By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Leading into his first Bears-Packers game, Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio smirked when asked with his task of containing Green Bay star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.READ MORE: Pair Charged In Murder Of 8-Year-Old Melissa Ortega Denied Bail; Accused Teen Gunman Committed Three Previous Carjackings, Prosecutors Say
“Can we break his arm?” Fangio kidded with the media prior to Week 1 of 2015.
Jokes aside, Fangio knows better. His track record suggests it, too.
Rodgers frustrates defensive coordinators in a way so few can, but it’s Fangio who has flustered Rodgers better than most of his coaching peers. Rodgers is 2-5 in his career in games against Fangio’s defense, including an 0-4 mark against his stifling 49ers units.
In 2015, Rodgers and the Packers had their way with Fangio and the Bears in a win in the season opener before Chicago returned the favor by frustrating Rodgers and Green Bay all game long in a victory on Thanksgiving. In the teams’ first matchup this year, the Bears’ defense gave them a chance to win, holding the Packers in check through three quarters and never giving up the big play to Rodgers, who was 39-of-56 for 326 yards in the eventual 26-10 win.
Recently, friction has been reported between Bears coach John Fox and Fangio, leading to questions of whether the Bears will have a new defensive coordinator after this 2016 season. You best believe the Packers would be in favor of such a change.
“Coach Fangio has always done a good job of really diagnosing our offensive schemes and trying to away what we do best,” Rodgers said in October. “It’s a sign of a great defensive coordinator.”
Added Packers coach Mike McCarthy: “They really are (well) coached coming into the game.”
Fangio’s plan isn’t a secret. It’s right there in the film. He stays in nickel and dares the Packers to run the football — something not easily done without Eddie Lacy in the backfield — while forcing Rodgers to throw into tight coverage. His most brilliant game play against Rodgers came in the rainy Thanksgiving win last year in Lambeau Field, in which Rodgers was just 22-of-43 for 202 yards with a touchdown and interception — one of his worst games ever.
Look no further than last Sunday’s contest in Detroit for a blueprint to Fangio’s plans. With Lions running back Theo Riddick out, he dared offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to have Matthew Stafford throw the ball repeatedly, with Fangio trusting his front seven to contain the run and letting his young secondary react.
An MVP candidate, Stafford was just 21-of-35 for 221 yards with a touchdown and two picks. It was a pedestrian performance compared to other games.
In the Bears’ win over the Vikings in Week 8, Fangio pressured a depleted line while forcing quarterback Sam Bradford to beat them. Minnesota had just 258 net yards in a 20-10 loss. During the victory over the 49ers, the Bears made quarterback Colin Kaepernick uncomfortable for three quarters. He was benched by the fourth.
The Bears are 3-10 on the season and have seen some disappointing defensive performances, but it certainly isn’t Fangio’s doing. He puts players in the right place and looks to eliminate his opponent’s greatest strength.READ MORE: Bears Reportedly Hiring Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus As New Head Coach
What’s unique to Fangio’s coaching style is his attention to detail — a trait even Rodgers notices from the outside. That stems from the way Fangio teaches his players. He explains their assignments with great detail.
“You really understand why you’re doing it,” rookie linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski said.
Should the friction become too much for Fox and Fangio to co-exist, the Bears’ defense will suffer a great loss. Fangio has earned the admiration of his players. Last week, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks couldn’t even fathom their rising unit without the direction of its leader.
Progress is noted in the numbers, with Fangio’s defense ranked seventh in the league. It’s tremendous improvement from when he took over in January 2015 with personnel that didn’t fit any scheme, as he mentioned Wednesday.
“We had to start at ground zero,” Fangio said.
But the devil is in the details. Fangio is an excellent teacher.
When players get their game plan for each game, they leave the room with great confidence. No matter who’s taking the field, the Bears have a chance defensively.
“As a defense, we trust him,” Kwiatkoski said.
Sunday could serve as a reminder for what the Bears would be missing without Fangio. His track record through seven games against Rodgers is impressive. A franchise that cherishes its contest with the Packers would sorely miss its schematic advantages.
Better than most in the NFL, Fangio has managed to make Rodgers frustrated. Even as the Bears have been rebuilding their defense, they’ve been effective against their arch rivals.
If Fangio is moving on from Chicago, the Bears’ loss would be the Packers’ relief. Sunday offers the latest challenge.
“Vic has always done a good job of taking away the things that you do very well,” McCarthy said. “You have to really hunker in on your fundamentals.”MORE NEWS: Chicago Matching Federal Money For Lakefront Erosion Survey