What if I had told you, at the beginning of the year, that two-thirds of the way through this year’s Bears season the team would have already surpassed last year’s win total? What would you think? Further, what if I had told you that the team would have a real opportunity to double their 2022 win total by the end of the year? You’d probably be in.
That’s exactly the situation that has played out for the Bears, yet many fans have already written off head coach Matt Eberflus moving forward. They’re happier daydreaming about Jim Harbaugh ditching the Wolverines to come back to the NFL than watching the rest of the season. Understandable considering the Bears have lost more games in excruciating fashion this year, but maybe a bit premature considering the team could still see a 100% improvement from last year to this year.
This year has always been about evaluation for the Bears. Of course winning games is the ultimate goal, and competing for the postseason is always the standard. But first the Bears need to figure out if they are on the right path. Preseason questions really weren't about what seed the Bears could lock up in the NFC. We were asking if Justin Fields could take the next step in his personal development. Would GM Ryan Poles’ bold moves, like passing on Jalen Carter for Darnell Wright or trading for DJ Moore and Chase Claypool pay off? Would we see signs that Eberflus’ program was contributing to better ball and more wins?
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We have some answers already, but in most cases the jury is still out. With five games to go a lot remains unseen and unexpected trends could still develop. We don’t know if the Bears will head into the offseason with a bit of momentum, or if they’ll flounder near the bottom of the standings. The last month of the season could determine the future for this team. However the team has moved in the right direction in a couple of key areas that indicate Eberflus has done well and should get the opportunity to lead the team for at least another season.
From a big picture standpoint, the Bears have simply won more games over the past couple of months, and they’ve done it at a much higher rate. Since their 0-4 start to the season, the Bears have gone 4-4 to dig themselves out of the NFL basement. Normally playing .500 ball isn’t worth celebrating, but it’s notable given last year’s disastrous campaign and the awful start to this season. Going from worst to first does happen in the NFL. However it’s far more common for a team to gradually improve over two or three seasons before seriously contending. Wins against the Panthers, Raiders, Commanders and Vikings might not seem all too impressive, but before the Bears can be the best they have to be not the worst. They’ve already proven to be better than the true bottom of the league and could very well climb higher out of the basement with games against the lowly Cardinals, middling Browns and Falcons, and the hot-and-cold Packers left.
Part of the reason the Bears have managed to win more games recently is because key players still buy into Eberflus’ vision and methodology. Eberflus has not lost the locker room, even after gut-wrenching losses. In particular, the Bears could have completely collapsed after their losses to the Broncos and the Lions. In each case the Bears let what seemed like a sure win through their fingers in the late stages of the game. Those moments can send teams into tailspins, but the Bears followed up each of those awful losses with wins. That speaks to Eberflus’ ability to keep the team together.
Getting into the nitty gritty, Eberflus has also done well to improve a key facet on his side of the ball. In just one year, he’s helped to transform the run defense from one of the worst units in the league to one of the best. Big personnel additions like Andrew Billings, T.J. Edwards and Montez Sweat have helped. So has the development of young players like Kyler Gordon. But Eberflus deserves credit for putting those players in a position to succeed. When Eberflus took over defensive coordinator duties in Week 2, he called a more aggressive game. Eberflus dialed up more blitzes and exotic personnel packages. It helped. In 2022 the Bears ranked dead last in rushing touchdowns (31) and first downs allowed (151), 31st in rushing yards allowed (2,674) and tied for 26th in yards per carry allowed (5.0). This year they rank tied for first in rushing yards allowed (948) and first downs allowed (58), second in yards per carry allowed (3.4), and tied for third in rushing touchdowns allowed (6). That kind of turnaround deserves praise.
Again, there is still plenty of football left to be played. If the Bears slide back again it’s fair to question whether Eberflus should be the guy to lead the team in 2024. Problem areas like the large number of penalties the team commits week after week deserve scrutiny. But if the Bears win a couple of more games and if the defense continues to play well, then Eberflus should probably stick around for at least another year.