If there was a bold silver lining in the Bears' loss to the Packers last week, it was this: the defense didn't seem to take a step back in the absence of departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
In his first game with the Bears, new coordinator Chuck Pagano made good use of the talented defense that powered the Bears to their first playoff appearance since 2010 last season.
Having taken a long weekend to look back on his Chicago debut, Pagano joined Jeff Joniak on theBears Coaches Show on WBBM Newsradio 780 AM and 105.9 FM.
"It was good," said Pagano of the past few days, "good chance to reset. A lot of hard work went into that opener. Obviously, it didn't end the way we wanted it to, but it's good to be back at work."
Pagano, who spent six seasons as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, described feeling a rush of adrenaline returning to the sideline after a year away from the league. He was overjoyed at the fan presence at Soldier Field.
"It was tremendous," said Pagano. "I've been on the other sideline. My first ballgame as head coach of the Colts was at Soldier Field. It didn't end pretty for us. That was an amazing crowd. The fans were tremendous."
With an entire training camp and preseason with his new team, Pagano has developed a rapport with a defense that returns 10 starters from the previous season. He had specific praise for the performance of second-year inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
"Rare, rare talent there," said Pagano. "Instincts, athleticism. We talk about during preparation leading up to that game how important it was going to be for us to stop the run. Make them one-dimensional. Set great edges, build a flat wall inside. Knock them back with our defensive line. Play square. All those kinds of things, but when you've got guys at the second level like Roquan, it's kind of like 'see ball, get ball' with him."
Pagano also had good things to say about Roy Robertson-Harris, the reserve defensive end who had a strong season debut. Robertson-Harris recorded the first sack of the NFL season and finished the game with two tackles for loss.
"I think it's a by-product of the work and time that he put into the offseason and training camp," said Pagano. "He was doing the same thing. He's a big man. He's a talented man, and he wrecked the game."
Players like Robertson-Harris are a crucial part of Pagano's plan to keep the Bears defense sharp and productive throughout the season.
"These games, they all seem to be one-score games," said Pagano. "They're going to come down to making a play here or there in the fourth quarter. To be able to have guys go in and take some snaps off some guys, and guys are fresh in the fourth quarter to close out games, that's huge."
Furthermore, with a defensive line built around Akiem Hicks, and pass rushers on the edge like Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd , Pagano believes that the Bears' defense will be as effective in stopping opposing passers as they were against two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers.
"You want to put pressure on them," said Pagano, "but we've got the luxury because we've got such great pass rushers, such a dominant defensive front, that you can cover with seven and still get away with stopping the run with a light box and handle all the verticals and pass stuff."
The upcoming away game against the Denver Broncos will provide a new challenge for the Bears coaching staff, as they face off against Fangio's new team. One thing that Pagano is not concerned about is the difficulty of playing in Mile High Stadium.
"I was raised in the Rockies," said Pagano, a native of nearby Boulder, Colorado. "Played football at the University of Wyoming, which is 7,220 (feet) elevation. So we know a little something about wind, and lack of oxygen thereof. All that kind of thing."