Each week, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio compiles his notes and observations on his upcoming opponent. The result: A document Fangio calls the “Vic Report” that has become well-known and well-regarded in coaching circles.
“He’s got no problem referring to himself in the third person there,” 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said with a laugh on Thursday. “... Full credit to Vic for all the homework that he does. I’ve sat next to him on the plane and he’s doing a lot of homework.”
This week’s Vic Report likely is more dense and detailed than usual. Fangio spent the past four years as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator and is familiar both with the 49ers’ personnel as well as Chryst, with whom he will match wits on Sunday.
In addition, the 49ers interviewed Fangio for their head-coaching job in January but passed him over for defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Fangio downplayed any revenge factor this week – “I just look back on the four years with the 49ers with really good memories,” he told the Chicago-area media – but at least one of his former pupils know better.
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Cornerback Carlos Rogers, who played for Fangio from 2011-13, said that if Fangio had been overlooked for a different job, the famously matter-of-fact coordinator likely wouldn’t sweat it. But to be leapfrogged by your own assistant? After the way Fangio had shaped the 49ers defense?
“They turned him down for someone that was under him,” Rogers said. “I think that’s a slap in the face and I think he’s going to go and really try ... I mean, he’s going to play his defense, he’s not going to do anything extra. But I think it’s in his mind.”
Fangio’s arrival in Chicago has given the Bears defense a lift similar to the one the 49ers had when he was hired in 2011.
A year before that, San Francisco’s talent-laden unit was respectable, finishing 13th in total defense and 16th in points allowed. Under Fangio, the defense was excellent, leading the league in takeaways in 2011 and finishing fourth overall and second in points allowed that season.
This year’s Bears squad has made a big leap as well. After finishing 30th last year, they rank 14th.
One difference: While Fangio’s 49ers defense was teeming with Pro Bowlers like Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith, there are no stars on the Bears defense he inherited.
“I didn’t think that the defense would play this well,” ex-Bears tight end and coach Mike Ditka said this week. “But John’s got them playing hard and fast,” he said in reference to Bears head coach John Fox.
While Fox is a former defensive coordinator, Chryst said it seems as if Fangio, who has spent 15 years as an NFL defensive coordinator, has autonomy over the group. The Bears switched to a 3-4 defense this year, which is Fangio’s specialty, and the unit hinges on the same tenets Fangio stressed in San Francisco: Take away big plays and keep opponents out of the end zone.
Chicago has held opponents to 19.8 points a game in their past eight contests.
“'They’re a sound defense. Schematically, they’re on it,” quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “They don’t make a lot of errors. Their guys are in the right spots. ... They make you execute 10-, 11-, 12-play drives, and that’s tough because as a quarterback sometimes you get greedy. But you just have to be content taking what they give you.”
Receiver Anquan Boldin said the Bears run the same scheme he and his offensive teammates practiced against in recent years.
“It can go either way,” Boldin said. “He’s been around us as well. I mean, he knows what we like to do, our strengths and weaknesses and vice versa. We’ve been around him and gone against his defense every day in practice. So we know where holes are, weak spots are and where to attack."
Fangio’s former players said preparation was the key to his defensive success.
Rogers, who went to his only Pro Bowl after he worked with Fangio in 2011, said Fangio once acknowledged to his players that his meetings were long and that the amount of information he asked them to digest was substantial.
“But if you paid attention, you were going to be successful,” Rogers said. “And you saw that in the success that we had in San Fran. They had a pretty good defense before. But when he got there, it was an unbelievable defense.”
San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears: 10 a.m. on KMPH (Channel 26.1)