Speculation came about on Saturday that the Chicago Bears seemed to be leaning towards keeping head coach Matt Eberflus. The result of their game on Sunday appears likely to boost his chances even further.
The Bears had the Atlanta Falcons in a stranglehold for most of the game at Soldier Field, finishing up with a 37-17 win to improve their record to 7-9. The victory bumped their record at home this year to 5-3, and it positively showcased two of the biggest names whose future beyond 2023 in Chicago have been in doubt: Eberflus and quarterback Justin Fields.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Sunday’s action.
The Bears took advantage of just about every opportunity the defense provided their offense.
Chicago’s defense held the Falcons to a field goal attempt that was missed on the opening drive, and the Bears turned that around with a touchdown drive on offense. They scored 10 points on drives directly following turnovers and another 10 directly after three-and-outs caused by the defense.
That’s not to say the Bears didn’t have a great game offensively, far from it. If anything, it just means they were opportunistic, which is something they haven’t been in years past. The passing attack was quite strong, with the tandem of Justin Fields and DJ Moore combining for 159 yards and a touchdown on 9 completed passes. Moore was easily the top target with Darnell Mooney hurt and Cole Kmet playing just sparingly, and his separation down the field made him a reliable open target for his quarterback. Robert Tonyan stepped up in a bigger role with 3 receptions for 40 yards.
Fields put together a strong game, going 20-for-32 (62.5%) through the air for 268 passing yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He contributed on the ground, too, with 45 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. He was effective down the field, maneuvered the pocket well and found himself breaking free from a couple of would-be sacks and turning them into positive gains. Perhaps the most impressive thing was what he showed in between the ears: he made good reads, sensed pressure in a timely manner and rarely (if ever, pending a film review) made any errant throws.
Chicago’s ground game was also very good, with Khalil Herbert leading the charge on the ground. With D’Onta Foreman hurt, Herbert took on a bigger role and excelled, rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries for a 6.9 yards-per-carry average. This marked his third 100-yard performance of the 2023 season, and the first time he has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games. Roschon Johnson had a touchdown of his own, albeit in a less efficient performance.
Overall, the Bears had a damn good performance on offense, both through the air and on the ground. There were some play-calling hiccups along the way, but all things considered, it was one of their most well-rounded performances all year.
For all the success the Bears had through the air, the Falcons were unable to succeed against Chicago’s pass defense.
Atlanta combined for 13-for-33 through the air, with Taylor Heinicke throwing for 163 yards with one touchdown to his three interceptions and a 34.4% completion percentage. Desmond Ridder stepped into the game in garbage time and threw an interception of his own. Good coverage, solid pressure and errant passing resulted in what was an utter Bears shut down through the air, outside of one 75-yard screen for a touchdown by Tyler Allgeier.
Drake London was the only Falcon to put forth a consistent outing through the air, and even he caught just 4 of his 10 targets. Save for him and Allgeier — whose only reception was the touchdown — no other Falcons had more than 20 yards receiving. The Bears sacked Heinicke twice, with Gervon Dexter dominating to the tune of 1.5 sacks and DeMarcus Walker cleaning up with a half-sack of his own.
Walker had three QB hits in total, with Montez Sweat and T.J. Edwards knocking Heinicke down, as well. It wasn’t so much a dominant tackling performance by one Bears defender as much as it was a well-rounded group outing. Six different Bears players had 4 or more tackles.
Tyrique Stevenson was the star of the show for Chicago’s defense, intercepting two passes and breaking up two more, in addition to having 5 tackles. The rookie cornerback from Miami (FL) had arguably the best game of his career and definitely the best game of his career from a statistics perspective. Both Kyler Gordon and T.J. Edwards added interceptions of their own, as well.
Most of Atlanta’s offensive success came on the ground, as Bijan Robinson averaged 5.0 yards per carry with 75 yards on 15 carries, and Heinicke was able to scramble pretty efficiently against Chicago’s zone defense. However, the Falcons struggled so much with passing the ball on the Bears — which was their offense’s main focus — that it didn’t put forth much of a dent.
The Bears’ ability to generate turnovers has been impressive in recent weeks, and it continued on Sunday with their quick processing and high motor as a collective unit. They have allowed 20 points or fewer in each of the last 5 games, and the momentum they had displayed in previous weeks carried into Week 17.
Three and out
3. This was the game that both Matt Eberflus and Justin Fields needed to have.
I’d argue that Eberflus’ job was the more secure of the two heading into Week 17, but both did what they needed to do in order to state their case for sticking around. The Bears’ defense was very good under Eberflus today, and Fields had one of the best passing performances he’s had in his career, and in the snow, no less. Barring a massive collapse against the Packers next week, momentum seems to be trending towards running it back with the ascending duo in 2024.
2. This statistic from PFF’s Brad Spielberger emphasizes just how much better the Bears’ defense has gotten over the last few weeks:
The Bears defense has 16 interceptions over the last 6 games— Brad Spielberger, Esq. (@PFF_Brad) January 1, 2024
The pressure is better up front, and the defenders seem a lot more urgent when the ball is in the air. That has resulted in a massive turnover turnaround for Chicago.
I’ve been debating when to publish this, but now seems like as good of a time as any.
A new two-round 2024 NFL mock draft will be out soon here at Windy City Gridiron. Get ready.