The Chicago Bears are riding high after their surprise upset victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. Although most attention has been focused on quarterback Justin Fields’ game-winning drive to set up Cairo Santos’ game-winning field goal with ten seconds left, it seems not enough attention is being paid to the Bears’ defense, which forced four interceptions. Head coach Matt Eberflus deserves a good amount of praise for how the defense has steadily improved from the beginning of the season to now.
Eberflus Has Overseen A Significant Turnaround In His Defense
Chicago’s defense has been one of the best units in the league over the past month, as they have recorded eight takeaways in their last two games and have allowed less than 13 points in two of their three previous games. The stellar defensive play by Chicago’s last few contests is a stark difference in how the team began play at the beginning of the season, allowing 31 points or more in two of their first three games. It is important to remember that Eberflus took over play-calling duties for the defense in Week 2 before defensive coordinator Alam Williams abruptly resigned a week later.
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Eberflus faced harsh criticism for how the defense lacked turnovers and couldn’t stop opposing passing offenses. Through the first four games of the head coach calling plays for the defense, the Bears only recorded four turnovers, with only two coming against starting quarterbacks. Additionally, in those four contests, Chicago’s defense allowed the opposing quarterback to pass for 300 yards in three of those games.
The turning point for the Bears’ defense came when general manager Ryan Poles traded for defensive end Montez Sweat on October 31st as the unit desperately lacked any pass-rushing threat from their defensive line, which was vital for the success of Eberflus’ Cover-2 scheme. Through the first eight games of the season, Chicago had only recorded ten sacks, while they have recorded seven sacks over the past three contests. Of the recent seven sacks, six have come from the defensive line.
With the newly created pressure from the defensive line, Chicago’s defense has been outstanding, forcing interceptions, as they have recorded seven over the past two games but have dropped even more. Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 9, the defense dropped two potential interceptions, while a week later, against Carolina, they dropped three potential picks. Eberflus has gotten his defensive players prepared for these games, as they have consistently jumped on throws by the opposing quarterback, meaning they are studying traits and game film relentlessly.
As impressive as Chicago’s pass defense has been recently, their run defense has been even better. The Bears currently have the best rush defense in the league, as opponents are averaging less than 80 yards on the ground per game. Where opposing offenses had low rushing yards against the Bears earlier this season because it was easier to pass the ball, offenses now are facing a difficult time while trying to run or pass the ball.
Eberflus Deserves Credit For Keeping His Players Vested
Eberflus has done a terrific job as the defensive play-caller for Chicago over the past six weeks, as the team has allowed 20 points or less in more than half of their games since Week 6. More impressively, the Bears’ head coach has yet to lose his locker room despite a poor record and several embarrassing last-minute losses. In both instances where Chicago lost last-minute leads to the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions, the teams responded with a win the following week.
Having the team rebound matters as the Bears only have four wins on the season despite losing several one-score games this year. The resiliency demonstrated by Chicago speaks volumes about Eberflus, as many fans and analysts have been highly critical of his ability to lead players. Too often, NFL players on a struggling team will check out and tune out their head coach towards the end of the season if the team suffers a heartbreaking loss.
Although Eberflus’ was in charge for the worst season in franchise history last year and has the longest losing streak in Bears’ history, his players have significantly improved as 2023 has progressed. If not for the two blown leads against the Lions and Broncos, Chicago would currently be a .500 team and be tied for the seventh spot for the playoffs. With five games remaining, Eberflus and the Bears have a chance to finish the season on a potential winning streak, as they have several favorable matchups remaining.
A winning streak to close the season or at least a strong finish would enable Eberflus to potentially keep his job, as there has been a high quantity of calls for his firing at season’s end. The way the Bears have played over the past few weeks has given the embattled head coach a better chance of being kept by Poles, especially with how the younger players have developed. Eberflus has done a tremendous job in turning what was looking to be one of the worst seasons in franchise history to now, where salvageability is a legitimate possibility.