I've never seen the adjective "dumpster-fire" used more than in the last two years when it was used to describe the Chicago Bears' defense.
The defensive coordination from Mel Tucker the last two years was laughable. In 2013, the Bears' D ranked 30th in both points allowed and in yards allowed. In 2014, the Bears were 31st in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed. Yeah, there were some injuries that hurt, but Tucker did nothing from a schematic standpoint to right the ship.
Mel Tucker presided over the two worst defenses in the 94 year history of the franchise. We're talking about a franchise that is historically known for having good defense, The Monsters of the Midway. For some historical perspective, there have been 47 separate seasons where the Bears ranked in the top 5 in points allowed and 46 different years when the Bears were top 5 in yards allowed.
In other words, half of the franchise's existence has been spent with good and sometimes great defense being played.
Enter Vic Fangio.
Chicago's new defensive coordinator spent the last four years with the San Francisco 49ers. During that time he had a top 5 unit in points allowed all 4 years and in 3 of the 4 years his D was top 5 in yards allowed. His defense was also top 5 in takeaways twice.
Fangio had to coach around a number of injuries and suspensions last year, but he still had one of the better Ds in the game. To further illustrate Fangio's work we turn to Football Outsiders.
Football Outsiders tracks Adjusted Games Lost (AGL), which they descride this way.
...we are able to quantify how much teams were affected by injuries based on two principles: (1) Injuries to starters, injury replacements, and important situational reserves matter more than injuries to benchwarmers; and (2) Injured players who do take the field are usually playing with reduced ability, which is why AGL is not based strictly on whether or not the player is active for the game, but instead is based on the player's listed status that week (IR/PUP, out, doubtful, questionable, or probable).
For the 2014 season the 49ers ranked 31st in AGL on the defensive side of the ball. Keep in mind this doesn't take into account him losing All Pro Aldon Smith to a nine game suspension or losing starter Ray McDonald when the Niners cut ties prior to their final two games.
While the 2013 season wasn't as injury plagued on defense for Fangio's 49ers, they were still ranked 26th in AGL.
Talent can trump scheme in many occasions, but it's nice to have a coach that isn't afraid to try different things and to mix things up. Fangio has a versatile system where he can plug players in and not have the extreme drop off that some of his contemporaries do.
A big reason for this is the way he runs his 3-4 defense. It's not always 2 gap principles up front, in fact it's not always a 3-4 look from the front 7. He's very comfortable giving 40 front looks to an offense. He'll even change things on a week to week basis.
In 2013, our sister site, Niners Nation, had a really good write up on San Francisco's base defense.
...you'll see the 49ers run a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 under fronts based on the team, formation and specific offensive players on the field. It's just another way that the coaching staff modifies their approach to be as effective as they can be on a play-by-play basis.
Fangio may not have the exact players he would like to run everything he wants, but he definitely has enough talent and the know-how to put something competitive together.
Bucky Brooks, NFL Media analyst for NFL.com, has Fangio ranked as the #2 defensive coordinator in the league. Here's some of what he said.
The best defenses in football are not only fundamentally sound, but they exhibit a collective energy, toughness and physicality that overwhelms opponents over the course of the game. Fangio's defenses in San Francisco consistently exhibited those traits.
Given his recent track record and esteemed reputation, it's only a matter of time before the Bears' defense returns to the ranks of the elite under his tutelage.
Last year seemed to have players loafing from time to time, and there wasn't much accountability from the coaches. Whether that was due to a lack of respect for the coaching staff or players simply checking out as the loses piled up, the Bears locker room needed a change.
Implementing a 3-4 defense for the first time in the history of the franchise is about a big a change that there is. But it's one that should pay dividends.
From the Chicago Sun Times.
"Everything is different," end-turned-outside-linebacker Jared Allen said. "It's kind of a fresh start. In defenses I've been in over the years overall, and being in this scheme, this is a fun defense to play in.
"There's a high-level of accountability for everybody, and I've always felt that breeds greatness. There are no excuses. Either you are right or you are wrong, and you have the freedom to make plays. The sky is the limit for us."
It's not just the Mel Tucker holdovers that are happy with Fangio, but the newcomers are excited too
"Vic is the ultimate defensive coach," outside linebacker Sam Acho said. "He loves defense. He loves schemes, and he's a great teacher. That's what I love about him. He understands the game. He understands how to teach it to us as players on a very basic level where we can play on a high level."
"He is very creative," (new OLB Pernell) McPhee said. "It might not look like it sometimes because of the schemes, but [it's] really aggressive. So every time, when I think about it, even when I watch the practice film, I'll be like, ‘Damn, This guy is really creative.' "
The 56 year old Fangio has been coaching football since 1979, but this job may be the most challenging of his career. He has to not only transform the dumpster-fire that was into something respectable, but he has to transition them from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
Fortunately for Vic Fangio, this 2015 Bears defense has no where to go but up.