Reflecting on Matt Eberflus’ Latest Unbelievable Loss

| November 20th, 2023

To be honest with you, I still can’t believe the Bears managed to lose that game yesterday.

Statistically speaking, it was a historic loss — it’s the first time any team lost in regulation with a +3 turnover margin and 40+ minutes time of possession (Teams were 48-0 prior to Sunday), it’s a loss that saw ESPN qualify Chicago with an even higher Win Probability than their peak in the Denver game (98.4% today versus 98.1% in Week 4), and because it’s a divisional game you can be sure Lions fans will never allow this game to be forgotten.

But beyond that, beyond the nearly historic levels of embarrassment that Matt Eberflus has left the franchise answering questions about in postgame press conferences, today’s loss was a grim reminder of a truth we’ve all known for some time now:

Matt Eberflus’ football identity simply does not win in the modern NFL.

Eberflus coaches like every coach I grew up watching back in the early 2000s — defensively, he wants a team that’s simultaneously passive in their zone coverages but also aggressive in taking the ball away. Offensively, he wants a ball-control ground attack that eats up clock, churns out 1st downs, and protects the football at all costs. Today, he couldn’tve asked for more from his team:

  • Four turnovers on defense (finishing +3 on the day)
  • Clean game from his offense (one turnover, more 1st downs than Detroit)
  • 250+ combined yards from his QB
  • & and outstanding clock-killing drive late that left Detroit with less than 4:15 on the clock to pull off a miracle.

But, despite nearly everything playing out exactly according to Eberflus’ plan, Flus’ conservative nature continued to leave the door open for Detroit to creep back into the game because of the decisions Flus made in the highest leverage situations.

When Chicago scored in the late 3rd quarter to go up 19-14, Chicago very obviously should’ve attempted a 2-point conversion and tried to go up a full 7 points. A 5-point lead is as good as a 6-point lead, but a 7-point lead protects you against a potential opposing score — instead, Chicago kicked the extra point. Surely that won’t come into play later.

Then, as Chicago failed to convert a 3rd & 1 on their ensuing drive, the difference between a 6-point lead and a 7-point lead began to affect Eberflus’ decision-making — despite the Bears’ excellent record since Week 2 in 4th & 1/inches situations, Eberflus needed protection against an opposing touchdown. A 9-point lead is a 2-score game, whereas a failed conversion (no matter how unlikely) would’ve left the Bears vulnerable. Eberflus kicked, thus setting up what ultimately became Flus’ defining moment in this football game.

The Bears offense grinds their way down to the Detroit 23 to set up a 3rd & 7. The score is 23-14 and Chicago has killed almost 7 minutes of clock — a first down almost assuredly wins this game, as a conversion and the ensuing 3 plays would cost Detroit too much time (brings the clock near 2 minutes or begins burning timeouts). But what did Matt Eberflus do?

They ran the ball between the tackles into a 7-man box. They had 6 blockers. The free man picked up RB Roschon Johnson immediately and the play was stopped for a 2-yard gain. They played for the Field Goal, and they got what they wanted.

Holding only a 9-point lead, Matt Eberflus coached his team afraid of a Detroit reversal. Kicking the field goal ensured that Detroit needed 2 touchdowns to win. But had Chicago shown any aggression earlier in going for the 2-point conversion up 5, they could’ve entered that 3rd down with a 10-point lead and might have coached 3rd & 7 unafraid of Detroit scoring a touchdown & field goal in quick succession. They could’ve played to win the game.

But instead, they played not to lose it. They followed a decision-making pattern that’s become antiquated and they got punished for doing so. Once the Lions scored to bring the game within 5, nothing could’ve been more predictable than Chicago’s back-to-back runs up the gut that landed the Bears in an impossible 3rd & 10 with too much time left on the clock. Unsurprisingly, Chicago failed to convert, surrendered the lead, and lost a game that even Eberflus’ harshest critics thought he had in the bag.

This is Matt Eberflus’ legacy — he’s a true throwback to 2006, a conservative defensive mind that emphasizes playing hard within archaic defensive schemes & ground-and-pound offense, but his total lack of aggression speaks to his failure to innovate on both sides of the ball. In a league of innovators, he will always be (at least) one step behind.

He’s not the guy. He simply cannot stay past 2023. Thankfully, with now two games like this on Eberflus’ 3-8 record, George McCaskey would be hard-pressed to keep him.

We’ll save Good, Bad, and Ugly for tomorrow. Today, keep the focus on Flus.

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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