Whatever Bears’ Matt Eberflus says on Justin Fields, think the opposite

I love football coaches. They worry about everything. They analyze everything. If there were a way to analyze players at a molecular level, they would. Actually, I can’t rule out that they’ve already cracked the code and can tell you why Justin Fields’ mitochondria is better than Aaron Rodgers’.

So there’s this intense analytical side to coaches, which involves accounting for every minute of every day, and then there’s this other side, which is a combination of paranoia and superstition. Imagine Dr. Anthony Fauci believing in leprechauns. That’s the kind of dissonance we’re talking about here.

The Bears spent several days saying very little about the injury to Fields’ left, non-throwing shoulder. He was hurt during a foolhardy designed run late in a loss to the Falcons on Sunday. Coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday that Fields had been cleared to practice, which thrilled fans who have become addicted to the quarterback’s brilliant running and amused those of us who have been around too many coaches for too many years.

These are words to live by: If a football coach says one thing, there’s a 90% chance he means the exact opposite. One person’s “Fields has been cleared to practice!” is another’s “Get ready for Trevor Siemian.”

Where Eberflus wasn’t specific about the injury Wednesday, Fields said it was a separated shoulder with ligament damage. Doesn’t he know about loose lips sinking ships?

There’s a distinct possibility that Eberflus knows Siemian will start Sunday but wants the Jets to have to put in extra hours preparing for both quarterbacks.

I’m guessing the Jets are preparing for Siemian like they’d prepare for a math test on addition and subtraction.

Regardless, Eberflus refuses to put away either his cloak or dagger.

“You’ve always got to do that, especially when you’ve got two different types of quarterbacks,” he said. “That’s a big deal. If we had two similar quarterbacks, with the same type of style, that would be easier for them, if I was the opposing defensive coordinator. But because these are opposites, and a big difference between the two, it is a little bit challenging, for sure.”

Now, let’s think about this soberly.

Is there any way of quantifying whether making an opposing team guess which quarterback will start makes any difference at all? If you were a glutton for punishment, you could spend hours tracking down similar situations from the last 25 years. But even if you found out that the teams that kept their quarterback selection secret until the last moment won more often than not, there’s no way to prove that their covertness was the reason for that success.

I don’t know what Robert Saleh’s approach would have been this week had ESPN’s Adam Schefter not reported Wednesday that the Jets coach was benching quarterback Zach Wilson. He might have announced it himself. Or he might have gone the Eberflus route, forcing the Bears to prepare this week for both Wilson and Mike White, his backup.

If you’re a coach preparing for either Wilson or White, you’re not thinking, “Boy, this is a lot of extra work.” You’re thinking, “Wilson isn’t good, White isn’t very good and I hate when Wordle uses the same letter twice.”

If you’re a coach preparing for either Fields or Siemian, you’re mostly preparing for Fields, who has zoomed past defenders since the Bears started drawing up run plays for him. If Siemian starts on Sunday, a Jets coach won’t be thinking, “My kingdom for more preparation time!” He’ll be thinking, “Hallelujah!”

In the NFL, there’s a lot of overthinking about things that don’t deserve a second thought. But there are things that, though seemingly beyond obsessive, make sense. Coaches are so detailed that they’ll scout their own teams to make sure that they’re not tipping their hand to opponents by being predictable. Smart, right? No stone left unturned. A tip of the cap to their rational side.

There’s attention to detail, and then there’s silliness.

Why do coaches cover their mouths with laminated cards when they’re calling plays into quarterbacks’ helmet radios? There are two answers:

1) They think that if they don’t, opposing teams will assign a lip reader to watch the games on TV and relay plays to the defensive coordinator, who will adjust in a split second and ruin what likely was a Super Bowl season.

2) They’re certifiably insane.

I don’t know who the first coach to cover his mouth was. I do know that, because there are lots of sheep in the NFL, everybody does it now, despite the lack of any proof that it makes a difference or that even one team has a professional lip reader on its staff. This is next-level paranoia, the kind normally associated with the Secret Service.

A lot of this weirdness comes directly or indirectly from New England coach Bill Belichick, who is so close-mouthed, he probably hasn’t seen a dentist in decades. He gives short, unsubstantial answers to reporters’ questions, and he has a history of cheating (Spygate, Deflategate, etc.) That combination has turned the rest of an already suspicious league into counterintelligence agencies. And here you thought you were just watching football.

It’s the game within a game. It’s a way for control-freak coaches (read: all coaches) to feel as if they’re in control of everything. They are not. Yet.

I’m guessing Eberflus knows exactly what he’s going to do with Fields on Sunday but wants Jets coaches to have to study a little harder. And if they do end up studying harder, it’ll only be because they’re like all NFL coaches: Crazy.

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