Matt Eberflus’ adaptability belies the first-year coach’s record

No one would dare defend Eberflus’ 3-7 record, but his ability to adjust is one of the most encouraging signs about his first season as a head coach at any level.

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Matt Eberflus watches Sunday’s game against the Lions.

Matt Eberflus watches Sunday’s game against the Lions.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Matt Eberflus can adapt.

That was apparent when the Bears coach and his staff held a conclave during the “mini-bye” between the Commanders and Patriots games to fix what was wrong with the team. Led by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, the Bears fine-tuned their offense further around quarterback Justin Fields. Before those weekend meetings, they averaged 15.5 points in their first six games. In the four games since, they’ve averaged 31 — exactly double.

Their flexibility is showing after halftime, too. The Bears average 7.64 yards per play in the third quarter, the most of any NFL team and almost a half-yard better than the second-ranked Chiefs. No team has a better passer rating than the Bears’ 134.2 in the third quarter, and only three teams average more yards per rush than the Bears’ 6.1.

That runs counter to former coach Matt Nagy’s stubborn offensive scheme in the three years following a 12-4 season. The Bears’ 4.77 yards per play in the third quarter ranked last in 2020, and their 5.3 was 12th-worst in 2021.

Even Eberflus’ undermanned defense is changing. The Bears, whose defensive line has struggled all season, blitzed six times in last Sunday’s loss to the Lions. The first two weeks of the season, they blitzed once total.

No one would dare defend Eberflus’ 3-7 record, but his adaptability is one of the most encouraging signs in his first season as a head coach at any level.

He seems to have found his quarterback in Fields. He has allowed his staff to be creative in looking for answers everywhere else.

That’s a winning formula, even if the Bears aren’t winning.

“We really take pride in all our adjustments,” safety Eddie Jackson said.

It happens quickly at halftime.

“When you’re pretty specific with your plan, it doesn’t make you feel like you have to go off the rail or come up with something crazy,” Getsy said. “Our staff does a great job of just, like, being supportive with each other and getting the guys prepared. By the time we hit Saturday, the guys feel like they’re in a really good place.”

Personnel-wise, Eberflus was dealt the worst hand in the NFL. The Bears are spending almost as much on players who aren’t on the roster as they are on those who are.

According to Spotrac.com, they owe $103.5 million to players on their active roster but have $90.3 million in dead money. And the list of those departed players is more impressive than anyone taking the field for them now. The Bears are taking a $24 million dead-cap hit just for defensive end Khalil Mack, whom they traded to the Chargers in March. They swallowed the contracts of defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith after trades last month, costing the team another $25.5 million in dead-cap space. Others on their dead-cap list include running back Tarik Cohen and offensive lineman Charles Leno, who last played for them in 2020.

No one in the NFL pays more in dead-cap charges than the Bears. The Falcons — their opponent Sunday — rank second with $79.5 million, with more than half of that going to quarterback Matt Ryan, who’s now with the Colts.

Next year, the Bears won’t have such a burden. But they will have Eberflus, who has shown an adaptability that could pair well with an improved roster.

“I feel like Coach ’Flus is going to have a long, successful career,” Jackson said. “When you’ve been around coaches — and Nagy was a good coach as well — it’s just, ’Flus, his mindset and the things he’s focused on and the way he’s going about it, you can tell he really has a plan.”

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