Halfway through the first season of the Bears latest rebuild, there’s good cause for optimism. It’s still going to take a while, perhaps until the 2024 season, for them to hit maturity as a legitimate contender if all goes well, but there are indications that it’s off to a good start.
Matt Eberflus seems capable of managing all the new responsibilities that came with his jump from defensive coordinator to head coach.
His CEO-style approach to running the team has been a good change from Matt Nagy’s setup of focusing on offense and giving his defensive coordinator autonomy. Eberflus oversees everything, and if this works and his coordinators and position coaches get plucked for promotions elsewhere, he should be in good position to replace them.
From a personnel standpoint, general manager Ryan Poles has gradually filled in deficiencies and still has a long way to go. He acknowledged he’d need more than one draft class to assemble a quality roster. There are many more problems to solve, but he has certainly added to the very small core of young talent he inherited.
But everything still hinges on quarterback Justin Fields.
The Bears can — and should — address every detail of their roster and organizational structure. But even if they get all those aspects fixed, it won’t matter unless they solve the riddle that has flummoxed them for decades.
They’ve already seen what happens when “everything else is there” besides the quarterback, as president Ted Phillips put it last year. That path led the Bears to their current rebuild, meanwhile teams that have seemingly only a quarterback always have a chance.
Fields’ next opportunity to fortify his case as the franchise quarterback is Sunday against the Cowboys. It’s another game against a top defense. Dallas has allowed the second-fewest points at 14.9 per game and is seventh in opponent passer rating at 77.7.
If Fields keeps advancing and arrives by the end of the season, he’ll enhance all the subtle upgrades the Bears have made. If he doesn’t, the Bears doing all the other little things right won’t be enough to vault them into contention.
He has made impressive plays and had great halves and even some complete performances like the one he delivered in the win over the Patriots on Monday, but the next checkpoint for Fields is to do it consistently and establish baseline expectations. The Bears are still waiting for him to play three good games in a row.
He played one of his better games against the Vikings in Week 5 and was threatening to at least force overtime before Ihmir Smith-Marsette got stripped with about a minute left. But Fields followed that by sputtering through a 12-7 loss to the Commanders at home.
The Bears had 10 days between that game and their Monday night visit to the Patriots and used that break to install designed runs for Fields. It activated him and their offense, and while opponents like the Cowboys will counter it with their defensive game plans, it looks like a viable part of the Bears’ offensive identity.
Fields turned in 179 yards passing and 82 yards rushing, which was his sixth-highest combined total. As the Patriots devoted more resources to restricting him to the pocket, there was more space for receivers to get open. If Fields gets better at playing those strengths off each other, the production should increase.
It took the Bears and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy a while to get there, but they finally seem to have tailored the offense to Fields’ talent.
While the overall picture is still from perfect, and Fields will play behind a tattered offensive line Sunday, there should be enough here with which to work. Now it’s on him to thrive and elevate the players around him, particularly the receivers, because that’s what franchise quarterbacks do.