When defensive coordinator Vic Fangio signed on with the Chicago Bears in January of 2015, his job was to improve a squad that was near the bottom of the NFL. Mission accomplished. During the 2015 season, Fangio’s unit ranked 4th in passing defense, giving up only 224.6 yards per game. While they started off a little rough, after the bye in Week Seven, the Bears' D averaged 21.6 points against. Since their offense is far from high-powered, holding opponents under the 22-point mark gives Chicago a much better shot at winning.
Now, ‘take away the run’ is an old adage every defensive mind has heard over and over again. Last year’s Bears gave up a weekly average of 120.9 yards on the ground. This includes two games against arguably the best running back of this generation, Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, who they held to 166 yards in two games.
Once you’ve stopped the run, shutting down the opponent's passing attack becomes much easier; especially when you have Tracy Porter, Kyle Fuller and Deiondre Hall. However, Fuller is recovering from a procedure on his knee and Porter is temporal lobe deep in the league’s concussion protocol despite his recent return to practice. That leaves rookie Hall and veteran of one whole game Jacoby Glenn to lock down Houston’s best ever imitation of the Greatest Show on Turf.
If Vic Fangio wants to set the tone for this season, prove to the Bears faithful that he is the answer to the "will someone finally replace Iron Mike as the best defensive mind in town?", and take this team into the playoffs and beyond, Week One is going to be a serious test.
In order to take away the run, Fangio’s front seven will need to neutralize Houston’s newest workhorse Lamar Miller. How do you do that? Study tape, examine Houston’s blocking schemes, look for Miller’s tendencies, and find the weaknesses to exploit. The problem with that idea? Miller was a Dolphin last year, Houston played their new running attack close to the vest all preseason, and the new Texans' quarterback Brock Osweiler spent the last few years learning how to read a defense and change the play at the line of scrimmage rom the best to ever do just that, Peyton Manning.
The ex-defensive coordinator in me becomes greatly unsettled when trying to think about this game from Fangio’s point of view. If his front seven can actually shut down Lamar Miller and company, they simply don’t have the manpower to stop DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Stephen Anderson, all while containing Miller on the swing passes and short ins and outs that are sure to come.
The next question that arises is what to do when Braxton Miller trots out to the huddle. That guy alone might just get a starring role in a few nightmares that keep Fangio restless this week.
The only positive wrinkle for the Bears is knowing Houston employs a very complex offense, one with a myriad of moving parts that’s brought to life by 11 guys - eight of whom weren’t starters for Houston last year. That learning curve may just work to Fangio’s benefit.
When faced with so many unknowns and variables, the best thing to do is get back to basics. Focus on fundamentals and keep it simple. The downside to this approach: it only works on highly complex offenses when the D is loaded with Pro Bowlers or the offense makes mistakes in bunches.
If keeping it simple doesn’t work, praying for some odd bounces, bad calls against Houston, and opportunistic turnovers to help keep them in the game may be Fangio’s best bet. Either way, he needs to bring his lunch pail Sunday because he has a hard day ahead of him.
If you were Fangio, what would you do? Let us know in the comments below.
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