The Bears made the hire of Matt Eberflus official on Thursday morning, and the reactions and in-depth analysis have been pouring in.
Already, we’ve heard plenty of descriptors about Eberflus. He doesn’t want to disrespect the game. He will bring discipline to the Bears’ defense and bring back the Tampa 2, no less. We’ve even had scheme questions about what it might mean for a Hall of Fame edge rusher like Khalil Mack—who was a two-time All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year in a 4-3 scheme such as Eberflus’s—in a transition.
Great. Cool. This is fun. The Bears have new head coach energy for the fanbase. We’re all going to talk about how awesome he is and how he’s a Football Guy over the next few days and weeks as the honeymoon begins. The times are good, rowdy, and fun.
And I mean every word of that in absolute sincerity, not my usual snarkiness. That’s what a new coach and new regime are supposed to do: Bring positive energy to the fold.
this but about the new GM and coach for Your Team https://t.co/xDK8mu8yvB— horse massacre (@torqpenderloin) January 25, 2022
It’s okay to care about football and be excited for the future in a new regime. I’m not taking anything away from that sentiment. General manager Ryan Poles should be commended for getting the coach he wanted to be paired with and who he wanted help from in building a long-term program the Bears haven’t had in decades.
But, uh, two questions remain, and forgive me if I’m impatient/or anxious about them, they’re kind of necessary:
What’s the plan for Justin Fields?
The Bears’ defense over the last four years was not the problem. I also spent last Sunday watching the league’s premier defense getting clocked by Pat Mahomes, seemingly effortlessly, if that’s how the team will be structured.
So, how are the Bears going to score points? You know, touchdowns?
I am, admittedly, comforted that the Bears will probably always have a top-10 defense under Eberflus. That’s a pleasant prospect, but it’s a luxury, and it’s ancillary in the pro game today. You’re not going to bumble your way to a title through with a tough defensive makeup anymore, and you shouldn’t make an effort to do so. Even if you do, like say the Buccaneers of last year, they also had a quarterback who threw 40 touchdowns.
It’s not the game anymore. A great quarterback in the postseason—who the Bears should be aspiring to play against—can be hemmed in for 55 minutes and make five otherwise quality plays, and the entire effort will have been wasted. No one’s going to recreate the Legion of Boom or the Monsters of the Midway, especially if they don’t have a particular person under center on the other side of the ball. It would be most optimal to have a guy and an offense who can answer that great quarterback, plain and simple.
Otherwise, you’re shortchanging yourself and bringing a knife to a gunfight.
There is no zigging when the rest of the league zags when it comes to this concept: You either score points, keep your quarterback upright, or you’re simply not a factor. It’s skewed this way through the rules, and it’s not going to change.
I like Eberflus as a coach. I genuinely hope he’s the next Sean McDermott or Mike Tomlin. But even with someone like McDermott, it’s fair to wonder how much of the Bills’ success is due to him and not the titan quarterback carrying Buffalo week in and week out. As noted above: We saw how much that No. 1 defense mattered when it counted. Defense, again, is an accessory on a championship team in the 2020s NFL, not the primary catalyst.
I will reserve further judgment (I’m whelmed for the moment) until I see who the offensive coordinator turns out to be. That person better receive full autonomy over the offense. They also better be a brilliant innovator who knows how to develop a young quarterback and can get him to stand on his own two legs. If they’re someone young seeking an eventual head coaching opportunity, I hope they leave Fields in a comfortable place where it doesn’t matter who his coordinator is. That result will have meant the Bears have a genuine star quarterback who only needs someone to bounce ideas off of for the rest of his career.
Which, is the No. 1 organizational goal by far for the Bears over the next three years.
It’s not what the defensive scheme consists of and how players get accustomed to it.
It’s not drafting inside linebackers and corners to fit into that defense.
It’s not constructing a smashmouth brand of football first and foremost—though, that’s welcome on offense if it’s helping Fields!
No, it’s getting Fields ready for the big-time, and supporting him. This franchise goes nowhere if he doesn’t succeed. And if you’re one of those people who’s open to the possibility he fails: Fine, apply the same principle to another random quarterback then.
This can’t change with Eberflus, and he has to nail this assistant hire as a result.
If they aren’t, and if the offensive coordinator hire is a dud that isn’t maximizing the current quarterback’s skill-set: None of what Eberflus accomplishes with his defense will matter. This is the decision of the Eberflus era.
The Bears need an explosive offense, or they’re not going anywhere in January (and February). I’ve seen this depressing movie before: I root for the Bears, after all.
All of this is a guarantee. I can assure you.