Bears H.I.T.S. foundation taking shape despite losses


For months we’ve heard the Bears talk about building a foundation for the franchise moving forward under Ryan Poles’ and Matt Eberflus’ leadership. The pair has told us about the identity of the team that they envision, the character of the players they’ll target, and how that will show up on the field. Of course we’ve heard a lot about H.I.T.S., too. But it’s one thing to talk about all these ideals, and another thing entirely to execute them.

Earlier this year, the Bears weren’t doing the best job executing on those ideals. Tackling was poor and players weren’t swarming to the ball help, showing deficiencies in both “hustle” and “alignment, assignment, key and technique.” The offense for some reason struggled in the red zone and on third down, highlighting a need to play “smart, situational football.” Games would be littered with pre-snap penalties, demonstrating a lack of “mental intensity.”

Slowly but surely, all of those things have improved. That’s part of the reason why a Bears team that was already lacking top-end talent, and then got decimated by injuries, managed to stay close to a Super Bowl contender like the Eagles, and ultimately only lose by five points.

“I think the last two weeks have been better,” Eberflus said. “The guys are playing together. They’re playing together, they’re playing the right way, they’re hustling, the intensity is there. I know we had a bunch of strip attempts the week before and we had some good takeaways yesterday, which is encouraging.”

The takeaways and giveaways are a topline number the Bears look at in their evaluations and it plays a key role in determining how well they think they’re doing. The team also draws a direct line between turnover differential and winning. Alex Leatherwood’s hustle to recover a Justin Fields fumble illustrates how that point is being hammered home, and how that message is being received by the players. Beyond takeaways, the team measures how players are executing specific techniques. They’ve tried to get guys to go low and use “hamstring tackles” to more effectively bring down ball carriers. Again, we’ve seen strides in this department. As the season has gone on, they’ve emphasized other techniques to address problems that popped up throughout the year.

“Our defensive backs, we really worked on it hard last week about our defensive backs playing the ball so they wouldn’t get DPI,” Eberflus said. “For example, I think the week before, I think (Jaylon) Jones had one that he didn’t look back for the ball. So we worked hard on that and I think our guys did a good job of playing the ball and also covering their guys. That was impressive. I want to say we at least had three of those like that. That was good.”

Bottom line, even though the record indicates the Bears have played poorly this year, the tape indicates that they’re growing. When Eberflus says the team is focused on building a foundation for the franchise, you can see the fruits of their labor. It also becomes clear that the players are listening to their coaches and buying into their philosophies.

It’s strange walking through the Bears locker room after games, because it doesn’t feel like a team on a seven-game losing streak. Sure, players are disappointed and frustrated that they keep losing, but they’re not despondent. There’s real confidence and belief that they’re on the right track. When players say “We feel like we’re close to breaking through,” it doesn’t feel like lip service.

Whenever a massive organizational upheaval takes place, like the one the Bears went through in January, there’s always a question of how it will be received by players and how it will ultimately work out. We still don’t know the answer to the second question, but so far it’s clear the Bears are all-in on H.I.T.S. and willing to see how far it can take them.

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