The Bears had traded for the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year, and Staley was bringing him up to speed on defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme.
A few days later, Mack had a sack, forced and recovered a fumble, and returned an interception for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers. Staley also helped formulate a plan that shut down the Rams at Soldier Field later that season.
“You could see what he did as a teacher, as a position coach,” Nagy told reporters last week, adding, ”Just a guy that you could see was really learning a lot through Vic’s defense and then taking it and putting his own spin on it.”
Two years later, Staley will be scheming against the team that gave him his first NFL opportunity when the Rams (4-2) play the Bears (5-1) at SoFi Stadium on “Monday Night Football.”
Staley, 37, left the Bears after the 2018 season to join Fangio’s Denver Broncos staff. Rams coach Sean McVay, a longtime admirer of Fangio’s 3-4 scheme, hired Staley to bring it to Los Angeles.
Many of the players Staley worked with in Chicago — Mack, end Akiem Hicks, linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Eddie Jackson — are still part of a defense has carried the Bears to a fast start.
“All those guys are deeply responsible for me having this opportunity,” Staley said. “I love those guys. I have the utmost respect for them, and it's going to be exciting to compete against them."
Staley oversees a Rams defense that entered the weekend ranked fifth in the NFL, giving up 318.5 yards per game. In five of their six games, the Rams have given up three points or less in the second half.
That was the type of trend McVay was seeking when he hired Staley.
The Rams’ 15-6 loss to the Bears in 2018 left a deep imprint on McVay. The Bears held the Rams without a touchdown, intercepted four passes by Jared Goff and sacked him three times, once for a safety.
McVay joked this week that Staley subconsciously reminded him of that game by including highlights in instructional videos for players.
“I mean, he basically ruined my night that night,” McVay said. “That was not a good night for us. We talked a lot about that game, and a lot of the things that we're doing are reflective of some of the things that they were doing then.”
Said Staley: “After that game, the Rams played really, really well and ended up getting into the playoffs and going to the Super Bowl. I would say that he learned quite well from that night.”
McVay spent last week preparing the offense to rediscover the rhythm it could not find in a 24-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. That figures to be a challenge against a seventh-ranked Bears defense that is giving up 337.2 yards and 19 points per game.
Along with Mack and Hicks, the Bears’ pass rush includes 10th-year pro Robert Quinn, who spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Rams.
“That makes their pass-rush a nightmare,” McVay said.
Last season, playing with an injury-depleted offensive line and without two starting receivers, McVay used a conservative approach against the Bears that included only 18 passes. The Rams won, 17-7, at the Coliseum.
Mitch Trubisky was the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2018 and 2019. Veteran Nick Foles supplanted him four games into this season after passing for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 30-26 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Foles, in his ninth NFL season, has passed for six touchdowns with four interceptions. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey briefly was teammates with the Super Bowl LII most valuable player when both played for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.
“Plays with a lot of confidence,” Ramsey said. “That’s something I learned about him — he doesn’t play with fear.
“Very smart, knows the defense and studies well. He’s always been a good leader so I’m sure he had great connection with his receivers — they’re going to fight for him so I’m excited for the challenge.”
So, undoubtedly, is Staley.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.