his goal? To find new ways to make life hell for opposing quarterbacks: an adjustment here, a new coverage package there, another front, another pressing, another weapon to keep his defense a problem, year after year after year.
Fangio’s famous system is the product of his experience across nearly four decades of NFL coaching. It’s built on disguise, with a signature high security look that can transform into almost any cover-up. The pre-alignment movement follows the post-snap movement, and if executed correctly, the interface should hide clues about the final image.
“I [try] To make it more difficult for them to figure out what [coverage] We’re in, both before and after the snap, Fangio said. “The psychics don’t like to go against it.”
“It’s really muddy, so when you go back you don’t quite know what you’re going to get,” Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins told reporters earlier this year.
Like the Russian nesting doll, there are plays within plays, and the outer shell is just a cover for the inner layers. Quarterbacks can be left guessing on every dip, and over the years, they’ve grown more so than ever across the NFL.
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At least seven teams use some form of the Fangio system, thanks in part to his growing tree of assistants who have carried him to various stations. Brandon Staley, formerly the linebackers coach for Fangio, runs a version of defense as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. Ed Donatell, Fangio’s former assistant, brought him with him when he was hired as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator this year. Sean Desai, the former safety coach for the Chicago Bears under Fangio, introduced him to the Seattle Seahawks. Used by the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, former Broncos assistant Chris Beake is working on a Fangio-inspired defense with the Los Angeles Rams. Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Eveiro runs the system perhaps better than any other coach, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has relied heavily on Fangio’s principles.
Every team has put their own spin on it, but the Fangio Foundation is all over the place. So even as Fangio waits for his next opportunity, his work to continually modernize the defense remains critical.
make things “blur”
What Fangio’s defense is best known for now—with two high safety scores, pre-and post-snap movement, and lightboxes—formed during his tenure as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14.
By the time Fangio made the Bears’ defensive coordinator in 2015, his coverage library was dense — and only starting to grow. In Chicago, he incorporated post-snap feedback after catching the ball, then improved the system even further in Denver.
The premise is simple — Broncos defensive coach Christian Parker called it an “illusion of complexity” — but it rarely turns out like that.
For opposing offenses, the safety (and linebacker) is often the narrative; The quarterback read them first to determine how the defenses would look after the snap. But Staley said Fangio’s defense makes things “a blur”.
“We can play all we want—two highs, one high, no highs—of the same look. Nor do we compromise it with our fronts.” “There are a lot of times where the front determines what kind of coverage it’s going to be. It may not dictate the entire coverage, but it says a lot. We try to be a little more level-headed on the front, and do multiple coverage from the fronts.”
The system is designed to remove big plays that can turn the game upside down due to overhead assists. Although it can make the defense vulnerable to a run because the safe starts deeper, it also allows for adjustments.
There are built-in options – “if this, then those” scenarios – that give security some freedom on the back end to play with two backfield players. Options add layers, requiring a security to fully understand the concepts – and communicate them to the rest of the defense.
As a result, the safeties that succeeded under Fangio made a name for themselves across the NFL. In San Francisco, there was Dashon Goldson and Donte Witner. In Chicago, Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos. In Denver, Justin Simmons has been a cornerstone of Fangio’s system, and in 2021 he signed a contract with the highest average annual value for a safety ($15.25 million).
“With Vic, we seemed to graduate every year,” Simmons said. “There was the underlying foundation, but there were always wrinkles and levels we could reach.”
“If you’re running fourth cover, there are, like, 10 different ways we can run that, depending on what the offense gives us, where the players are positioned, depending on the personnel we have on the field, depending on which linebacker we have on the field. field”. “I think that’s what makes it so cool, but also so hard at the same time.”
Options add complexity to defense, but also make it inherently flexible.
Fangio ran through 15 Denver linebackers last season due to injuries, but the Broncos still ranked eighth in total yards and passing yards allowed and had the third-best red zone and scoring defense in the league.
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“The way our defense is set up schematically, helps … a new player comes in and learns quickly,” said Fangio. “Now, he might not master and get over the nuances right away, but at least he can get there and line up and know what to do and play well enough from a mental standpoint.”
The X and O anatomy of Fangio’s defense often hides his heart.
It is a discipline that requires dedicated teachers who must be willing to accept change in philosophy.
A former University of Dayton and Mercyhurst College quarterback, Staley began his coaching career as a defensive assistant in college. He was a coordinator at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas when he began following Fangio, who turned the Stanford defense into a first-class unit in 2010 and then went on to revive the 49ers defense.
“The more I studied you, the more I tried to incorporate the things I saw from the San Francisco units,” Staley said. “I think it starts with the basics and… kind of the core of football before you get into the scheme.… Structurally, we have a lot more ways of playing you than most people.”
He added that “most teams may contain five chapters in their book.” “…we write ten chapters on it.”
The complexity is exacerbated by the need for players and coaches to understand Why These principles are triggered and why they are triggered in a particular style.
During Staley’s first year in Chicago, in 2017, Fangio coached the outside linebackers himself early in the season before handing over the keys to Staley.
“I wanted him to see how I did it and to get on with it,” Fangio said. “And so I wanted a guy who was willing to learn and be able to do what I love to do with these guys.”
The so-called extra chapters in the Fangio system changed Simmons’ perspective on the game. His lens is wider now, partly because of the multiple positions he’s played under Fangio, but mostly because of the coach’s philosophy of mixing up midfielders.
“I think it’s fun to sit there and play mind games with the guy who gets the most money on the field,” Simmons said.
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Jim Hostler, now the Washington Chiefs’ chief offensive assistant, knew years ago that Fangio’s vision of the game was a rarity.
It was 2008, and Fangio was a defensive assistant to Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, pre-planning scouting and defensive games. Hostler has coached the Ravens’ receivers and Fangio remembers in detail the attack plan from both sides.
“Vic understands what a crime would do from their point of view,” Hostler said. “Most defensive players understand what an offense is going to do against them with one perspective of, ‘Well, that’s an overall perspective of how I attack my defense. “
“He knows enough about offenses and how they attack the defense that he can connect with the offending guys. Same with the defense. There aren’t a lot of guys out there that can do that, and that’s an art.”
But as more teams use the Fangio system, or parts of it, the burden of development it bears becomes greater.
Fangio’s first foray into coaching ended after three seasons. The Broncos failed to make the playoffs during his tenure and went 19-30 combined. Nevertheless, Fangio’s system is still widely welcomed. The Broncos have finished among the league’s top ten in scoring defense in two of their seasons, and so far, amid turmoil on the offensive side of the ball, their defense is third in total yards, passing yards and scores.
Fangio said he has options to train this season, but he is defending his fitness. So, in the meantime, he travels to visit his kids, watches his beloved Phillies go to the World Series and continues his search for the game he never left.
Among his conclusions: poor play quality. A dearth of elite quarterbacks outside of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen may be a factor. His spreading defense could add to his passing game’s struggles, too; The use of elevated two-strain schemes has increased dramatically over the past four years.
And although he can only watch from a distance this year, Fangio is confident he will be back in the league next fall, pulling the strings on a defense that will likely create more hell for the quarterbacks.
And it will certainly include some new wrinkles.
“I actually came up with a couple of covers to add to the package for consideration,” he said.