It’s the key matchup of the game.
Sean McVay vs. Vic Fangio.
The Rams’ coach and the Bears’ defensive coordinator are on opposite sides of the ball but share a couple of things in common: Their talent is among the best in the NFL, and both units are greater than the sum of their parts.
The Rams’ offense is averaging 32.3 points with premier performers in quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley but also a receiving corps and offensive line with a grand total of one Pro Bowl player. The Bears’ defense has scored six touchdowns and leads the NFL in net points allowed (14.8 per game) with a superstar in Khalil Mack, but no other player who has made the Pro Bowl.
That goes to coaching. And in what appears to be an even matchup Sunday night at Soldier Field — the Bears’ defense vs. the Rams’ offense — the chess match between Fangio and McVay will be an interesting game-within-the-game that could make the difference.
McVay and Fangio have well-earned reputations as coaches who put players in the best position to succeed and as outstanding play-callers. McVay, 32, and Fangio, 60, have a healthy mutual respect. Fangio recalled this week touting McVay as a head-coaching candidate to an NFL general manager when McVay was still a 20-something offensive coordinator with the Redskins.
“That’s how highly I thought of him back then even before the success he’s had,” Fangio said. “I like that he’s got a simple yet very effective offense that creates conflict for the defense, that they marry their run game and passing game together in such a really good fashion. I’ve always been impressed with him.”
McVay, likewise, knows what he’s up against.
“He’s great; he’s an excellent play-caller,” McVay said. “Coach Fangio does an excellent job of mixing it up. He’s one of the coordinators I have as much respect for as anybody in the league specific to calling defense. It’s going to be a great challenge not only for our football team, but for our offense going against him.”
Fangio doesn’t fuel storylines by nature, so it’s no surprise he downplayed the chess-match aspect of this one.
“That’s the way it is every week, really,” he said.
And it’s no more critical against the high-powered Rams?
“No,” Fangio said. “Other than he’s really good at calling the game, and he’s got a really good scheme and he’s got really good players running the scheme. So that makes it tougher.”
McVay spoke for both coaches when asked about the matchup with Fangio.
“I’m a lot better play-caller when you’ve got great players that make these plays work; that’s the reality of it,” McVay said. “There have been a whole lot of play-calls that I’ve had this year that were not designed to do [what they did]. And the players end up making it right, and they make you look good as a coach. A lot of times, more than anything else, you’re saying, ‘Man, I’m glad we’ve got good players.’ ”
Either way, it’s a classic matchup on multiple levels. The Bears lead the NFL in takeaways with 30. The Rams have the third-fewest giveaways with 11. A bounce of the ball could make the difference there. But a key play-call could, as well.
“It’s a really tough scheme,” McVay said. “Anytime you go against a defense [where] you have to earn every single yard you get, you see why this is arguably . . . the top defense in the league.”