Before the 2023 NFL season began, the Chicago Bears were identified as a potential breakout team. Led by quarterback Justin Fields with big moves made by general manager Ryan Poles, this seemed like a team that head coach Matt Eberflus could win with.
Through the first two games of the season, both one-score losses, the Bears have already proven that nothing has changed. For a franchise that just hit the reset button in 2022, it appears that will once again be necessary for the Bears to be relevant anytime soon.
Related: 2023 NFL stat leaders
Here’s why the Bears need to clean house from general manager to quarterback.
It starts with Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles
In his introductory press conference as the Bears general manager, Ryan Poles emphasized the importance of the NFL Draft. While he would build part of his roster through NFL free agency, Poles’ primary goal was to find “young, fast and physical football players” in the draft who could help Chicago climb atop the NFC North.
“The most important piece is we’re gonna take the North and never give it back.”Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles in 2022 introductory press conference
Since taking over as general manager, the Bears are 0-7 with a -88 point differential against their three NFC North rivals. Based on the state of its roster, that mark will get even worse for Chicago by the end of the 2023 NFL season.
Poles has failed to accomplish his most important promise, he doesn’t even have a single win against the NFC North. While on-field mistakes and poor performances often fall on the shoulders of the coaching staff and players, Poles is most responsible. Unsurprisingly, it’s been the draft that has hurt Chicago the most.
Chicago Bears draft history – Ryan Poles era
|Round – Pick||Player||wAV (PFR)|
|2 – 39||Kyler Gordon – CB||4 (49th in 2022 class)|
|2 – 48||Jaquan Brisker – S||4 (50th)|
|3 – 71||Velus Jones Jr – WR||2 (Outside Top 100)|
|5 – 168||Braxton Jones – OT||8 (17th)|
|5 – 174||Dominique Robinson – EDGE||3|
|6 – 186||Zachary Thomas – OL||0|
While it’s too early to judge the Bears’ 2023 draft class, some assessments can be made of their 2022 draft picks. Velus Jones Jr. – drafted ahead of Tariq Woolen, Romeo Doubs, Marcus Jones and Abraham Lucas – is already a healthy scratch as a 26-year-old in his second NFL season.
Jaquan Brisker has made more headlines for his postgame comments after losses than his play on the field and Kyler Gordon allowed 811 receiving yards in his first 15 games. Meanwhile, offensive tackle Braxton Jones has regressed early in his second season.
Not only is Poles not living up to his plan of building a good team through the draft, he’s also set Chicago back through trades. The Bears traded their second-round pick for Chase Claypool, ignoring the Pittsburgh Steelers’ desperation to get him out of the locker room. It cost Chicago the 32nd overall pick and months later, Claypool is on the roster bubble because his effort level and work ethic haven’t improved.
To make matters worse, the Jacksonville Jaguars only had to sacrifice a conditional second-round pick for Calvin Ridley. One NFL team acquired a bonafide No. 1 receiver, while the other is stuck with a disgruntled fourth wide receiver.
While trading down from the first overall pick with the Carolina Panthers was still the right move, it was also a fairly obvious one. As the NFL’s history shows – Los Angeles Rams (Robert Griffin III trade) – having a lot of draft picks doesn’t matter if you miss at an alarmingly high rate. Poles hasn’t accomplished anything he set out to do and the Bears need to go in a new direction.
Matt Eberflus hasn’t lived up to his resume
When the Bears hired head coach Matt Eberflus, he was regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators across the league. In 2021, Eberflus coordinated an Indianapolis Colts
With defenses typically needing a full season to get fully acclimated with a coach’s system, we’ll focus on the past five units that Eberflus has overseen.
|Year||PPG||Total YPG||Yards per Play||Pressure Rate|
|2019 (Colts)||23.3 (18th)||346.8 (16th)||5.6 (18th)||21.3% (23rd)|
|2020 (Colts)||22.9 (11th)||335.9 (9th)||5.4 (12th)||23.3% (18th)|
|2021 (Colts)||21.5 (11th)||343.2 (17th)||5.6 (22nd)||18.1% (31st)|
|2022 (Bears)||27.2 (32nd)||375.9 (29th)||6.1 (31st)||15.9% (31st)|
|2023 (Bears)||32.5||383||6.0||7.5% (30th)|
One important thing to note, All-Pro defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was traded to the Colts in 2020. Paired with a healthy version of Darius Leonard (All-Pro in 2019-’21), Eberflus had a lot of help to make his defensive strategy work. Even then, the Colts’ defense had a bend but don’t break habit.
Many were skeptical of the hire originally by Chicago because it chose to pair a defensive-minded head coach with Justin Fields. Instead, Eberflus hand-picked Luke Getsy as his offensive coordinator.
The Bears hired Eberflus to build one of the best defenses in the NFL. Even after ownership agreed to spend tens of millions of dollars on Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, DeMarcus Walker and Yannick Ngakoue, Chicago still has one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
It would be one thing if Eberflus’ defense was the only problem. However, his choice of quarterback whisperer and play-caller backfired. There’s no room to give Eberflus the benefit of the doubt, he hasn’t made a positive impact on Chicago’s defense and his hand-picked staff is partially responsible for this being the worst NFL team over the last year.
Justin Fields isn’t the solution
The environment is crucial for development. Put a physically gifted player in a place where they can learn, receive consistent reps and be surrounded by people who help put them in the best position to succeed and the results will typically be positive.
That was never the case for Fields in Chicago. It’s clear now that the Bears’ organization botched its entire hiring process in 2022. Instead of getting Mike McDaniel, Brian Daboll, Kevin O’Connell, Eric Bieniemy or Kellen Moore, the Bears chose Eberflus.
Poles hasn’t put a roster good enough to support a young quarterback, let alone won that can win games. As for Eberflus, his defenses in the last two seasons have always forced Fields to play from behind and the choices at offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach clearly haven’t made Fields a better NFL player.
Plenty of “What if?” scenarios can be played regarding Fields’ career and how things might’ve transpired if he landed with another team or the Bears made different decisions.
Then again, the reality might just be that Fields isn’t a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. In what was labeled as his mini-breakout season in 2022, Pro Football Focus attributed Fields with 159 allowed pressures. More concerning, he was graded as being responsible for 13 of his own sacks (most in the NFL) and 38 pressures (second-most in the NFL).
- Justin Fields stats 2022 (vs pressure): 61.2 QB rating, 6-6 TD-INT, 42% completion rate, 47.1 PFF grade
- Justin Fields stats 2022 (vs clean pocket): 96.2 QB rating (28th), 11-5 TD-INT, 68.6% completion rate (26th), 83.6 PFF grade (20th)
Fields finished last season with the sixth-worst On-Target rate (71.1%) in the NFL and he’s been even worse through two games (41.5%) this season.
The Bears’ moves set Fields up to fail, but he largely hasn’t demonstrated anything to suggest he can be a high-probability reclamation project. With two top picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, it’s in Chicago’s best interest to find a new general manager and head coach who can properly build around one of next year’s incoming quarterback prospects.