1st-and-10: Best and worst of the Bears’ first half

The lack of bite in Matt Eberflus’ defense — tied for 28th in points, 19th in yards, last in sacks and third downs and tied for 24th in takeaways — is the biggest disappointment of a 2-7 start. DJ Moore, Darnell Wright head the list of highlights, but Justin Fields is still a question mark.

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Saints receiver Taysom Hill (7) beats Bears rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson for a two-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr on Sunday at Caesars Superdome.

Saints receiver Taysom Hill (7) beats Bears rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson for a two-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr on Sunday at Caesars Superdome.

Gerald Herbert/AP

The Bears are 2-7 just past the midway point of Matt Eberflus’ second season, and as was the case with Matt Nagy in his second season, the head coach’s side of the ball is the biggest disappointment.

That the Bears’ defense had no sacks and no takeaways in a 24-17 loss to the Saints on Sunday tells the tale. Despite adding six starters on defense, including five of the front seven, Eberflus’ defense has no bite. The Bears are 32nd (last) in the NFL in sacks and tied for 24th in takeaways. And five of their nine takeaways are interceptions of backup quarterbacks — Blaine Gabbert (two), Brian Hoyer (two) and Aidan O’Connell — so even 24th in takeaways is a little specious.

Sunday was the fourth time in 26 games under Eberflus that the Bears had no sacks and no takeaways. That only happened twice in the previous five seasons under defensive coordinators Vic Fangio, Chuck Pagano and Sean Desai.

The Bears actually have accomplished what was arguably their first goal on defense this season: improving their run defense. But even that hasn’t helped much, if at all. They have improved from 31st to fourth in rushing yards allowed and from 27th to first in rushing yards per carry. But while their total defense has improved from 29th to 19th, everything else is virtually unchanged. The Bears are tied for 28th in points and 32nd in third-down defense.

Even their success stories on defense have been overshadowed by their desperate need to improve. Last week, they rewarded better-than-expected defensive tackle Andrew Billings with a two-year, $8 million contract extension. Two days later, general manager Ryan Poles spent $97 million to sign newly acquired defensive end Montez Sweat to a four-year contract extension.

That’s the Bears’ first half in a nutshell. Here’s a look at some highlights and lowlights:

Best player: Wide receiver DJ Moore is on pace to finish with 89 receptions for 1,388 yards and nine touchdowns — the most yards per game (81.7) in a full season since Alshon Jeffery (88.8) in 2013. But no other wide receiver is averaging more than Darnell Mooney’s 34.1 yards per game.

Biggest surprise: Undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent skyrocketed from an unknown to a potential replacement for Justin Fields in the eyes of some hopeful Bears fans — and even beat the Raiders in his first NFL start. But, as it turns out, he’s just another young quarterback who needs time and a well-conceived, well-coordinated offense with a high-quality supporting cast to max out — just like Fields.

Best rookie: Right tackle Darnell Wright has at least partially muted the debate over Poles passing on Jalen Carter and looks like a keeper. But the rest of the rookie class has been slow developing. Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, who played 33 snaps in Week 2 against the Buccaneers, played just 14 snaps against the Saints. Zacch Pickens played 11.

Best performance: Moore had eight receptions for 230 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-20 victory over the Commanders — with 138 yards after the catch. But in four games since, he has 20 catches for 204 yards and no touchdowns.

Lowest moment: Defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ bizarre resignation was the clear-cut winner, but the competition was fierce. Running backs coach David Walker was fired last week. Fields complained about how he was being coached. And wide receiver Chase Claypool was suspended and eventually traded.

Biggest question mark: The Bears still don’t know what they have in Fields. He had back-to-back four-touchdown games against the Broncos and Commanders but struggled against the Vikings in Week 6, injured his thumb and has missed the last three games. That the Bears’ best quarterback in the first half is a combination of Fields and Bagent tells you where the Bears stand heading into the final eight games.

2.Poles might have paid the going rate when he signed Sweat to the massive contract that makes him the fifth-highest-paid defensive end in the NFL. But Sweat is going to have be an even better player than he has been to justify the total price: a second-round draft pick and $24.5 million per year.

Sweat is strong against the run and can finish, but he never has been a “multiplier.” You could argue he has been the opposite: a good pass rusher who benefited from playing with three other Pro Bowl-caliber linemen with the Commanders.

3.Poles’ over-the-top endorsement of Eberflus last week had some Bears fans a little nervous. A general manager will look for reasons to keep his own hire (Ryan Pace/Nagy) but look for reasons to fire somebody else’s (Phil Emery/Lovie Smith). GMs generally support their coach until they don’t. The Cubs’ collapse in September wasn’t a fireable offense for Jed Hoyer, and then it was. Things change quickly in sports. As Poles’ hire, Eberflus has a lower bar to clear, but Poles’ enthusiastic vote of confidence still is just that — a vote of confidence.

4.After being penalized eight times for 71 yards against the Saints on Sunday (compared with the Saints’ one penalty for five yards), the Bears have the biggest penalty differential in the NFL, having been slapped 60 times for 510 yards. Their opponents have been penalized 37 times for 301 yards.

“We’ve got to do a better job,” Eberflus said. “There’s too many holdings [17], too many false starts [16].”

5.Bears guard Teven Jenkins was the highest-graded lineman in the NFL in Week 9 (91.1), according to Pro Football Focus. And while PFF’s grades are sometimes dubious, the eye test is all you need to know that Jenkins has been the Bears’ best lineman since his return from a calf injury in Week 5 against the Commanders.

By performance, he should be Poles’ next contract extension. The only question is durability, and — fingers crossed — Jenkins has played a career-high 271 consecutive snaps over four consecutive starts.

6.Linebackers Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds have played eight games each in Eberflus’ defense. The numbers:

Smith: 83 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, three pass breakups, three quarterback hits, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries.

Edmunds: 63 tackles, three tackles for loss, no sacks, one interception, three pass breakups, no quarterback hits, no forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

7. Quick Hits: Former Bears running back Tarik Cohen, who has been on the Panthers’ practice squad since signing with them in September, was put on injured reserve after a “setback” this week. . . . Bagent’s 70 rushing yards against the Saints are more than Fields had in any game this season. Fields’ best this season is 59 yards against the Packers in Week 1. . . . Fields and Bagent have combined for a 101.6 passer rating in the first three quarters (Fields 105.2, Bagent 96.1) and a 44.2 rating in the fourth quarter (Fields 61.2, Bagent 26.7).

8. Jim Harbaugh Watch: The former Bears quarterback guided No. 2 Michigan (9-0) to its ninth consecutive blowout victory, 41-13 over Purdue at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines have won every game this year by 24 or more points and have outscored their opponents 366-60.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week — Edge rusher Khalil Mack had two sacks, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and five tackles in the Chargers’ 27-6 rout of the Jets. Mack, 32, has nine sacks and three forced fumbles this season.

10. Bear-ometer: 5-12 — vs. Panthers (W); at Lions (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Lions (L); at Browns (L); vs. Cardinals (W); vs. Falcons (W); at Packers (L).

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