed this team from the dumpster fire that was Phil Emery and Marc Trestman. Faith that Pace’s real choice for the head coaching position, and not one that was recommended by a search committee, not only turned this team around in one season, but has had an immense role in changing the culture and vibe of the team and all the people who work in Halas Hall, will continue to develop the offensive talent on this team and allow the outstanding group of assitant coaches to continue to develop the phenominal talent on this team. Lastly, faith that soon, oh so soon, the rest of the country will realize the word regression does not exist in the vocabulary of this Chicago Bears team.