Bears coach Matt Eberflus’ biggest problem is fundamental

By Chicago 5 Min Read

As part of a vigorous vote of confidence in coach Matt Eberflus, Bears general manager Ryan Poles supported Eberflus’ vetting of his assistant coaches in the wake of running backs coach David Walker’s firing, which followed the resignation of defensive coordinator Alan Williams in September.

‘‘He has high integrity,’’ Poles said of Eberflus. ‘‘The people he brings in here, he’s done the work to make sure that they’re the people they’re supposed to be. We hold that standard. If it doesn’t follow that and people aren’t acting that way, they’re not here.’’

But the transgressions committed by Williams and Walker still reflect poorly on Eberflus because both actions showed a lack of respect for their boss. Just as coaches aim to command respect from their players as a means of getting the most out of them, the same dynamic is in place for the assistants they hire. That respect should compel those assistants to do the right thing because everything they do reflects on the man who hired them. Whether it was a vetting issue or not, Eberflus has to take the ‘‘L’’ for both of them.

Victories and losses on the field ultimately will determine Eberflus’ fate. But at 2-6 this season and 5-20 overall as the Bears’ coach, Eberflus’ leadership should be his strongest suit. Players who support him also have to play for him, overachieve for him. How many players are overachieving on this team? Andrew Billings? OK, that’s one. There needs to be many more.

That’s Eberflus’ biggest issue heading into a critical second half of his second season. With all the injuries and other obstacles Eberflus has had in his way, his core values — the H.I.T.S. principle and his obsession with fundamentals and scheme fit — have to be near-perfect.

And they’re not. Eberflus has been like Brand X instead of a coach who gets his players to run through a brick wall for him. Even last season, when expectations were low in the wake of the trades of Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, the Bears never rallied. They fell from a tie for seventh to 32nd in points allowed and from 12th to 29th in yards allowed. They lost their last three games by 22, 31 and 16 points.

With a fortified roster, the Bears were expected to make a significant improvement this season. Instead, they are 2-6. Any improvement has been fleeting and too easily short-circuited by a key injury or a good opposing quarterback. For the record, Poles doesn’t see it that way.

‘‘This team, you watch them, [and] they fight,’’ Poles said in his defense of Eberflus. ‘‘I know this past weekend [a 30-13 loss to the Chargers] wasn’t great, but you can’t watch that team and be like, ‘Oh, they’re going to fold.’ Most teams fold, and they’re not folding.’’

‘‘This past weekend’’ looked like a red flag. It was a defensive regression that was marked by missed tackles, which Eberflus attributed to fundamentals. Shouldn’t an Eberflus team have the fundamentals down by now?

‘‘You’re making a good point,’’ Eberflus conceded. ‘‘I would say this, though: This game is about those fundamentals, and you have to keep those sharp all the way through. I’ve had a lot of great defenses where they’ll go up and then they’ll go [down].

‘‘You’ve always got to stay on the fundamentals, and you have to keep sharpening those tools and those skills because they do win and lose games. When we do it right, it looks right. And we’ve gotta keep doing it right.’’

Like most coaches, Eberflus prides himself on instilling his principles in his players.

‘‘Coaches are really just teachers; it’s all about teaching football,’’ he said in his introductory news conference last year.

And therein lies Eberflus’ best hope to survive this. To be a better coach, he has to be a better teacher — with lessons that will stick.

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