Chicago’s first-year head coach Matt Nagy was asked what he’s seen from the NFL’s sack leader, defensive tackle Aaron Donald this season.
“We’ve seen a lot,” Nagy said. “He’s playing on another level right now and making plays and he’s doing it at opportune times. He’s a guy that you have to know where he’s at all times and one heck of a player.”
Nagy’s comments on Donald were eerily similar to what head coach Sean McVay had to say about Chicago’s own sack-happy pass rusher, outside linebacker Khalil Mack, on Monday.
“[Y]ou've got to always be mindful of where he's at, where he's aligned and making sure that you've got to plan accordingly for him,” McVay said of Mack.
With both offensive play callers aware of what’s coming their way, Nagy validated the coaches’ vigilance, saying that a player with Mack’s ability to single-handedly alter a game demands thorough preparation on a week-to-week basis. Nagy faced Mack as a Raider twice a season for four seasons as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in Kansas City. He’s happy that is no longer the case.
“We’re certainly loving the fact that he’s on our team,” Nagy said. “He’s been everything and more of what we had thought.”
Mack leads the team with 9.0 sacks, has forced five fumbles, and has one interception returned for a touchdown in his first season as a Bear. According to Nagy, Chicago’s defense scoring points has become a state of mind in the Windy City.
“Our coaches do preach it all the time, in regards to takeaways and turnovers — as I think most do — but it’s a matter of just making it a mindset and focusing on it each and every day,” Nagy said. “It started with our first game of the year against Green Bay and they really haven’t let up and it’s been fun to watch and they are having a good time doing it.”
What Nagy and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio have preached this season is working. The Bears’ defense has scored six touchdowns this season by way of one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown and five pick-sixes. The team’s plus-12 turnover ratio leads the NFL.
The defense has been a big part in vaulting the club to the top of the NFC North, bringing football back to life in Chicago after five consecutive losing seasons with a losing record. The Rams will meet the Bears just ashore Lake Michigan in primetime on Sunday night, in what should be quite the atmosphere.
On Sunday, the NFC-leading Rams will battle the noise of Chicago’s passion for football — a fanbase that the first-year head coach admitted applies a bit of pressure.
“There’s just so much history and tradition that belongs to this team and this great city and it’s a lot, it’s a big challenge, but our city has been phenomenal, they’ve been just so, so excited about this opportunity that we have and our players have embraced it,” Nagy said. “For me, it’s been fun, it's been challenging, but we couldn’t do it without them.”