Matt Eberflus plans to call the Bears defense for the rest of the season. The Bears head coach has been moonlighting as the team’s defensive coordinator since Alan Williams stepped away from the team and eventually resigned. Unless the team’s plans change, he’ll continue on in that capacity.
“We’re looking at it,” Eberflus said. “We’ve discussed it. Where we sit right now, this is the best thing for us. The reason is because I’m the defensive coordinator where I came from and it’s a natural fit for us to do that right now.”
This clears up any uncertainty about whether the team may promote one of the position coaches to defensive coordinator. Previously, GM Ryan Poles had mentioned figuring out job titles somewhere down the line, insinuating a move like that was on the table.
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The decision is understandable considering the optics surrounding the Bears and the considerable heat that’s been turned up on everyone over the first three weeks of the season. The team has gotten off to a horrible start and in some corners of the Internet talk has turned to “Who will be the next Bears head coach?” just 20 games into Eberflus’ tenure. The questions about Eberflus’ future are reasonable given his 3-17 record with the team, but it’s a bit surprising that the questions have come up so quickly. We’re not even a quarter of the way into Year Two of the Eberflus era.
If Eberflus is starting to feel that pressure, it makes sense that he’d want more control over the defense since that’s his domain. Surely, Eberlus wants to right the ship. But if the ship is doomed to go down it would also make sense if he preferred to be at the wheel if and when it did.
From a big picture perspective, not much will change on defense for the Bears. Alan Williams ran the scheme that Eberflus brought to Chicago. Top level concepts and specific details like verbiage will be the same, so players won’t have to learn anything new. However, we can expect things to look a little bit different on Sundays. Specifically, we can expect the Bears to dial up more pressure to try to affect opposing quarterbacks. It’s hard to find concrete blitz rate information on a game-to-game basis to see how big of an uptick in blitzes there’s been with Eberflus running the show (or if there’s been a real uptick at all), but players feel Eberflus’ impact in that department.
“He’s been a lot (more) aggressive,” said Jaquan Brisker.
Brisker should know. He was the defense’s most productive pass rusher last season with four sacks, and obviously all of those came on blitzes. Brisker has noticed more changes on defense with Eberflus at the helm beyond the aggressive playcalling.
“It’s been I would say a lot different because it’s his defense, so he’s comfortable calling it. He knows the ins and outs.”
Eberflus talks a lot about putting players in the best position possible to succeed, and players have felt that, too. Brisker didn’t get into specifics, but said he noticed it right away against the Bucs, which was Eberflus’ first game calling the defense.
“I was really confident with what he was calling, things like that.”
Yannick Ngakoue hasn’t been with the team long and only played one game under Williams, but he also felt that Eberflus did well to put guys into positions to succeed.
“Absolutely,” Ngakoue said. “If everybody buys into the defense, everybody does their job at a high level, we’ll have takeaways, we’ll have sacks, we’ll have interceptions, things like that.”
The Bears have seen small improvements in their pressure rates since Eberflus took over. In Week 1 they only pressured Jordan Love six times, per PFF. But in Week 2 that number jumped to 22 pressures and in Week 3 they had 15 pressures against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
Those little wins have not been enough though. The pressures aren’t leading to sacks and they’re not helping the team get off the field on third down. Between the Bucs and Chiefs games, the Bears gave up a 62% third down conversion rate. That’s actually worse than the 56.3% conversion rate the Bears defense surrendered in Week 1. Those aren’t winning numbers.
It will be interesting to see if Eberflus gets into more of a groove calling the defense as the season goes on, or if he schemes up any creative ways to help his unit get off the field. If not, the Bears’ plan may need to change.