The San Francisco 49ers face the Chicago Bears on Sunday in what will be the second matchup with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. When Jim Harbaugh departed at the end of the 2014 season, Fangio got an interview for the head coach position. When Adam Gase was rumored to be getting the job, there was thought that he would offer the DC role to Fangio. When Jim Tomsula ended up getting the HC job, speculation emerged that Trent Baalke and/or Jed York told him the job became contingent on him naming Tomsula his DC. Gase was not happy with that and moved on to become the Bears OC.
Fangio is in his second season as defensive coordinator, and the Bears defense has seen some improvement this season. However, injuries have created numerous issues for the unit. What has this meant for Fangio? I asked Windy City Gridiron writer Jeff Berckes about Fangio’s work with the Bears defense. He gives Fangio a B+, and offered up this analysis:
I might take some heat for that grade because they aren't even a good defense right now. You have to appreciate that Bears fans expect violent, dominant defense as part of their identity. That was lost under the Marc Trestman hire where the Bears dropped to the bottom of the league in Defensive DVOA. Chicago has traditionally run a 4-3 scheme and Fangio wanted to convert the squad to a 3-4 unit. The Bears had very few pieces that obviously fit that scheme and the guys that have stuck around needed a lot of coaching up.
In two offseasons, GM Ryan Pace and the coaching staff have flipped the front seven to be a strength of the team. When the front seven have been healthy and playing together, they have been a joy to watch. Fangio has been able to coax flashes of solid play from young, undrafted talent in the secondary. If he is allowed to continue this rebuild, I'm excited to see what this unit will look like in years three and four. A play maker at free safety, some talent at corner, and one or two more guys in the defensive line rotation and this unit could carry us to the playoffs in...2018?
On the flip side, there have been times when the Bears seemingly have no answers for what the opposing offense is doing. Major pieces of that defense have been banged up and the talent gap between some of the starters and their backups is difficult to overcome, but sometimes the game plan just simply seems wrong. The biggest criticism is the lack of turnovers. Chicago ranks 31st in takeaways and again, Chicago fans are used to ranking in the top five in the Lovie Smith era (2006 and 2012 led the league).