It’s just the preseason, but for Chicago Bears first-year coach Matt Eberflus, Saturday’s 19-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs was gratifying.
The day gave Eberflus a chance to test many parts of his program and it was his first opportunity to run the entire program on game day. Afterward, Eberflus expressed his excitement about overhauling it all, including game-day operation and communication, schemes on both sides of the ball, and the performance of his players, from established starters to undrafted rookies fighting for a spot in the ready.
The Bears have a quick turnaround this week before heading to Seattle for a Thursday night game against the Seahawks.
The preseason debut showed what to build on and illuminated the areas that need more work. Here’s our review of three phases of Saturday’s game.
Reasons for optimism: There were flashes in Justin Fields’ 18 snaps over three sets. On third and 4, Darnell Mooney gained a pass from his defender and Fields threw a ball to the left sideline that only Mooney could jump to grab for a 26-yard completion. A drive later on third-and-9, Tajae Sharpe made a one-handed 19-yard pass.
“We knew we would have coverage for men,” Sharpe said. “We had some pressure on that play. He handed me a go ball and put it in a great spot behind his shoulder. He gave me a chance to go up there and make a play.”
Fields and the Bears need more of those plays this season. He completed just 4 of 7 passes for 48 yards with no touchdowns, but since he was playing without several starters, the pair of long completions allowed the Bears to leave Soldier Field with some hope.
Eberflus said Fields’ operation was smooth, noting how he rushed to the line to avoid a Chiefs challenge flag at one point. Fields said he feels “much more comfortable” with a year of experience. And the Fields-Mooney connection continues to look strong.
Matter of concern: The depth of the Bears’ playmakers on offense it was a question to startso it’s obviously worrisome that five of the most notable missed out with injuries.
Running back David Montgomery, tight end Cole Kmet and wide receivers Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry and Velus Jones Jr. did not play. Eberflus has classified Montgomery, Kmet and Jones as day-to-day. But they still have a key time to build chemistry with Fields.
The Bears punted on all three of Fields’ drives, stopping twice at the Chiefs 43-yard line. Eberflus noted a couple of casualties that hurt the Bears.
In stark contrast, the Chiefs’ offense advanced 72 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown on starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ only drive.
Fields called the Bears’ performance “good,” noting that they need to improve on “just about everything.”
“There is always room for improvement,” he said. “We are not perfect at anything.”
It is worth noting: Solidifying the offensive line has been a key story in camp, and the game provided a look at some of the parts, though perhaps not the full five starters.
The Bears gave rookie Braxton Jones the start at left tackle, where he has taken the most first-team reps in recent practices. The fifth-round pick from southern Utah had a promising performance.
Veteran right guard Michael Schofield made the most notable mistake when Chris Jones beat him for one of Fields’ two sacks. Eberflus was asked about Fields operating under pressure.
“We’re going to look at those plays, where the pressures were, how we can reaffirm them,” he said. “Was it a situation where we needed to do a better job with our passing, whatever it was? But we’ll clean it up.”
Veteran Riley Reiff, who has made plenty of reps at first-team right tackle, sat out the game and the Bears started Larry Borom in his place. with center luke patrick continuesin grams your recovery from a hand injury, Sam Mustipher started there. If Patrick recovers in time for the start of the season, it will be worth seeing if the Bears put Mustipher back in contention with Schofield at right guard.
Reasons for optimism: have you heard of Eberflus HITS Principle for now. So how did Saturday turn out? Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker certainly checked the box for the hustle in the first half, first with an aggressive stop on Chiefs running back Derrick Gore for a 2-yard loss and then two plays later with an instinctive break and close interception. on a pass from Shane Buechele. over the middle.
Intensity? Fellow rookie Dominique Robinson recorded the defense’s first of two sacks, coming off the right edge wide open in the third quarter and smothering Buechele for a 12-loss. Micah-Dew Treadway he later sealed the victory with a 9-yard catch by Dustin Crum on fourth-and-4 with 1:19 remaining.
takeaway? The Bears won that battle 2-0, thanks to a Jack Sanborn interception and fumble recovery. Those turnovers led to nine points.
And situational intelligence? In the second half, the Bears’ defense limited the Chiefs to 18 total yards, two first downs and zero points.
Matter of concern: Cornerback Kyler Gordon, the team’s No. 1 draft pick, stood out on the Gameday show. But Gordon was inactive and has been gone for almost two weeks with an undisclosed injury. Adding to the concern, the rookie also missed all of minicamp in June and portions of organized team activities due to injury setbacks.
It’s worth keeping a close eye on Gordon’s durability and availability for the rest of the month. You can bet Eberflus wants him on the practice field ASAP, hoping he gets at least some action in preseason games.
“When players waste time on the grass, the actual game and working on fundamentals and techniques, that hurts,” Eberflus said. “That hurts our soccer team and hurts their development.”
Worth discussing: As the proud new owner of a challenge red flag, Eberflus got his first chance to force the referees to review a replay early in the second half.
The play in question was a 9-yard completion from Buechele to Josh Gordon just in front of the Bears’ sideline. With quick and clear communication from above, Eberflus was encouraged to throw the challenge flag as Gordon’s right foot was clearly not in bounds.
Issued challenge. Challenge won. Canceled call. But what happened from there was really significant.
Forced to third-and-10 instead of third-and-1, Buechele was intercepted by rookie linebacker Sanborn on the next play. Sanborn’s takeout gave the Bears a shortstop, and the offense responded with a quick 27-yard touchdown drive for its first points. That’s the master of domino effect quality teams. Shrewd maneuvers by coaches lead to better opportunities for success, which often leads to big plays, sometimes leading to touchdowns.
Those are the kinds of situations Eberflus has been training for while work to become a smart trainer in the game. They’re also key for teams with a narrow margin of error like the Bears. Consider it a small step in the right direction, but a good start nonetheless.
Reasons for optimism: Rookie punt Trenton Gill, a seventh-round draft pick, had a strong debut, putting three of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line. He averaged 42.6 yards with a net average of 36.4.
Gill and long snapper Patrick Scales also helped kicker Cairo Santos pick up where he left off last season. When the Bears let punter Pat O’Donnell go during the offseason, Santos lost the starter who helped him during a franchise record field goal streak.
But Santos said Gill calmed down the first day they worked together and had field goals of 20 and 47 yards on Saturday plus an extra point.
Matter of concern: The Bears’ first punt return in the first quarter wasn’t ideal. Dazz Newsome missed the catch. He recovered it at the 14-yard line, but an above-the-waist illegal block on Jaylon Jones pushed the Bears to their 7-yard line.
The Bears turned to Dante Pettis to return punts next, and he had three fair catches before Chris Finke got some work. Rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., an electric returner at Tennessee, missed the game with an injury.
It is worth noting: Sixth-round pick Trestan Ebner, who returned kickoffs and punts at Baylor, had two kickoff returns for 53 yards, including a 34-yarder to open the game.
He was solid in all aspects while fighting for a role, but the Bears have other options when it comes to kickoff returns, including Jones, running back Khalil Herbert and wide receiver Byron Pringle.