Matt Eberflus’ Bears revive spirit of the Lovie Smith era

My first full season covering the Bears was in 2003, during Lovie Smith’s first year as head coach. Those practices in Bourbonnais were brutal. The heat and humidity were oppressive. Players were wilting with soft-tissue injuries. Smith was determined to get his team into better cardiovascular shape. That was one takeaway from that summer. The other was an emphasis on takeaways.

During these practices, Bears defenders wouldn’t just try to return interceptions or fumbles for touchdowns. Every single ball — every dropped pass or overthrow that landed inbounds — Bears defenders were expected to pick it up and run the opposite way. At the time, it felt superfluous, but there was a method to Smith’s madness. A culture was created in which the defense could do more than just keep the other team from scoring.

Confusing “turnovers” for “takeaways” would land you in the doghouse with coaches and players real quick. In their mind, the insult was that a “turnover” meant the defense wasn’t responsible for forcing a mistake and were just benefactors of offensive incompetence.

While the Bears were trying to put together an offense, Smith put it on his defense to buy time and win games. He had created an expectation of accountability and discipline. The players bought into it with fervor. Their hard work drew results and that has a tendency to build upon itself.

Watching a Matt Eberflus coached team reminds me of those early days of Smith’s tenure.

That means the football you consume might be boring for a while. It may also be the easiest path for the Bears to win until Ryan Poles improves the overall talent of the roster.

By halftime Sunday of the Bears’ 19-10 victory over the 49ers, fans at Soldier Field were already launching full-throated boos. Quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense sputtered. You can hardly blame the 61,500 who braved a monsoon to see “The Beloved” for being upset. Sitting in ugly weather, watching ugly football, is not an ideal way to spend a Sunday. The way the offense looked was the sum of all fears of every Bears fan. It feltlike Fields was still struggling and little progress had been made under new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

By the end of the third quarter, fans were wading in the water and dancing along with Robert Quinn because their team was in a three-point game with a quarter left.

This game stayed competitive because Eberblus’ Bears stayed disciplined. The 49ers were as sloppy as the conditions. On each of the Bears’ scoring drives, San Francisco had a penalty that extended the drive. Twice those penalties came on third down.

Fields and the offense made them pay for it. After drawing three flags in the first half, the Bears went the entire second half without being penalized. That’s significant and starting to look like a bit of a trend. In the preseason, the Bears were penalized only 13 total times in three games. It’s hard to judge most things inpreseason, but a lack of discipline plagued the final two years of the Matt Nagy era.

Eberflus has raised the competency floor of this team.

I know that’s not a sexy sentence, but discipline and competency win football games.

Smith’s teams won ugly and no one complained. And no one will complain if Eberflus wins that way for a while. It might be boring, but who cares? As Ozzie Guillen said: “Fun is winning and winning is fun!”

The disciplined, boring Bears are 1-0 and fans couldn’t be more entertained.

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