It would be very easy to lambast and bemoan the Chicago Bears decision to maintain consistency at the head coach level. But I contend the Bears are doing exactly what is required, and what is prudent, given their current circumstance.
Let me get the obligatory acknowledgement out of the way – yes Matt Eberflus is now on the hot seat, bestowed from on high a second chance after a dismal two years. For NFL head coaches, the ultimate metric is NFL wins, but I am guessing the Bears organization acknowledged themselves that despite the poor and disappointing record, there is a lot of good, with some great, to build upon. This is effectively year two of their rebuild, and for that I don’t think Eberflus’s seat is as hot as most think. Outside of another 3-14 train wreck, the Bears head coach is likely being given another year and change to make Chicago a playoff contender.
The Flip Alternative
While it may be difficult to appreciate after their last stinging loss to the Green Bay Packers, hiring a new head coach outright would have far greater risk that keeping Eberflus. Just like with draft picks, there are no guarantees that the next guy selected is going to be better, no matter his talent, resume, or even how many college championships he has won. Nothing can ever be certain when your team is one among the 31 elite organizations in the world, all with the same goal. All each team can do is weigh their current pros and cons, and what makes sense for themselves over the next two to three years. It is with this in mind that I think the Bears recognize both their current strengths and weaknesses as they leave 2023 behind and plan for the new year NFL cycle.
The 2023 Bad
If you look at the Bears 2023 season as whole, ignoring all of the early draft and Justin Fields hype, what was really the gaping hole that broke the team’s slim chances of playoff contention? The Offense.
The Offense had some very questionably creative play calling which, if had worked, would have made Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy look like a genius. But the calls did not work, most of the time. The Offense could not hold fourth quarter leads. The Offense could not score touchdowns, noticeably in the latter games.
The Offense showed no signs of life or improvement. Yes, there were brief flashes of good, but the overall stats, I doubt, affirm year-over-year progress. It is for these reasons the firing of most of the offensive staff seemed warranted and necessary.
The other big question is how much of the offense’s problems were due to their quarterback, but more on that later.
The 2023 Good
I feel it is hard for a remote fan like me to appreciate how well the Chicago Bears actually held up through 2023, despite so much ridiculousness that could have avalanched lesser organizations, and head coaches, into complete disarray, culminating loss of the team’s motivation and confidence, not to mention the ensuing circus press. That did not happen, despite alleged FBI raids and abrupt coaching resignations, all while the team showed negative progress on field during the first four to six games.
“Keeping the locker room” is a very real need, and by all appearances, Eberflus performed admirably keeping the team together through the unforeseen messes. Just as a head coach is blamed for losses and other team problems and issues, so should he be praised even for the apparent smaller victories. For the fans, the Chicago Bears are a weekend television affair, but there is a whole team and organization that looks to the head coaching as their leader, mentor, and steward, on a daily basis for most of the year. Having a head coach your players want to genuinely work for cannot be understated.
Aside from the soft skill matters, the defense steadily improved throughout the year, under Eberflus’s direct management. They did not just improve but were on the verge of being top-tier. Assuming a stable defensive coordinator can be found for 2024, it is hard not to imagine the team’s defense being at least as good as 2023’s.
The 2024 Opportunity To Not Be 2023
So why do I think the Bears are in a pretty good situation? They have taken immediate action on their most glaring problem, their offense structure, while implicitly noting all the good and stability gained to date through their rebuild efforts. The Bears have gaps to fill, outside of their offense management, which does need full reassessment. But filling gaps does not require a wrecking ball, only precision actions. Coupled with their draft capital and cap space, the team should have ample opportunity make real gains, finally.
No matter what happens with the draft, their quarterback, and the new coaches, the 2024 Bears will have nowhere near the expectations that were perhaps unfairly laid on them in 2023. With the Draft’s #1 overall pick plus another first round pick, that has to be a major selling point to attract a good offensive coordinator who will have significant say in picking the team’s next quarterback, plus another high prospect for another position gap. The defense, as I mentioned above, is already in a pretty good spot.
Let us not forgot the good fortune of stability at kicker. Cairo Santos is locked in for years. Of course kicker is the most precarious position on an NFL team, whose fortunes can rotate quickly and immediately in the span of less than one game. But if you had to name an ideal kicker situation, the Bears have that right now.
A final note on Justin Fields: I am pretty confident the Bears vague stated intentions to review all options at the QB position is management code that they have every intent on trading Fields. As said before, a key attractive point for the next offense coordinator will be to help select the next Bears quarterback. If they team can, finally, get the quarterback selection right, with the unique position of the #1 pick and several good choices available, then good times may truly be ahead. But for 2024, we will keep expectations low, very low. Beating the Packers and grabbing a Wild Card slot will be sufficient.
Thank you for reading my article. Donec deinde tempum.