Last winter’s Super Bowl looked familiar to Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara. The Patriots were following the Bears’ formula, established two months earlier, to hold the Rams to a mere three points.
On a 29-degree night Dec. 9 at Soldier Field, then-Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio cooked up a 6-1 alignment for a 15-6 win. The front-line defenders either dropped into coverage or rushed the passer in the fire-zone blitz scheme. Coach Sean McVay’s Rams didn’t score a touchdown for the first time in his head-coaching career, and quarterback Jared Goff threw a career-high four interceptions.
The Bears have been watching film of that game all week as they prepare for another Sunday night game against the Rams.
“I don’t run away from it,” McVay said. “I thought I didn’t do nearly good enough of a job. But it was a combination of great coaching, great scheme, great players with the execution. And there was great urgency. And I think that’s why [the Bears] were one of the best — and still are, with what they’re doing this year.”
After the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 in the Super Bowl, Pats coach Bill Belichick credited his former defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, for the inspiration. Patricia’s Lions played the Rams the week before the Bears did — and allowed 30 points in a loss.
But Fangio cracked the code. He broke the Rams’ offense.
In the 12 games before the Rams played the Bears, they averaged 34.9 points and 439.9 yards per game. In the 16 games since, including last year’s playoffs, they have averaged 24.6 points and 371.1 yards.
The Fangio Plan took away outside zone runs, reducing the threat of Goff running play-action. Take away a 19-yard run on the last play of the game, and the Rams ran 12 times for 33 yards. All but one five-yard run came from Todd Gurley. His 28 rushing yards were his lowest total since his rookie year in 2015.
“The defensive mind that he is, [Fangio] made it hard for them that day,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “You can’t really replicate anything [this year]. It’s a different team. . . . It’s going to be on us. It’s not really too much of the play-calling. It’s going to be on us to make it happen.”
Bottling up the run game put pressure on Goff to make plays.
“I’m not saying he’s immobile, but he’s not known as a running quarterback,” Amukamara said. “Just send different pressures to him and make him read and stuff like that. I think that makes it pretty tough for them.”
Current Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano figures to use a similar tack as his predecessor.
“[Fangio] defended them a little bit different than most people would generally defend different personnel groups,” Pagano said. “So mixing that up and continuing to mix that up — the guys going out and executing that plan — was good football.”
If this season has been any indication, Pagano might try to be even more exotic than Fangio was.
“I think that’s still in Chuck’s DNA: to kind of dictate the game and still be aggressive,” Amukamara said. “And play coverage when he’s supposed to.”
The coordinator is different. Linebacker Danny Trevathan and defensive end Akiem Hicks are hurt. But seven of the Bears’ 11 starters Sunday started against the Rams last year.
“For us to come out and stand up like we stood up last year was a sight to see, and we did it at home,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “Now we’ve got to go on the road and do it.
“There’s a lot at stake for us right now. We’ve been through a lot of adversity in the first half of our season, so we’ve just got to continue to build off this and continue to be motivated and rally together and play for one another.”