After weeks of Chicago’s media and fans singing Vic Fangio’s praises, the re-hired defensive coordinator’s message at his re-introductory press conference was simple, clear and correct: his defenses have not been good enough.
Thanks largely to playing games against the Browns and Bengals (their averages through 12 games would’ve had them 16th in yardage and 18th in scoring), the Bears defense snuck into the top 10 in yardage and scoring bythe end of the year. It’s been a hell of a climb when you consider where they were before Fangio came to Chicago, but they’re still not good enough. While the scoring and yardage numbers are nice, the Bears were still closer to the middle of the pack in takeaways (13th), third-down defense (20th) and DVOA (14th).
Although they had injuries at the end of the year – when their defense actually climbed the rankings – there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have been better defensively.
One of the biggest problems has been the way the team has started.
In three years with Fangio, the Bears have given up scores on at least one of their first two possessions thirty times, including nine last year. While the offense was going through growing pains with a rookie quarterback and injuries at wide receiver, they were also forced to play from behind early in games. That’s a losing formula.
When the Bears got stops on this initial drives, they usually won, sporting an 11-7 in those games over the last three years.
Giving up early scores wasn’t a Fox problem either. In four years with San Francisco, Fangio’s 49ers gave up scores on the first two possessions 29 times. That certainly isn’t as bad as 30 times in three years with the Bears, but that’s largely because of the 2015 season in which they only allowed early scores twice. In his three other seasons there, they allowed the opponent to score on one of their first two possessions at least eight times.
But Fangio’s San Francisco teams were good enough to overcome that, the Bears haven’t been and they probably won’t be in 2018. They still need their defense to set the tone and be the catalyst. Vic is a fine coach, but — as he said himself — if he were as good as some are suggesting, their defense would be better and they would’ve won more games.
Fangio said the key to improvement will be getting their “supposedly good” players to play better. He has a point. While I don’t see Akiem Hicks getting any better, Leonard Floyd should be better and needs to stay on the field. Eddie Goldman can do more, so can Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos.
Still, the Bears need more talent if they’re going to get to an elite level. They could use another pass rusher and absolutely must find somebody who can help force takeaways.
Their biggest need, however, is a better plan to start the game.