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Vic Fangio is on sabbatical, as he views it. The longtime coach and defensive guru has been out of the NFL for the reason that Denver Broncos fired him in January, but he hasn’t let go of the sport.
His office has moved from the corner suite of the Broncos’ facility to his kitchen table, but his computer continues to be a digital library of NFL games. Almost day by day, he reviews tape, takes handwritten notes and saves his findings on thumb drives. He’s watched every game from 2021, many from 2022 and has no intention of slowing.
His goal? To seek out latest ways of constructing life hell for opposing quarterbacks: a tweak here, a latest coverage package there, one other front, one other pressure, one other weapon to maintain his defense an issue, 12 months after 12 months after 12 months.
Fangio’s renowned system is a product of his experiences across nearly 4 a long time of NFL coaching. It is based on disguise, with a signature two-high safety look that may transform into almost any coverage. Presnap movement is followed by post-snap movement, and, if executed properly, the front should hide clues concerning the final picture.
“I [try] to make it harder for them to work out what [coverage] we’re in, each before the snap and after the snap,” Fangio said. “The quarterbacks don’t like going against it.”
“It’s really muddy, so once you drop back, you don’t know quite what you’re getting,” Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins told reporters earlier this 12 months.
Like a Russian nesting doll, there are plays inside plays, and the outer shell is merely a canopy for the layers inside. It could actually leave quarterbacks guessing on every dropback, and over time, it’s grown ever more prolific across the NFL.
Not less than seven teams use some type of Fangio’s system, thanks partially to his growing tree of assistants who’ve carried it to numerous stops. Brandon Staley, once a linebackers coach on Fangio’s staff, runs a version of the defense as coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. Ed Donatell, a former Fangio assistant, brought it with him when he was hired because the Vikings’ defensive coordinator this 12 months. Sean Desai, the previous Chicago Bears safeties coach under Fangio, introduced it to the Seattle Seahawks. Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry is using it, and Chris Beake, a former Broncos assistant, works on a Fangio-inspired defense with the Los Angeles Rams. Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero is running the system perhaps higher than every other coach, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has relied heavily on Fangio principles.
Each team has put their very own spin on it, but Fangio’s foundation is carried throughout. So whilst Fangio waits for his next opportunity, his work to repeatedly update the defense stays paramount.
Making things ‘blurry’
The Fangio defense most know now — with the 2 high safeties, the pre- and post-snap movement, the sunshine boxes — formed during his time because the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator from 2011-14.
By the point Fangio the Bears defensive coordinator job in 2015, his library of coverages was thick — and only starting to grow. In Chicago, he incorporated post-snap reactions after the ball was snapped, then enhanced the system further in Denver.
The premise is straightforward — Broncos defensive backs coach Christian Parker called it an “illusion of complexity” — nevertheless it rarely appears so.
For opposing offenses, safeties (and linebackers) are sometimes the tells; quarterbacks read them first to find out how defenses will unfold post-snap. But Fangio’s defense, Staley said, makes things “blurry.”
“We will play every thing we would like — two-high, single-high, no-high — out of the identical look. And we don’t give it away with our fronts, either,” he added. “There’s lots of times where the front dictates what form of coverage it’s going to be. It might not dictate your entire coverage, nevertheless it indicates so much. We attempt to be more balanced within the front, and we run multiple coverages out of the fronts.”
The system is designed to remove the large plays that may turn a game on its head due to the help excessive. Though it could possibly make a defense vulnerable to the run since the safeties start deeper, it also allows for adjustments.
There are built-in options — “if this, then that” scenarios — that give safeties some freedom on the back end to toy with quarterbacks. The choices add layers, requiring safeties to know the concepts fully — and to speak them to the remainder of the defense.
Consequently, safeties who’ve succeeded under Fangio have made names for themselves across the NFL. In San Francisco, there have been Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. In Chicago, Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos. In Denver, Justin Simmons was a centerpiece of Fangio’s system, and in 2021 he signed a contract definitely worth the highest average annual value for a security ($15.25 million).
“With Vic, annually we just appeared to graduate,” Simmons said. “There was the bottom foundation, but there have been all the time wrinkles and levels that we could get to.”
“Should you’re running cover-four, there’s, like, 10 alternative ways we are able to run that, depending on what the offense is giving us, where the players are positioned, depending on what personnel we’ve out on the sphere, depending on what linebacker we’ve out on the sphere,” he added. “I believe that’s what makes it great, but in addition hard at the identical time.”
The choices add complexity to the defense, but they inherently make it flexible, too.
Fangio cycled through 15 linebackers in Denver last season due to injuries, however the Broncos still finished eighth in total yards and passing yards allowed and had the third-best red-zone and scoring defense within the league.
“The way in which our defense is ready up schematically, it does help … a latest player to are available and learn quickly,” Fangio said. “Now, he may not master and conquer the nuances right off the bat, but a minimum of he can get in there and get lined up and know what to do and play adequate from a mental standpoint.”
The dissection of the X’s and O’s of Fangio’s defense can often mask the guts of it.
It’s a system that requires dedicated teachers who must be willing to simply accept a change in philosophy.
Staley, a former quarterback on the University of Dayton and Mercyhurst College, began his coaching profession as a university defensive assistant. He was a coordinator at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas when he began to follow Fangio, who transformed Stanford’s defense right into a top-tier unit in 2010, then went on to revive the 49ers defense.
“The more I studied Vic, the more I attempted to include things that I saw from those San Francisco units,” Staley said. “I believe it starts with fundamentals and … sort of the essence of football before you even get into the scheme. … Structurally, we just have so much more ways to play you than most individuals.”
“Most teams can have five chapters of their book,” he added. “… We write 10 chapters on it.”
The complexity is compounded by a necessity for players and coaches to know why such principles are run and why they’re run in a particular style.
During Staley’s first 12 months in Chicago, in 2017, Fangio coached the surface linebackers himself early within the season before handing the keys to Staley.
“I wanted him to see how I did it and for him to proceed that,” Fangio said. “And so I wanted a young guy that was willing to learn and give you the option to implement what I liked done with those guys.”
The so-called extra chapters in Fangio’s system modified Simmons’s perspective of the sport. His lens is wider now, partly due to the multiple positions he played under Fangio, but mostly due to the coach’s philosophy on confusing quarterbacks.
“I believe it’s fun to take a seat back there and play mind games with the guy that gets paid essentially the most money on the sphere,” Simmons said.
Jim Hostler, now a senior offensive assistant for the Washington Commanders, learned years ago that Fangio’s view of the sport was rare.
It was 2008, and Fangio was a defensive assistant to Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, working on advance scouting and defensive game-planning. Hostler coached the Ravens’ receivers and remembers Fangio detailing the plan of attack from either side.
“Vic understands what an offense goes to do from the standpoint of what they’re,” Hostler said. “Most defensive guys understand what an offense goes to do against them from one perspective of, ‘Okay, that is an overall perspective of how offenses are going to attack my defense.’
“He knows enough about offenses and the way they attack the defense that he can communicate with offensive guys. Same thing with defense. There’s not lots of guys that may do this, and that’s an art.”
But as an increasing number of teams use Fangio’s system, or parts of it, the onus on him to evolve becomes greater.
Fangio’s first foray into head coaching ended after three seasons. The Broncos didn’t make the playoffs during his tenure and went a combined 19-30. Yet Fangio’s system stays widely applauded; the Broncos ranked among the many top 10 within the league in scoring defense in two of his seasons, and even now, amid turmoil on the offensive side of the ball, their defense is third in total yards, passing yards and scoring.
Fangio said he had options to teach this season, but he’s holding out for the fitting fit. So, within the meantime, he’s traveled to go to his children, watched his beloved Phillies go to the World Series and continued his research of the sport he never really left.
Amongst his conclusions: The standard of play is down. The dearth of elite quarterbacks outside of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen could also be an element. The proliferation of his defense is likely to be adding to the struggles of the passing game, too; using schemes with two high safeties has increased significantly over the past 4 years.
And though he can only watch from a distance this 12 months, Fangio is confident he’ll be back within the league next fall, pulling the strings on a defense that may probably create more hell for quarterbacks.
And, surely, it can include just a few latest wrinkles.
“I’ve already provide you with a few coverages so as to add to the package to have a look at,” he said.