Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is extremely impressed with how Matt Nagy has handled his duties both as a first-year head coach and architect of the offense.
In leading the Bears to a 10-4 record and the NFC North title, Nagy has become the franchise's first head coach to reach the postseason in his first season since Paddy Driscoll in 1956. Nagy has also called all the plays on offense and helped develop second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky into a player who was voted a Pro Bowl alternate.
"I just think he's done a great job juggling all those responsibilities," Fangio said. "The thing that gets lost is he's essentially running the offense, too, and he only did that for a little bit in Kansas City. Now he's a head coach for the first time. I think he's handled those responsibilities—which are huge—very, very well."
When he hired Fangio, Nagy knew the veteran defensive coordinator had a great track record. But he respects Fangio even more after getting to work with him.
"The way I see him game plan, he just goes about everything the right way and it transfers to practice and transfers out on the field," Nagy said.
"Vic and I are very different personality-wise, but he brings out the best in me and I think I bring out the best in him. He's a little more introverted, I'm a little more extroverted, and to me that's what it's all about. We both really respect each other, and I think that's one of the reasons why it's working so well together."
Even better than advertised
Khalil Mack has surpassed even the loftiest expectations in his first season with the Bears. Named the NFC defensive player of the month for September and voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl, Mack leads the Bears with 12.5 sacks and is tied for the NFL lead with six forced fumbles. The 12.5 sacks are the most by a Bears player in 25 years—since Hall of Famer Richard Dent also had 12.5 in 1993.
"He's had a very big impact in the fact that it really started from the very first day he walked onto the practice field, you could feel it," Nagy said of Mack. "But every day, it's the same way with him. You just feel a guy who has extreme confidence in himself and yet he's got lots of confidence with his teammates, too.
"We love everything that he's brought. He's been everything and more to what we thought we were getting. And now, where we're at as a team, this is where his leadership is going to really show up."
Acquired Sept. 1 in a blockbuster trade with the Raiders, Mack is part of a Bears defense that leads the NFL in takeaways (35), interceptions (26), interception return touchdowns (5), lowest opponent passer rating (73.0), three-and-out percentage (.262), fewest rushing TDs (5), and fewest red-zone drives allowed (36).
"Anytime you can add a special player to your defense, it's going to do nothing but help you, and help other players," Fangio said. "But he was a special player in Oakland and they were never anything more than a mid-20s, 25th-ranked defense, whatever it was. He's playing with better players here than he ever had around him there. [Put] better players around a special talent like that and you get good results."
A sky full of stars
Mack is one of five Bears players voted to the Pro Bowl. The others are defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Eddie Jackson and return specialist Tarik Cohen. The four defensive players are the most for the Bears since they also had four in 2012 when cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings and linemen Julius Peppers and Henry Melton were selected.
"Very well-deserved," Fangio said. "Happy for those guys; they earned it. Anytime you're playing good, you hope to have guys recognized, and they have been. I had someone ask me yesterday, 'Is that unusual? Have you ever had that many before?' My answer to him was, 'Well, I've lasted 33 years in this league. You don't last that long without good players that you're riding their coattails with.' Hopefully, we can continue to ride them."
Fuller was voted to his first Pro Bowl. The fifth-year pro is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions and leads the league with 21 pass breakups. "It means a lot," Fuller said. "Just for the fans and the players, coaches—everybody around the NFL—it's a blessing to have that respect and be noticed."
Cohen leads the NFL with 413 punt return yards and tops the NFC with a 13.3-yard average on 31 returns. Earlier this year he became only the second player in NFL history to compile at least 500 yards via rushing, receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns in his first 25 games.
"It's not just me getting that award," Cohen said. "I feel like it's the whole punt return-team because without the big blocks they've made for me, there would be no big returns."