Halas Hall is burning barely two weeks into the Bears’ season.
And the man at the center of their firestorm couldn’t do much to extinguish it Wednesday morning.
Coming off a pair of embarrassing losses, Bears coach Matt Eberflus faced questions about quarterback Justin Fields going public with frustration about being overcoached, the unknown whereabouts and status of defensive coordinator Alan Williams and how he’ll possibly lead this team at a time when the offense and defense require his full attention.
With all of that raging around them, the Bears visit Patrick Mahomes and the defending champion Chiefs on Sunday.
“You focus on here and now,” Eberflus said. “That’s all you can do — be where your feet are, focusing right now.”
That’s practical, but not nearly a sufficient answer to instill confidence. Corporate-sounding clichés aren’t enough to steer the Bears out of this crisis.
Williams resigned by the afternoon, hours after Eberflus refused to say anything about his weeklong absence and wouldn’t even answer whether he and Williams had spoken over the past week. He almost certainly knew where the situation was headed.
It had been relatively quiet at Halas Hall during the first year and a half of general manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus running the team. It’s at another level compared to the Larry Ogunjobi ordeal or Roquan Smith’s trade demand.
It’s a wild day when the starting left tackle going on injured reserve is a footnote. Remember when the big drama was Chase Claypool loafing on a few plays?
This week is the first real test of the culture Poles and Eberflus believe they’ve established.
On the Fields front, his urgency and exasperation were obvious when he said “eff it” to being the quarterback that Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy have been trying to turn him into, but Eberflus indicated he hadn’t seen that bubbling up.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Eberflus said. “I would just say that having him being [flowing], having him be free is what we want.”
So, he must’ve been surprised by Fields’ comments.
“No, I just want him to speak free,” said Eberflus, not directly answering the question. “I want him to be honest. I want him to be forthright with what he’s saying. And then, can we work through this together and get him to play free and have that flow?”
This season depends on it, and this season will count toward the Bears’ evaluation in a way that last season didn’t. Everyone knew what they were getting into last season when Poles offloaded big contracts in the opening stage of the rebuild, but this season came with expectations. Fields and others spoke openly about chasing a playoff spot.
It would’ve been much better to “work through this together” before the season rather than during it. This is quite a time for a reset.
The Bears are one of nine 0-2 teams, and of that group, they have the worst point differential at minus-28. Fields’ 70.7 passer rating so far is worse than his rookie season and ranks 26th in the NFL.
Fields later gathered reporters at his locker — extremely rare for NFL quarterbacks — hours later to push back on the perception that he was blaming his “robotic” play on his coaches.
“I need to play better,” he said on his second try. “That’s it, point blank. That’s what I should’ve said in the first place.”
Getsy gets a turn to address this Thursday and he’ll likely downplay this as a non-event like he usually does, but Eberflus must get more involved immediately. It’s the Bears’ single most important on-field issue.
It was essential to his approach to the job that he’d be a CEO-style coach who could manage every facet of the team rather than become overly engrossed in his specialty, which for Eberflus is defense. This is exactly the scenario in which that philosophy would be advantageous, allowing him to address a major problem with the most important player on the team.
Except Eberflus currently is filling in as defensive coordinator and diverting at least part of his time to simply trying to calm everything down. He’s being pulled by multiple emergencies at once and compartmentalizing whatever is going on with Williams, his friend.
Strictly from a football standpoint, he’s down to just a few days to get his fledgling quarterback firing and figure out how to stop — or at least slow — one of the all-time greats in Mahomes.
That’s what this job entails. Being able to manage all this at once is what separates good coordinators from good head coaches.
It’s a lot, and as the Bears have woefully seen over the years, not everyone is up to it. They’re about to find out if Eberflus is.