For so many years it was reasonable to debate which had done more damage to Chicago: Mrs. O’Leary’s cow or Brett Favre.
Then Lovie Smith came in as Bears coach and the mastery of the Bears that the Green Bay Packers enjoyed under Favre ended: 2-6 vs. Smith’s speed-based, single-gap 4-3 system.
Then Aaron Rodgers started and so did another Bears death spiral. Smith and Marc Trestman/Mel Tucker became the Washington Generals to Green Bay’s Globetrotters just as the Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron Bears had been.
Obviously coaches did not win or lose games. But Favre and the Packers did go from averaging 29 points per game over the 10-year pre-Smith era to almost exactly half that vs. Smith defenses. So something was different.
The “difference” now is Vic Fangio as Bears defensive coordinator, the Vic Fangio who was 4-0 while D-coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers.
“[Fangio teams] are very well coached, obviously,” Rodgers said. “Scheme, recognize, disguise. He’s always had a lot of moving pieces, but [his units] always seem to be very well prepared. There wasn’t any mental errors or breakdowns.”
Fangio will not be on the active roster come Sunday, but it is clear that Bears players believe in this coaching staff and have throughout this offseason, which was not the case in the recent past, because they believe that Fangio and coach John Fox know right things to do.
And believing you can be successful is the first step toward actually being successful.
“Yeah,” said defensive lineman Will Sutton, admitting the group confidence boost from Fangio. “Because he has a sense of what’s going on, so it’s up to us to go out and execute it. He’s going to do everything in his power to put us the right places at the right times, so it’s up to us.”
Fangio does not accept any sort of “hex” over the Rodgers Packers. Going 4-0, “well, yes, but that was a different team and two different seasons,” Fangio cautioned. “We’ve got to be able to figure out a way to do it with the group we have here.”
The group he had in San Francisco was replete with Pro Bowl players; the one here, not so many. And the 49ers ran the football effectively and scored points. The Bears with Jay Cutler have rarely scored more than 20 points against Green Bay, which will typically not defeat Rodgers teams.
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Like Fangio’s 49ers teams, Smith’s Bears had, among other elites like Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher, a linchpin defensive lineman who was an All-Pro disruptor: Tommie Harris. The Fangio Bears don’t have a Harris but they did maybe the next best thing and got themselves a No. 91 (Harris’ number).
Rookie defensive tackle Eddie Goldman has switched to 91. “I prefer a 90 and I was going with a 70 number . And if you look around all the D-linemen had a 90-number and I was like the only one, or one of the only people with the 70 number. I had to get that changed.”
The Bears now just need Goldman to do to Rodgers what Harris did to Favre. To that end, Goldman has been getting detailed instruction.
“A great player.” Goldman said. “Actually, T-Med [equipment manager Tony Medlin], he was telling me about [Harris] on the sideline yesterday. I came to him and asked if I could switch over to 91. He just gave me the background story on how he was just a great, guy and a great spirit.
“Matt Forte was telling me about how he used to shut down practice and all that. Yeah, he was a great player.”
Which would be what the Bears are expecting from their new “91.”