What we can learn about Bears coach Matt Eberflus on Sunday

Even while acknowledging the Bears’ roster limitations — particularly against the one-loss Eagles — Sunday’s game will be a telling one for Eberflus, who spent the bye week trying to find ways for his team to improve.

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Chicago Bears v New England Patriots

Bears coach Matt Eberflus looks on during the Bears’ Oct. 24 win at the Patriots. They haven’t won a game since.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Before he became the architect of the NFL’s second-best defense in terms of yards allowed, Eagles coordinator Jonathan Gannon was Matt Eberflus’ defensive backs coach from 2018 to 2020 with the Colts.

“He’s one of my greatest mentors,” Gannon told reporters this week. “I tell people all the time, working for ’Flus for three years, he has elite leadership qualities, and I took a lot of those with me. I really did. He’s helped me tremendously as a person and a football coach, being detailed out all the time, how to hold players accountable all the time.

“He’ll be a head coach for a long time. I’m not surprised by the success he’s had.”

Success hasn’t found its way to Halas Hall in a long time, though.

When the Bears adjusted their offensive scheme during their “mini-bye” between Weeks 6 and 7 and beat the Patriots 33-14 on Oct. 24, it was seen as a sign that Eberflus had the creativity to succeed in his first head-coaching job at any level.

They haven’t won a game since. With six straight losses, they need two more to tie the franchise record — and they won’t be favored in any of their final four games.

Even acknowledging the Bears’ roster limitations, particularly against the 12-1 Eagles, Sunday’s game will be a telling one for Eberflus, who spent the bye week trying to find ways for his team to get better.

“I’m looking for improvement, from the individuals, from the units, from the coaches,” Eberflus said. “It’s a big test. We’re playing some of the best teams in football these last four games.”

There aren’t many easy answers in terms of lineup construction. The Bears will tweak their defensive line rotation and likely will play 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood more at right tackle.

After that, it gets harder. They have one of the three worst game-day rosters in the NFL. It started off by design (they’re paying $6 million more in salary-cap space to players no longer on the team than they are to ones who will suit up Sunday) and was exacerbated by injuries. The Bears have 11.6% of their cap space dedicated to players currently on injured reserve, the most of any team in the NFC North.

What’s worse, Sunday will be their most challenging schematic test of the season. The Eagles have the NFL leader in passer rating (quarterback Jalen Hurts), the sixth-leading receiver (A.J. Brown) and the fifth-leading rusher (Miles Sanders). On defense, they have four of the league’s top 25 sack producers. They have the NFL’s best record and the best point differential.

Eberflus has been willing to adjust. Few teams in NFL history have run their quarterback as often as the Bears do. The Bears have begun blitzing more, too, an acknowledgement that their defensive line gets to quarterbacks at a glacial pace. Neither approach was part of the plan in Week 1.

What’s the next pivot? Eberflus and his staff have spent the last two weeks looking for solutions. Even as they acknowledge the rebuild is in Phase 1, they bristle at the idea that they play younger, less-qualified players with an eye on the future. They’re not tanking.

Eberflus, as always, points to execution and growing individual skills as the fastest way up. Before the bye, Bears coaches identified three things they wanted each player to improve. They spent this week focusing on them in individual drills.

“We’re going to have to be on our stuff,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “Because he’s gonna have them on their stuff.”

Sirianni worked with Eberflus when he ran the Colts’ offense, living a few hundred yards from him in suburban Indianapolis. Then-head coach Frank Reich would leave the two to hammer out practice plans.

“I think he’s a phenomenal coach, I really do,” Sirianni said.

At this point, with this roster, there’s no way to know for sure. Sunday should offer clues.

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