In 2012 and 2013, the Green Bay Packers’ seasons were bookended by Week 1 and playoff losses to the San Francisco 49ers.
The defensive coordinator for those 49ers teams was Vic Fangio. And when the Packers kick off the 2015 season at Chicago on Sunday, it will be Fangio calling the defensive shots for the Bears.
“They’re very well coached, obviously,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Wednesday. “Scheme recognize, disguise. He’s always had a lot of moving pieces, but they always seem to be very well prepared. There wasn’t any mental errors or breakdowns.”
Fangio hasn’t exactly been Rodgers’ Kryptonite but he’s kept the NFL’s career leader in passer rating under wraps, with the 49ers winning decisively in three of the four games.
Week 1, 2012: 49ers 30, Packers 22 — 30-of-44, 302 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 93.3 rating.
Divisional playoffs, 2012: 49ers 45, Packers 31 — 26-of-39, 257 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 91.5 rating.
Week 1, 2013: 49ers 34, Packers 28 — 21-of-37, 333 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 102.6 rating.
Divisional playoffs, 2013: 49ers 23, Packers 20 — 17-of-26, 177 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, 97.8 rating.
Neither Fangio nor the Packers are putting much stock in those results. With San Francisco, Fangio had a star-studded defense that helped carry the 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship appearances, including a Super Bowl berth. With Chicago, the Bears’ two most recognizable defenders, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, are gone. So is the 4-3 scheme, with Fangio installing his version of the 3-4.
“This is a whole different challenge,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s a different team, different personnel. So you keep track of coordinators by concept. That’s something I’ve done since 1993. So, you always keep track of the defensive coordinator you’re competing against and, just in general, his overall tendencies and what his philosophy is. Outside of that, we’ve focused a lot on the preseason tape.”
The tape shows a defense in transition after the Bears allowed the most points in franchise history in 2013 and threatened that dubious mark in 2014. Not unlike when Dom Capers took over the Packers’ defense in 2009 and had Aaron Kampman playing outside linebacker, Fangio is doing the same with Jared Allen. A rookie (Eddie Goldman) is at nose tackle. Four of the five starters in last year’s secondary have been replaced.
“Obviously, they’ve been pretty bad here for two straight years defensively,” Fangio said. “You know, we’ve made some changes, but that’s an ongoing process. It’s not an overnight thing.”
So, while this figures to be a work in progress, the new head coach, veteran John Fox, thinks he’s got the right man for the job.
“He’s got skins on the wall,” Fox said in a conference call. “He’s been in the league a long time. So much of these gigs, people think it’s a one-man show. No different than players down in the locker room, a staff that works well together, understands the common goal and are talented at what they do. I think we’ve got an outstanding staff both in the coaching side and in the personnel side.”
Allen, the 12th-year pro and four-time All-Pro, is embracing the change in command.
“A lot of respect for the man,” he said of Fangio while talking to reporters at Halas Hall. “I really think I appreciate the way he delivers information. It’s very matter of fact. And he gives you what you need to know at that time and then he slowly builds and develops off it. So, it’s not overwhelming you at all. And he expects a lot. Obviously, he’s had a great deal of success with his defense in the past. And so he expects our best.”
And that’s what Allen expects, too. In the two games against Allen and Co. last season, Rodgers threw 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions to post a cumulative passer rating of 149.0 as the Packers scored 93 points. With Fangio, Allen sees better times ahead.
“I expect our best. Honestly,” Allen said. “I expect guys to go out there and compete and make plays. So, just because it’s new and it’s a change doesn’t mean it has to be a setback. If anything, you should be energized. We’re 0-0. Everybody’s got a shot. That’s the cool part about the NFL. Every year stands on its own two feet and you’ve got a chance. You build off any success you had in the past and you remember that. And anything bad that happened to you, use it as motivation to correct. It’s Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers here in Chicago. If you can’t get excited for that game, you’re in the wrong business.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.