Michael Mankoff examines Vic Fangio’s new scheme as he looks to bring the Chicago Bears defense back to its traditional, hard-hitting roots.
Chicago Bears strong safety Danny McCray (29) against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field. The Lions defeated the Bears 20-14. Dec 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; ( Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)
CHICAGO, (C+P) — When you mention the Chicago Bears, the first thing most people think of is the Superfans sketch from Saturday Night Live, but the second thing they think of is defense. And with good reason; the 1985 championship team was ranked by Behind the Steal Curtain as one of the top seven defenses of all time.
Since then, though, the Bears defense has slowly devolved, cumulating in disastrous 2014 season in which the Bears finished 31st in points allowed per game and 30th in yards allowed. To add insult to injury, the Bears managed to set the team record for most points allowed in the first half during a disastrous Sunday night game against their arch nemesis the Packers. The Packers.
When you consider the previous week’s 51-23 tromping by the Patriots, the Bears became the second team to give up 50 points in 2 consecutive games; a record previously set by the Rochester Jeffersons, who you probably never heard of because they were disbanded 16 games later.
And let’s not forget the idiotic injury sustained by Lamarr Houston, who tore his ACL celebrating his late game sack of Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo: a sack that occurred with the Bears trailing 48-23. After a performance like that, the only thing Houston should have been celebrating was the end of the game. Giving Bears fans something positive to celebrate is another matter, but the front office is hoping former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will turn the defense around. Fangio has already huge changes to the defense, throwing out the Tampa-2 scheme in favor of the hybrid 3-4 scheme he perfected in San Francisco.
All this means is that Fangio must not only motivate a demoralized defense, he must do it while teaching them a new system. This could prove particularly troublesome for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jared Allen, who has never played in a 3-4. Fangio remains confident in the ability of Allen (and the rest of the Bears linebackers) to pick up the scheme.
Fangio intends to help this learning process along by focusing on the pass rush and limiting plays requiring linebackers to drop back into coverage. “We expect a good pass rush from them (the linebacking corps), so that’s no different than being an end.”
Fangio’s optimism is admirable, but learning the complex hybrid 3-4 scheme might be more difficult than he imagines. The hybrid scheme uses several different variations on the traditional 3-4, but some of these actually have the Bears playing in a 5-2. These constant adjustments mean that defensive players need to learn how to play several roles in an unfamiliar system; not only that, but players that have played in the 3-4 scheme will still have to make some adjustments to their play style, because according to Fangio, each NFL team running a hybrid 3-4 runs it, “….a little bit different.”
Despite last year’s dismal performance, the Bears aren’t going to suffer the same fate as the Rochester Jeffersons and be disbanded-which means they have no choice but to play better (which should be relatively easy because it’s hard to play worse). It remains to be seen whether or not the Bears can adjust to Fangio’s new offensive system, but if stars like Allen and cornerback Tim Jennings can adapt their play style, “Da Bears” may regain their reputation for being a no-nonsense team.