Matt Eberflus

Why Matt Eberflus is a great head coach in the eyes of Hall of Fame defensive end

Matt Eberflus isn't popular on social media, but this all-time great approves

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Bears head coach Matt Eberflus got a huge vote of approval from Hall of Fame defensive end Dwight Freeney. The former Colts star is familiar with Eberflus from Eberflus’ time working as Indianapolis’ defensive coordinator, and on a recent episode of the Under Center Podcast, Freeney explained why he’s a fan of Eberflus’ work.

“He did a great job in Indianapolis, for sure,” Freeney said. “Hence why he became a head coach, because he did such a great job of creating so much pressure, stopping the run, he’s a total defensive coordinator in my mind.”

In particular Freeney appreciates Eberflus’ ability to adapt his scheme or playcalling to help the team win. Eberflus doesn’t stick to one idea or one plan. He’s shown the ability to be flexible to meet whatever challenge the defense faces.

“He throws so many things at you, but he’s solid in every area,” Freeney said. “From a coverage standpoint, there are some coordinators who just blitz, blitz and blitz, and that’s all they do. You start picking up the blitz and they can’t do anything else. I don’t think that’s what he does. His strength is everywhere.”

That adaptability shined over the course of the 2023 season when Eberflus took over as defensive coordinator. The defensive line wasn’t generating enough pressure on its own, so Eberflus dialed up more blitzes with players like T.J. Edwards, Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker. He mixed up looks and it worked. When the team struggled to get off the field on third downs, he decided to lean into the unit’s strength in the secondary by using dime packages. Again, it helped the unit play better. When the team finally added a big time edge rusher with Montez Sweat, things came together, Eberflus was able to revert back to his typical principles and the defense thrived.

Overall the improvements were drastic.

Here are the defense’s numbers and league rankings in some key categories in 2022:

Points/game: 27.2, 32nd
Sacks: 20, 32nd
Third down conversion rate: 49%, 32nd
Rushing yards: 2,674, 31st
Interceptions: 14, 14th

And here are the numbers and rankings for the same categories in 2023:

Points/game: 22.3, 20th
Sacks: 30, 31st
Third down rate: 44.1%, 29th
Rushing yards: 1,468, 1st
Interceptions: 22, T-1st

Obviously the Bears still have work to do before they can consider themselves an elite unit. They need to do a better job on third downs. Even though they got 10 more sacks in 2023, they’ll need to add another 10 in 2024 just to enter the NFL’s pass rushing middle class. But the five-point improvement in scoring defense is a big step in the right direction. The zero-to-hero jump in run defense, and the similar rise to the top for interceptions deserve praise. If the Bears continue to improve with a full year of Sweat and expected additions on the defense line, the other metrics could rise.

“That’s why he’s so good and I think that’s probably why the Bears, the GMs and the owners decided to keep him,” Freeney said. “It’s because he’s a guy who doesn’t have any weaknesses when it comes to calling a defense and getting his defense ready.”

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