The San Francisco 49ers face the Chicago Bears in Week 13, a team that is surging lately, having won three of their last four games. The Bears are coming off a huge Thanksgiving win over the Green Bay Packers, and have an outside shot at a playoff spot if they can win out. Of course, this matchup is extra interesting for 49ers fans given the connections to Vic Fangio and Adam Gase. We took a few minutes to chat with Dane Noble of Windy City Gridiron about his Bears, and particularly what the two coordinators have brought to the table.
Niners Nation: What exactly has changed between the first seven weeks, and the last four weeks with the Bears winning three of their last four?
Windy City Gridiron: The Bears are in a completely different scheme on both ides of the football, with new coaches, new philosophies, and lots of new players. This season has been starting completely from scratch on both offense and defense, and trying to rebuild the culture in the locker room and credibility of the coaching staff. You might remember headlines from last season regarding Marc Trestman and how he tore this team apart-- that's not easy to bounce back from. So with all of the newness and having to rebuilt this team from the ground up, it took some time to get things going.
But John Fox has managed to reinvigorate this Chicago Bears team, and the players have completely bought in. He's changed the culture entirely from what it used to be, and has his team believing in their systems and fighting in games from start to finish. Last year, we saw white flags get waived in a lot of 4th quarters. This year's Chicago Bears don't have that problem. It's been fun to watch a veteran head coach working at his craft, and seeing the results manifest week over week.
Fun fact: John Fox is the only head coach the Bears have ever hired that's been a head coach before-- outside of when George Halas used to re-hire himself as head coach every few years. The Bears have never hired a HC with experience-- so this has been a good move to finally see from our ownership and front office.
NN: What do you all think of Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator?
WCG: The players think Fangio is a genius (they've used that word a lot this season), and from an outsider's perspective, it certainly appears that way. Our defense has been running on flat tires all season long thanks to the condition the roster was left in by the previous regime, and outside of a couple of positions, have little talent and no depth. Vic Fangio is figuring out ways to play to the personnel that he has to work with, and each week throwing wrinkles into schemes that other teams haven't seen on film yet. It appears he's literally writing a new chapter of the book each and every week, and it's working like a charm. Keep in mind, Fangio converted this from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4, and for much of the season he's had 4-3 personnel to work with.
NN: What has Adam Gase brought to the table for this offense?
WCG: Adam Gase, much like Vic Fangio, is crafting a scheme around the players he has to work with, rather than forcing the players to work a scheme regardless of their talents. And just like the defense, the offense has been severely limited in their options for much of the season-- the offensive line is make-shift for the most part, their key players have had multiple injuries (Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Martellus Bennett have all missed time)-- but Gase is creating schemes that limit exposure and maximizes opportunities. He's got Jay Cutler playing the best football of his career, and the offense has an identifiable rhythm week in and week out.
Another thing Gase brings to the table is in-game adjustments. Sometimes the offense starts out slowly, and sometimes it takes a little while for things to start clicking. But you can see the adjustments being made during the game, and he puts the Bears offense in positions to be successful when it counts the most.
NN: What is the plan with the Matt Forte, Jeremy Langford backfield now that Forte is healthy? Is it going to be fairly evenly split? Will the Bears likely let Forte walk in free agency after this season and move Langford into the starting role?
WCG: That will be interesting to watch. Langford for all intents and purposes is the heir-apparent to Matt Forte's throne, but before Forte's injury, he was having a career year. Forte is known to be a work-horse, and is in incredible shape. I think that the team will try to re-sign Forte in the offseason, but a big part of that will be what Forte and his agent are asking for. He's turning 30 years old next week, so we'll see how this all plays out.
In the meantime, Langford will still get his touches. The Bears will work him in at least 2-3 series to give Forte some in-game rest, so Langford will still get opportunities to make plays.
NN: Predictions: How do you see this game playing out? How do you see the Bears season finishing up?
WCG: I think the Bears will have a good shot if they can stop the run, We've had a couple extra days of rest and preparation, and the team is still pumped up after beating the Packers on Thanksgiving night. If everything plays out like it should, the Bears could walk away with a solid victory.
As for the rest of the season, the Bears need to win out in order to be in the playoff discussion. So they are literally coming in like this is a playoff game itself-- lose and they're done for the year.