One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

| October 30th, 2023

As the final whistle blew on Sunday Night, the Chicago Bears fell to a 2-6 record in 2023. If the season wasn’t already lost, it’s assuredly lost now.

Matt Eberflus can take pride in knowing that this game was (probably) his fastest defeat yet — it only took 20 football minutes for ESPN’s Win Probability metric to assign Los Angeles a 95+% chance to win the game, and unfortunately the actual play on the field only served to reinforce the sense of dread that has become normalized within the Eberflus era.

The Chargers could move the ball at will. Tyson Bagent threw an early interception. Once the Bears’ offense finally found the endzone, Los Angeles scored another touchdown to immediately answer what little offense the Bears could muster. With a halftime score of 7-24, you knew that the game was already over… but as the team stumbled and fell for the 20th time in Matt Eberflus’ first 25 games, one silver lining appeared:

There are no more excuses for Matt Eberflus or his staff to hide behind, and the Bears’ front office knows it. The expression on Kevin Warren’s face last night says it all.

While nothing’s more normal than a Bears-focused blogger writing a post about the shortcomings of Chicago’s coaches, last night’s game stood out to me for several reasons:

  1. Matt Eberflus had the opportunity to show that without Justin Fields in the lineup, his vision of a ball-control offense could contend with the NFL’s best teams. Instead, Chicago averaged just 2.9 Yards per Carry and the offense failed to score until the game was nearly out of reach.
  2. Matt Eberflus had the opportunity to show that his defense can slow down & stop one of the NFL’s best young QB talents. Instead, his defense allowed 15 straight completions to open the game, 6.6 yards/play on the Chargers’ first 5 drives, and as easy a 298-yard day through the air as I’ve seen from Chicago’s opponents this season. The defense could barely even compete.
  3. Matt Eberflus had the opportunity to show that his hard coaching style could result in focused, high-yield play in big games. Instead, the Bears took silly penalties early & often (Patrick’s Hands To The Face, Velus’s Fair Catch Interference) and failed to tackle consistently.

The Chicago Bears aren’t a Quarterback away from success. They’re not a Head Coach away from success, either. But it’s been clear since Chicago lost to an awful Green Bay team (don’t get me started on the Denver loss, either ) that Matt Eberflus isn’t the man that will lead the Bears into the future — knowing that fact with the clarity that a loss like last night provides is the most valuable thing an organization in the midst of great opportunity could ask for.

Someone will captain a 2024 Bears ship that stands to add $130+M of new Free Agents and two Top-7 (or higher) draft picks to a roster that’s showing early signs of young players turning corners. Someone will take advantage of the Bears’ lean years and the talent those high draft picks allow you to add. Someone will capitalize on the failure of the Ebeflus regime… but make no mistake — Eberflus has failed, and last night was assuredly the final nail in the coffin.

All that’s left is to finish the season out.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:

  • Every time DJ Moore touches the ball, I smile. Moore is currently on pace for over 1,450 yards, and after watching him bounce off of yet another curl defender for 12 YAC I realized I’m not surprised to see him do the impossible anymore. His contact balance is unheard of as a WR, and it sets up plays that other WRs in the NFL (save maybe Deebo) can mimic — as the Bears assuredly change management, he’ll remain a staple of Chicago’s new attack. They’re lucky to already have him under contract.
  • I’m really scraping for positives here. Tyrique Stevenson made one nice play amidst a game full of targets? Darnell Wright botched that 4th & 1 but seemed to pass-protect well? Scarce little went well for Chicago in this game, which is why I had to reach on my final Good of the week.
  • Tyson Bagent gets a nod. The UDFA QB made his first start on the road and ultimately contributed more good plays than bad plays. He answered questions about arm strength from the first play to the last, showing that while he doesn’t have a cannon strapped to his shoulder he’s not hiding a pop-gun either. With throws like a nice layered ball to DJ Moore, the early deep sideline throw to Mooney, and the zone-beating post he hit later in the game, Tyson showed that with a bit of work on his anticipation he could become a quality spot-starter in this league — in a league where QBs seem to go down with injury every week, a player like him couldn’t be more valuable.

The Bad

  • Tyson Bagent belongs in this section as well. Every NFL rookie will have their ‘Rookie Moments’, and Tyson’s came early & often in this game — he misfired early on what I assume was a miscommunication with DJ Moore, floated an interceptable ball over the middle early in the 3rd, pushed the ball towards Darrynton Evans a tick late in the play, and forced a ball over the middle to a definitely-not-open Darnell Mooney. He paid for some of these plays with picks, but not all of them — all four plays are worth calling out.
    • This should paint a picture of an inconsistent rookie, and what could possibly be more normal than that? NFL QBs get brutally punished for their mistakes, but Bagent made enough throws throughout the evening to keep me interested in his future. He squarely belongs in both sections. Honestly, I expected this game last week.
  • Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick, and the disappearance of Luke Getsy’s run scheme. Cody Whitehair is a leader in Chicago’s locker room, but allowed immediate pressure on Chicago’s first passing play of the game and set the tone for the worse early in Chicago’s OL-DL matchup. Lucas Patrick exacerbated the issue when he immediately took a 10-yard penalty that killed the Bears’ 2nd drive, and once Chicago fell down 14-0 it seemed like Luke Getsy abandoned the run plan that had smoothed out Bagent’s Raiders game in favor of a throw-first approach that directly led to Bagent’s 3rd & 8 interception.
    • The interception is certainly the QB’s fault, mind you, but Patrick & Whitehair had plenty of plays early where a slightly better block would’ve made Bagent’s job much easier. Instead, the UDFA rookie was asked to sink or swim (a longstanding Chicago Tradition at this point).
  • The Defense’s poor tackling may have cost them the game outright. Matt Eberflus’ zone-based rally-tackle defense only works when the first defender to the ball consistently brings down the ball-carrier and suffice to say that’s not what happened on Sunday Night. Elijah Hicks, TJ Edwards, really everyone on defense missed a tackle at some point and that led to everything from Austin Ekeler beating TJ Edwards for the game’s first TD to cheap first downs throughout the game.
    • For a coach that emphasizes details, focus, and ‘doing the little things’, this in particular felt egregious to me.

The Ugly

  • The Bears have played two good teams this year, and both have blown them off the gridiron. It’s one thing to know that your football team isn’t as good as the class teams of the AFC, but to visit a 2-4 Chargers team and lose this emphatically has to be a blow that the entire franchise is feeling. Life in the NFL is all about competition, but nothing about Sunday Night was competitive out of Chicago — Kevin Warren, Ryan Poles, and even George McCaskey have to know that changes need to be made. But what changes? And when? We’ll find out over the next few weeks.

Postgame Podcast:

Nick and I recorded a podcast where we talked through the ups, the downs, the ins, and the outs of Chicago’s latest loss here:

Your Turn: How do you feel about yesterday’s game?

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