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Fangio’s defenses were more often good than bad

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While Fangio won’t be our defensive coordinator, you have to think he will have some input (and effect) on the defensive strategy, player usage and performance.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Though he is not being hired to be the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio has spent 19 seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator starting with his stint as the first ever defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. He was also the first ever defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans. That being said, I think there is much we can learn from not only how his defenses have performed, but from the production that he has gotten from his defensive players.

Much like Wade Phillips, Vic Fangio, as a defensive coordinator likes to adapt his scheme to fit his players, not the other way around. He should be able to get the most out of Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Derek Wolfe and (even) Demarcus Walker.

The NT is locked in place but the other two D-lineman need to be able to switch spots, his OLBs need to be able to play stand-up DE, his ILBs need to be able to play OLB at times, and his two starting safeties need to be interchangeable. Fangio’s defense thrives on the ability to change their scheme at any time and disguise what they are doing pre-snap.

It is widely reported that the Broncos and Vic Fangio want Ed Donatell to the be defensive coordinator. That would make sense as Donatell has followed Fangio to San Fransisco and then to Chicago. For him to follow Fangio to Denver makes all the sense in the world. It also stands to reason that if Ed is running the defense then the defense will be the same defense that Vic would be running if he were the defensive coordinator. THis could end up with something like what Andy Reid does in KC where he is not the offensive coordinator, but he really is the offensive coordinator.

For those who might remember the name, Ed Donatell, he was the defensive backs coach for the Broncos in 2009 and 2010. That 2010 defense was one of the worst in the history of the NFL (I’m not exaggerating, I remember writing about this back in 2010 when I was just a reader and fanpost contributor here). Of course, Ed was also our DB coach for five years in the late 90s including for our back-to-back Super Bowl winning teams.

So how have Fangio’s defenses done statistically during his 19 seasons as a defensive coordinator. Here is a table that is pulled directly from pro-football-reference.com.

Overall Defense Rushing Def Passing Def
Year Tm Role Tms WL% T/G Pts± Yds± Yds Pts TkA Att Yds TD Y/A FR Att Yds TD Int nY/A
1995 CAR DC 30 18 21 22 22 7 8 5 18 10 26 4 8 23 14 4 6 6
1996 CAR DC 30 3 3 2 13 10 2 5 2 8 4 26 4 22 12 6 7 5
1997 CAR DC 30 17 27 20 22 15 13 26 25 22 12 17 21 5 9 8 27 14
1998 CAR DC 30 25 17 23 28 30 27 7 24 26 23 25 7 12 28 30 10 29
1999 IND DC 31 2 19 4 8 15 17 27 8 18 18 26 13 20 19 17 30 13
2000 IND DC 31 9 22 7 9 21 15 25 20 25 16 23 27 14 18 16 23 18
2001 IND DC 31 22 28 23 10 29 31 23 19 25 29 29 24 9 27 29 20 26
2002 HOU DC 32 29 26 29 32 16 20 30 32 28 11 14 17 6 10 18 26 11
2003 HOU DC 32 23 25 29 32 31 27 25 30 31 23 22 27 11 31 21 20 32
2004 HOU DC 32 18 13 20 22 23 15 13 7 13 1 23 28 24 24 30 5 24
2005 HOU DC 32 32 25 31 31 31 32 32 28 32 29 30 27 4 24 26 31 31
2011 SFO DC 32 2 1 4 14 4 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 23 16 8 2 9
2012 SFO DC 32 5 8 4 3 3 2 14 9 4 4 3 13 21 4 7 16 3
2013 SFO DC 32 3 4 3 14 5 3 6 7 4 11 9 5 21 7 5 10 9
2014 SFO DC 32 17 6 22 15 5 10 4 10 7 4 11 27 17 5 25 1 9
2015 CHI DC 32 22 19 21 16 14 20 28 21 23 8 26 16 5 4 25 30 18
2016 CHI DC 32 29 31 28 12 15 24 32 26 27 25 21 30 4 7 11 29 17
2017 CHI DC 32 25 15 20 26 10 9 13 16 11 9 12 1 10 7 5 29 14
2018 CHI DC 32 3 3 4 5 3 1 1 2 1 1 4 14 29 7 8 1 1

Firstly, there is plenty to digest in this table. Focus on the column labelled Pts. He has had five different stops: Carolina, Indianapolis, Houston, San Francisco and Chicago. He built a defense in Carolina through the expansion draft and the regular draft that was 8th in points allowed in its first season and 2nd in points allowed in its second season. The 1996 Panthers team made it to (and lost in) the NFC championship game. His defenses got progressively worse in his 3rd and 4th years in Carolina, finishing 13th in points in 1997 and 27th in points in 1998.

After getting let go from the Panthers, Fangio landed the DC position with the Colts under Jim Mora. In 1999, the Colts defense was good enough to allow a young #1 draft pick QB by the name of Peyton Manning to the lead the team to a 13-3 record. That defense was good enough to allow the Colts to lose a heart-breaker to the Titans (19-16) in the divisional round. The Titans would go on to play in their one and only super bowl that year, losing a heart-breaker to the Rams. The Colts defense in 2000 was comparable to their 1999 defense, but the Colts would only finish 10-6 and lose in the wild card round to the Dolphins. The 2001 Colts defense was terrible, finishing second to last in past allowed. The Colts would finished 6-10 leading to the firing of Jim Mora and the loss of a DC job for Fangio.

After Indy Fangio moved on to the Texans where he had the task of building the Texans defense from the ground up much like he had with the Panthers. However, he was not able to replicate the immediate success that he found with the Panthers defense. In fact his defenses in Houston never ranked better than 15th in points allowed and the Texans never finished better than 7-9 while he was the DC there. After finished 2-14 in the 2005 season, Dom Capers was fired as the head coach and Vic was again out of work.

His next stop would take him to Baltimore where he would get to coach the linebackers and Ray Lewis in his prime. In his four years with the Ravens as LB coach, their defense would finish 1st, 22nd, 3rd and 3rd in points allowed and make the playoffs three out of four years. The one year they didn’t was the year the both Ed Reed and Ray Lewis got hurt.

In 2010 Jim Harbaugh, whose brother John was on the coaching staff in Baltimore with Vic, would convince Vic to move with him to Northern California to be the defensive coordinator for the Stanford Cardinal (notice that is singular since it is a color, not a bird). That Stanford team would finish 12-1 overall, 4th in the country and win both the Pac-10 and the Orange Bowl. Fangio would make very good use of an extremely intelligent tall CB named Richard Sherman who was very quick but not very fast. You might have heard of him. Other than Sherman, Fangio had very little in the way of NFL-level talent on his defense. Stanford would have only one other defensive player who played under Fangio drafted, Sione Fua, who spent some time with the Broncos. Jim Harbaugh would then get hired away by the 49ers and ask Vic to make the move with him back to the NFL.

Fangio was the DC for the 49ers from 2011-2014. His defenses in San Francisco were great. The 49ers were 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 10th in points allowed during Vic’s four seasons there. Those defenses were led by two dynamic ILBs in Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis - both of whom were AllPro in 2011 and 2012. Bowman was named 1st team AllPro in 2013 as well. The 2014 defense that only finished 10th in points allowed had neither Bowman or Willis. The 2014 season would be the season where the 49ers locker room imploded forcing the firing of Jim Harbaugh and the loss of a job for Vic.

So this brings us to Chicago where Vic was most recently as the defensive coordinator. His defenses were in the bottom third of the league in points allowed for the first two seasons in Chicago but then improved to 9th in 2017 and 1st overall in 2018. It definitely helped for the Bears to get overrated OLB, Khalil Mack from the Faiders, but Fangio had been doing a good job of developing the defensive talent that they have been drafting during the previous three seasons. From 2015-2018 the Bears did a good job of finding starters for their defense in the draft. In 2018, six of their 11 starters (7 of 12 if you count their CB3) on defense were drafted by the them (or signed as UDCFA and developed). The other starters were good free agent signings (Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Prince Amukamara) or via trade (Mack).

Vic Fangio NFL Resume Team Record
Year Age Team Position W L T
1986 28 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 7 9
1987 29 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 12 3
1988 30 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 10 6
1989 31 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 9 7
1990 32 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 8 8
1991 33 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 11 5
1992 34 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 12 4
1993 35 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 8 8
1994 36 New Orleans Saints Linebackers 7 9
1995 37 Carolina Panthers Defensive Coordinator 7 9
1996 38 Carolina Panthers Defensive Coordinator 12 4
1997 39 Carolina Panthers Defensive Coordinator 7 9
1998 40 Carolina Panthers Defensive Coordinator 4 12
1999 41 Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator 13 3
2000 42 Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator 10 6
2001 43 Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator 6 10
2002 44 Houston Texans Defensive Coordinator 4 12
2003 45 Houston Texans Defensive Coordinator 5 11
2004 46 Houston Texans Defensive Coordinator 7 9
2005 47 Houston Texans Defensive Coordinator 2 14
2006 48 Baltimore Ravens Linebackers 13 3
2007 49 Baltimore Ravens Linebackers 5 11
2008 50 Baltimore Ravens Linebackers 11 5
2009 51 Baltimore Ravens Linebackers 9 7
2011 53 San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator 13 3
2012 54 San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator 11 4 1
2013 55 San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator 12 4
2014 56 San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator 8 8
2015 57 Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator 6 10
2016 58 Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator 3 13
2017 59 Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator 5 11
2018 60 Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator 12 4

It would appear to me that we can expect a return to dominant defense if history is to be our guide. I would also not be surprised (assuming Fangio has significant input into the draft) to see the Broncos using a high draft pick on a speedy ILB/MLB like Roquan Smith.