How Pagano Adjusted Personnel to Cover for Inactive Players
The Bears had three key starters out against the Vikings, and their unit was as impressive as usual. Players like Abdullah Anderson, Nick Williams, Nick Kwiatkoski, Roy Robertson-Harris all stepped up, but Pagano had his best game as the Bears DC. When Pagano got here, he stated how he wouldn't have to change much and how our base defense takes care of itself. We expected him to be more aggressive, but I didn't realize how good he was at adjusting a game plan. This article will show you how Pagano used personnel and packages to put his defense in positions to succeed.
In the picture above, the Bears are lined up in dime coverage. There are multiple packages in dime coverage, but essentially it means there are six defensive backs on the field. On first and second down they ran their normal base, having Nick Kwiatkoski stand in for Roquan Smith. Kwiatkoski is a force when he plays downhill on obvious running situations, but he does lack some ability in pass coverage. Instead of keeping Kwiatkoski on the field for this play, and running nickel (5 defensive backs) the bears decided to use a dime package. This package has four defensive linemen (Mack, Robertson-Harris, Lynch, and Floyd), 1 ILB (Trevathan), and 6 DB's (Clinton-Dix, Amukamara, Jackson, Bush, Skrine, and Fuller). It also gives the Bears defense flexibility. Bush isn't as effective as Kwiatkoski against the run, but he still can come up and make a tackle. He also gives you the coverage ability missing from Roquan Smith in nickel. Also, take note that the four down defensive lineman were the best four available pass rushers. Lynch typically rotates in as outside linebacker, but here he is used in a three-technique (outside shade of guard). He is lined up on the outside shade of the guard, along with Robertson-Harris (who usually comes in for Goldman during pass rushing situations). Mack and Floyd lined up in their usual spots, and the Bears consistently got to Cousins. Since the Vikings were in a lot of 3rd and long situations, the Bears used this formation regularly.
Pagano still had to use a base package on 3rd and short situations. When an offense has a 3rd and 2, the playbook is wide open. You want a true inside linebacker in this situation because there's a lot less ground to give on running plays, but the defense also needs someone to cover shallow zones. Instead of keeping Kwiatkoski on the field, Kevin Pierre-Louis would rotate in as the other inside linebacker for nickel packages.
Also, Pagano wasn't scared to run man coverage with Pierre-Louis on the field. In the clip above, you will see him line up over Dalvin Cook during man coverage. If Kwiatkoski was lined up over Cook, I guarantee you Cook would be the hot-route. Pierre-Louis was not labeled a mismatch, and the Vikings ran their normal play. The play flows to the opposite side of the field, and Pierre-Louis blows up the pick route and recovers in a hurry.
Those are two examples of how Pagano used his personnel and schemes to cover potential holes in his defense. While a lot of back-ups played with honor, Pagano was the one to put them in the right positions to succeed. Coach Pagano called a hell of a game.