The clearest sign Matt Eberflus will succeed as Bears coach is his capacity to adjust. It’s refreshing after Matt Nagy’s stubbornness.
Eberflus has shown great flexibility with in-game tweaks throughout the season, but did his most impressive work during a 10-day break in October. He reworked his lineup, retooled the offense and redirected Justin Fields’ trajectory.
Now he needs to do it again.
As the Bears start their bye week, it’s time to reassess everything with an eye on what can be gained over the final four games. They’re meaningless in the standings as the Bears sit 3-10, but they’re purposeful in the big picture.
Any conversation about the future centers on Fields, and the bye lets him further heal from his separated shoulder and evaluate his decision making as a passer. It also enables Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to analyze how to best use him.
One key issue facing the Bears is how to maximize Fields’ running ability without overusing him.
The Bears used tight end Cole Kmet on quarterback sneaks against the Dolphins, and in their loss to the Packers they ran two wildcat plays with running backs David Montgomery and Darrynton Evans.
“We are trying to go with that in the future to take some hits off of Justin,” Eberflus said. “Justin is going to take the plays when he can, of course, but we want to use him in [important] situations.”
The Bears won’t restrict Fields’ running, nor should they. It’s vital to his game. But they can be judicious about how often and when they expose him to getting drilled.
Eberflus and Getsy should also take a hard look at their wide receivers, especially newcomer Chase Claypool.
Claypool came over in a trade at the start of November and has now played five games. He has averaged 2.4 catches (on 4.4 targets) for 22.2 yards while playing 46% of the snaps.
How is anyone OK with that?
Everyone expected a little more, a little sooner when the Bears gave up a second-round pick — currently No. 34 overall — for him.
The Bears have shown zero urgency with Claypool, almost as if that’s a project for next season. But he’ll seek a contract extension in the coming offseason, and Fields needs help at receiver now.
Coming out of the bye week, Claypool needs to be fully integrated and getting close to 10 targets per game. That’s important at the moment and for the future, because Fields needs to build chemistry with him and the Bears need to be certain of what they have before committing to a massive contract.
Beyond Claypool, the Bears should allocate snaps to wide receivers most likely to help them in 2023.
Rookie Velus Jones tops that list, regardless of the Bears seeming hesitant to trust him on offense. He’ll learn best by getting in games.
Speaking of wide receivers, did everybody see N’Keal Harry’s 49-yard catch in the fourth quarter? Whoa. That’s Exhibit A on why he should play more. There’s a lot to like about the former first-round pick and his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame, but the Bears haven’t given him a chance.
Reorient the passing game around Claypool, Harry and Jones and see what they can do.
On the offensive line, if the Bears are comfortable enough to play Alex Leatherwood in a rotation, they should be comfortable enough to put him out there for a full game.
He probably isn’t as good as 11-year veteran Riley Reiff now, but he could be eventually. Leatherwood was a first-round pick from Alabama last year and is under contract through 2024. Playing him over Reiff makes sense.
Eberflus was noncommittal about such a move Monday, but was pleased with how Leatherwood played and seemed amenable to making a future-focused roster decision.
It’s another example of his willingness to adapt, and the moves he makes coming out of the bye will be telling.