As of now, it seems like this new regime has no desire to measure themselves against the Packers. Their only measuring stick is the expectations they’ve set for themselves.
By Herb Howard
Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Eberflus will not allow his team to believe that they’re good. And therefore they will never be bad.
Sure, he believes in them. He acknowledges their talent, and praises them when they do well. But it doesn’t seem to me that he will ever allow them to believe that they have arrived. Coach Eberflus is relentless in his pursuit of improvement. And he demands the same mentality of his players.
Sunday, the Bears started their season -and Matt Eberflus’ head coaching tenure- with an impressive win over a good 49ers team. By Monday, Flus was mostly talking about how they need to improve. The things they need to do better. Focusing on the fundamentals of tackling, and highlighting the loafs he noticed on film.
This was not a Coach looking to pat himself on the back, or say “I told you so” to the many Bears doubters. This was a Coach that had completely moved on from the emotional high of yesterday’s win, and is squarely focused on the next task at hand. That next task: get better!
Keeping the team’s focus on improvement, never allowing them to feel like they’re good enough, may seem harsh. It may seem like he’s taking the sense of accomplishment away from his players. But, by never allowing them to think they’re good, he’s actually ensuring that they’ll never be bad. The standard is the standard. And not meeting it is not an option.
Rookie Defensive End Dominique Robinson, who had 7 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, on just 28 snaps in his NFL debut told me that he was charged with 3 loafs in the Eberflus grading system. Watching the game Live, and then again on film, Robinson appeared to be giving max effort on every play. On one play, he rushed upfield toward the passer, and then when speedy Quarterback Trey Lance took off running, Robinson turned and chased him, making the tackle 12 yards downfield. Even with such effort, Dominique said he was dinged for being on the ground during a play, something they call “Hot Stove”. He was charged with another loaf for being “caught in the stack”.
At his Wednesday press conference, Coach Eberflus quoted his message to the team: “To play hard, you gotta live hard.” Meaning that the intensity of practice must remain high, if not increase. The attention to detail must be hyper, with laser focus. The commitment to individual and collective improvement must not waver. If they want to play hard they must practice hard, everyday!
Flus’ message about living hard reminded me of a quote from Omar, the iconic character from the legendary HBO show “The Wire”. Omar asks his partner in crime, “How you expect to run with the wolves come night, when you spend all day sparring with the puppies?”
The Bears players seem to be following the lead of their Head Coach. Rightfully elated immediately after their win on Sunday, by Wednesday, all the players seem to have turned their attention to the Week 2 matchup versus the “rival” Green Bay Packers Sunday Night at Lambeau Field. But no one on the team, starting with Eberflus, seems to be putting too much weight on the idea of “Bears/Packers”. Their focus is on improving their own play, believing that everything else will take care of itself.
Coach Eberflus said that he views the Packers game as just another game. He doesn’t even begin to think of it as any bigger than the other games. It's the biggest game because it’s the next one, but other than that, there is no added stock being placed on it.
Perhaps Flus has that mentality about the rivalry because he’s new to it. But perhaps there has been a complete shift on how the football operations department of the Chicago Bears view themselves in relation to the Packers. When new General Manager Ryan Poles stated at his introductory press conference that the Bears were “Gonna take over the North (NFC North Division), and never give it back.”, most Bears fans and reporters immediately connected that statement to the Packers.
But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was just a statement about the Chicago Bears’ own goals, completely independent of the Packers.
Asked in Wednesday’s press conference if the Green Bay Packers were ever mentioned during his interview/hiring process, Matt Ebeflus said simply
“No, they weren’t.” Again, perhaps this is also because first-time GM Ryan Poles is new to this rivalry. Maybe that mentality will change after Sunday Night when, win or lose, Poles and Eberflus see how important that game is to the city of Chicago. As of now, it seems like this new regime has no desire to measure themselves against the Packers. Their only measuring stick is the expectations they’ve set for themselves.
Those expectations are high, and non-negotiable.