Vic Fangio’s defensive wizardry might be story of Bears’ season

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Bears LB Shea McClellin takes down Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. (AP)

Why did the Bears’ defense feel so confident that it could compete with and defeat Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Brett Favre Night?

“First of all, the game plan that [defensive coordinator] Vic [Fangio] put together,” safety Chris Prosinski said. “From my time in the league — no disrespect to other coordinators — the guy is a genius defensively. He’ll put players in position, and the way he knows the game and knows how to attack offenses is incredible.”

The results of have been incredible, too.

With Fangio’s previous team, the 49ers, coming to town next Sunday, the defense’s sudden rise continues to be the story of the season. Quarterback Jay Cutler has efficiently run coordinator Adam Gase’s offense, but it’s the defense that has triggered the Bears’ resurgence.

If the Bears can force Rodgers into his worst passer rating ever at Lambeau Field, a hellish afternoon could be in store for 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert at Soldier Field.

“For us to outplay [Rodgers],” cornerback Tracy Porter said, “it just says a lot about our defense and how we play.”

Even Cutler marvels at what’s happening on the defensive side.

“It’s amazing,” Cutler said. “You look across that side, and there’s not a lot of guys from last year. And for them to gel that quickly [and] learn a new system, it speaks to a lot of our coaches and how good of a job they’re doing. It speaks a lot about the players and what kind of character [they have].”

Fangio’s renowned creativity is a big factor, and players often praise him as a great teacher.

But his ability to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of his players and prepare them accordingly also has been essential to their improvement.

The defense’s turnaround is astounding considering that eight of the starters against the Packers are in their first season with the Bears and that the unit set team records for ineptitude the last two seasons.

There are many individual success stories, and Fangio deserves some credit for all of them. He pegged linebacker Shea McClellin as the defense’s signal-caller. He turned to Porter over Alan Ball, who makes significantly more money. He replaced veteran Sherrick McManis with undrafted rookie Bryce Callahan at nickel back. Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are turning into difference-makers at outside linebacker

Prosinski was the latest defensive hero. He forced the first fumble of his five-year career and played well in his second start in place of injured veteran Antrel Rolle against the Packers.

“[Fangio] knows the game,” outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said. “He can look at a formation and know exactly what a play a team is running. He teaches the game like that. That’s what makes him a great teacher.

“Also, he doesn’t put us in a situation where we’ll beat our ourselves. A team will have to do everything perfect to beat us.”

The defense has struggled stopping the run the last two weeks. But since the bye week, the Bears have allowed 14.4 points over five games. In those games, the Bears have allowed just two touchdowns in the second half.

“We have a lot of confidence,” Prosinski said.

Critics contend that the defense remains low on talent, but Fangio has molded it into a disciplined and capable group that has kept the Bears in virtually every game. And players will tell you that this is just the beginning.

“We have a lot more confidence than we did last year,” McClellin said. “We just have to keep fine-tuning some things, and eventually, we’ll be where we want to be.”

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

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