Chicago Bears head coach John Fox stands on the field in gar first half against the New York Giants in week 11 of the NFL at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on November 20, 2016. The Giants defeated the Bears 22-16. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In a season when very little has gone right for the 3-9 Chicago Bears, one thing that has gone right is the defense's plays under coach Vic Fangio.
So perhaps it's only appropriate that a rumor cropped up this week that Fangio was at odds with coach John Fox and could be headed elsewhere next year -- such news would only make a bad season complete.
All sides are denying it, but what can't be denied is that the Bears rank among the league's best defenses despite losing the following: linebackers Danny Trevathan and Lamarr Houston for the season with injuries, linebacker Pernell McPhee for half a season with a knee injury, linebacker Jerrell Freeman to a four-week suspension, nose tackle Eddie Goldman for half the season to injury and cornerback Kyle Fuller for the first 12 weeks because of a knee injury.
"I want our whole staff back," Fox said. "Now, whether that proves to be a reality or not, things happen. Guys get jobs, get head jobs, get chances to advance their careers.
"Like any of the projections stuff, I just stay away from it."
Defensively, Fangio's defense ranks seventh overall, seventh in yards per play, fifth in sacks per pass play, sixth in rushing yards per attempt and fifth in sacks per pass attempt. The Bears finished 14th last year in the first year of a rebuild after two straight 30th-place finishes during the Marc Trestman era.
Fangio attributed the report of a quarrel with Fox to bad reporting.
"It gives you guys a bad name," he told reporters. "He's one of your colleagues, and irresponsible reporting doesn't shine well for all of you and that's too bad because all of you guys, I enjoy talking to you guys."
Fangio hadn't read the report before he spoke with reporters.
"I wasn't aware of it and he (Fox) told me about it because he was all nervous about it," Fangio said. "So I said 'Don't worry about it.'"
Fangio said Fox was nervous about it, "because it wasn't true and thought I might take it the wrong way."
Fangio runs a 3-4 defense and Fox a 4-3, so it would seem natural there might be occasional differences.
"Not really," Fangio said. "We pretty much do what I see fit to do 98 percent of the time."
Asked if he expects to be back, Fangio replied, "I do."
Players have nothing but support for Fangio's scheme and ability to apply it.
"There are calls that come into the game where you say to yourself, `Why are we playing this?' But he knows," defensive end Akiem Hicks said. "He has all of the intel, he has all of the information and he calls things you wouldn't think would work in a situation, but he already knows what they're coming out with. I give him a lot of credit."
About the only thing the Bears' defense hasn't done is create turnovers. The Bears haven't forced one in the last three games and have only five interceptions on the season. Last week Fangio acknowledged this problem.
One of the games in which the Bears did win the turnover battle was the Week 4 17-14 win over Detroit at Soldier Field. They played it with Brian Hoyer at quarterback and led 17-7 until a punt return TD in the last minute made the score look closer than it was.
Facing Detroit in the rematch this week, the challenge for Fangio's defense is much different.
The Lions (8-4) lead the NFC North and are playing with confidence. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has looked nothing in recent weeks like the player who threw two interceptions at Soldier Field in the earlier loss.
"I think we played pretty good in the red area -- we had a goal line stop or an inside-the-5 stop," Fox said about the last game with Detroit. "So I think those were critical things. and we were pretty good on third down.
"(Detroit) is a really good two-minute team. They've won a lot of close games in a two-minute type of drill."
It's that area Fox views as the greatest difference between the two teams. After all, after the Bears beat the Lions earlier, they had the same 1-3 record.
Of Detroit's eight wins, seven came by a touchdown or less, including one in overtime. They won five by four points or less.
"Really, they've won close games," Fox said. "Whenever you look at a record in the league, that's pretty much standard year to year: The difference in records is the team with the better record has won the close games.
--Sunday will be the first NFL road start for Matt Barkley as Jay Cutler's replacement at quarterback. He is hoping it goes as smoothly as the whole process of preparing to start did in two home games.
"It kind of was like riding a bike, just to be honest," Barkley said. "Once you have a full week of reps under your belt and you get into that flow. It's picked up where it left off, I felt like, from college."
Dealing with the Ford Field crowd backing a surging team is going to create communication problems.
"Obviously the noise, when it gets loud, which it does, will affect our cadence and we'll be in silent and doing some different things," Barkley said. "But I've been in loud situations before in road situations before."
SERIES HISTORY: 174th regular-season meeting. The Bears lead the series 97-71-5. The Bears won earlier this season at Soldier Field 17-14. There hasn't been a season split in the series since 2011. The Lions have won three straight at Ford Field and have scored 34 or more points in every game.