The Bears traditionally pride themselves on stopping the run, but no more than Matt Eberflus does.
Run defense was the hallmark of Eberflus’ defenses with the Colts. In his four seasons as defensive coordinator from 2018-21, the Colts ranked eighth, seventh, second and 10th in run defense. In 2020, the 3-0 Bears were averaging 138 rushing yards per game until they ran into Eberflus’ stone wall — just 28 yards on 16 carries (1.8 avg.) in a 19-11 loss at Soldier Field.
So it’s to Eberflus’ dismay that while the Bears are 11th in the NFL in scoring defense through the first four weeks of the 2022 season (19.3 points per game), they are 32nd and last in rushing defense (183.3 per game). In fact, the 733 rushing yards allowed are the Bears’ most through four games since 1955 (823, 205.8 per game).
“We’re trying to improve every aspect of our football team,” Eberflus said. “Some areas are better than others. The scoring defense is good. And the rushing offense is good. I’ll buy that. But we still have [areas] to improve on our entire team.”
Even the best defenses will have uncharacteristic lapses. And in the first year of Eberflus’ system, he expects it to find a groove as the season plays out. But he doesn’t dismiss the notion that it’s an indication this defense isn’t grasping the nuances of his scheme as he would have hoped.
“I think it’s both,” Eberflus said. “Some of the experiences are there that they’re seeing for the first time in a game, so I think you’ll get some of that with a crew that you’re just starting to develop. And then some of them, they are repetitive [mistakes]. We’ve got to do a better job of executing.”
The shoddy run defense was exposed in the Bears’ 20-12 loss to the Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Bears allowed 262 rushing yards — the most they’ve allowed in one game since 2013. Saquon Barkley gained 146 on 31 carries (4.7 avg.) — that’s a great player getting the best of them. But Giants quarterbacks combined to rush for 98 yards on nine carries– an indication that the Giants out-foxed the Bears in game planning. Daniel Jones rushed for 68 yards on six carries (11.3 avg.), including play-action bootleg touchdown runs of 21 and eight yards. And back-up Tyrod Taylor added 30 yards on three carries.
The Giants had eight plays of 10 yards or more — many of them that betrayed the notion of the H.I.T.S. principle.
“Obviously there were a few plays out there that were certainly that — us not executing, guys not playing the way we do business,” Eberflus said. “And we’ll get that cleaned up. Obviously those boot plays by the quarterback — those are things we have to clean up. And the quarterback keepers — on those situational downs, where they do these zone-read quarterback keepers — we have to do better at that as well.”
The Bears don’t figure to have the same issues against Kirk Cousins on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. But Eberflus knows his defense has shown enough holes on film, that the run-game issue won’t get solved until he fixes it.
“It’s technique,” Eberflus said. “It’s tough. The NFL’s tough now. If you show something [that’s vulnerable], they’re going to keep attacking it. So you gotta make sure that you shore those things up.”
Eberflus almost sounded excited about the chore of doing that. With his record of success, it should get better before it gets worse.
“That’s how the NFL is. That’s what makes it so great,” Eberflus said. “So, we’ve got some work to do there.”