When the Bears visited the Buccaneers two years ago, the debacle marked the beginning of former coach Matt Nagy’s exit. They were down three touchdowns before the end of the first quarter and suffered the biggest blowout of his tenure.
Nagy’s failure to adjust was central among the threads that unraveled him. He couldn’t pivot from the utopian version of his offense to something that would fit the reality of his roster.
Matt Eberflus is at a similar juncture as a defensive-minded coach and urgently needs to solve his problematic pass rush for the Bears’ return to Tampa on Sunday. He spent 30 years as a defensive assistant crafting his principles, and he is decidedly not a blitzer.
“Week-to-week, we do what we think is the best to affect the quarterback, and [blitzing more] certainly could be the case this week,” Eberflus said. “I don’t think we [pressured the quarterback] well enough last week. Going forward, we need to get that done.”
Without different results, that’s just another rambling, empty promise like the ones Nagy typically gave about the offense. Eberflus doesn’t have enough of a track record as a head coach yet to know if he means business. This game will be revealing.
It’s a tough break for Eberflus that one of his most talented blitzers, nickel cornerback Kyler Gordon, just went on injured reserve with a hand injury.
His aversion to blitzing made sense with a stacked front seven like some of the ones he coached with the Colts, but that’s not what he’s working with now. Defensive line is still on the Bears’ to-do list in this rebuild, and Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles said they’d figure out some workarounds in the meantime.
They haven’t yet.
The Bears had the fewest sacks in the NFL last season, when rookie safety Jaquan Brisker led them with four and none of their defensive linemen managed more than three. They got one sack in the opener from Yannick Ngakoue, a late-summer addition at $10.5 million, but little else as Packers quarterback Jordan Love calmly threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bears blitzed Love just five times on his 30 dropbacks and pressured him five times, including Ngakoue’s sack. That undercut one of the NFL’s most talented secondaries.
Eberflus must adjust. While it’d be wonderful to get pressure with four defensive linemen and drop seven into coverage, that simply isn’t working for the Bears.
Eberflus gets a chance to reset the defensive strategy Sunday, and while it’s unfortunate the Bears will be without coordinator Alan Williams because of a personal situation, it’s an opportunity for the head coach to zero in on one of his team’s biggest flaws as its defensive play caller.
Other than quarterback Justin Fields turning it around, finding an innovative solution to the pass rush is the Bears’ top priority. It’s especially important against Bucs turnover-prone quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Since hitting the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Mayfield has thrown the most interceptions (64) of any quarterback with at least 1,000 passes. He’s a risk taker by nature, and the Bears need to exploit that.
And getting turnovers was one of the few tangible results he produced with the Bears’ stripped-down roster last season, when they allowed more points than anyone in the league. Despite offloading top pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, the Bears ranked a respectable 14th in takeaways with 23.
When Eberflus took the job, he planned on being a CEO-style head coach who delegated autonomy to his coordinators rather than focusing on his specialty, but he has a career’s worth of experience on defense and his success got him to the top of his profession.
The Bears hired him over some highly respected defensive minds, and while it’s far from his only responsibility, their pass rush could use a little micromanaging right now.