After watching tape of Sunday's 25-20 loss to the Eagles, Bears coach Matt Eberflus discussed three things that stood out to him in the game:
(1) Eberflus was pleased with his team's effort, but not its execution.
The Bears battled the NFL's top team record-wise before narrowly falling, twice producing key touchdowns in the second half to close to within one score.
First, Justin Fields hit David Montgomery with a 10-yard TD pass to cut the deficit to 17-13 midway through the third quarter. And then after the Eagles extended their lead to 25-13, Fields lofted a 35-yard TD pass to Byron Pringle, closing the gap to 25-20 with 2:43 remaining in the game.
On the first TD pass, Fields read a blitz and got the ball out of his hands quickly to Montgomery in the right flat. On the second TD toss, Fields extended the play by scrambling out of the pocket before finding Pringle wide open down the field.
Unfortunately, the Bears were unable to execute late. The defense made three straight stops but then allowed the Eagles to march 75 yards on six plays capped by Jalen Hurts' 1-yard TD dive that widened the margin to 25-13 with 4:20 to go. Star receiver A.J. Brown had a 68-yard reception on third-and-6 to set up that TD and a 12-yard catch on third-and-6 just after the two-minute warning to seal the win.
"After watching the tape, really pleased with how the guys competed," Eberflus said. "[But] the execution, as we said yesterday, in the critical moments needs to be better for us to be able to win that game. My hat's off to Philadelphia. A.J. Brown made a critical play to set up one of those touchdowns at the end and to finish the game off on third down. So, my hat's off to him as well."
A big difference in the game that Eberflus identified was third-down efficiency. While the Bears converted just 38.5 percent of their opportunities (5 of 13), they allowed the Eagles a 56.3 percent success rate (9 of 16). On the season, the Bears defense ranks last in the NFL on third down.
"We didn't win offensively or defensively winning that third down battle," Eberflus said. "We want and had to win that battle. That's something we always look at. Have to improve there. Offensively, we've been good all year on third down. Defensively, obviously we have to improve in that area."
(2) Eberflus lauded the defense for creating three takeaways.
After producing only one takeaway in the previous five games, the Bears defense generated three against the Eagles, who entered Week 15 with just 10 turnovers on the season, the fewest in the NFL. Defensive backs Kyler Gordon and DeAndre Houston-Carson intercepted Jalen Hurts passes, and defensive tackle Mike Pennel Jr. forced a Miles Sanders fumble on a screen pass that Gordon recovered.
"The takeaways were outstanding," Eberflus said. "I thought overall we ended up getting some pressure through some blitzing. I think that helped out a little bit, and we did make the quarterback uneasy a titch."
Eberflus felt the Bears tackled well, saying: "I thought our tackling looked good, low. We were driving our feet." He was particularly impressed with veteran Joe Thomas, who entered the game early in the second half at middle linebacker after rookie starter Jack Sanborn exited with an ankle injury.
"I thought [Thomas] did an excellent job of stepping into that role," Eberflus said. "He hasn't had a lot of time on task in that role. He has been mostly a SAM linebacker and working on special teams and doing a good job there as well. I thought he made a couple nice real good tackles, put his hitting on display, which I'm always impressed with guys who like to hit. So that was good."
Eberflus also praised rookie second-round picks Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, who returned to action after missing the previous two games with concussions.
"I thought those guys made some impactful plays," Eberflus said. "And then obviously the highlighted ones would be Gordon's takeaways. That was pretty impressive."
Eberflus is eager to see Gordon and Brisker continue to develop over the final three games of the season.
"Those guys have done well," Eberflus said. "Those guys are high-energy guys. You can feel their passion. You can feel their intensity on the game field. And they do that in practice. It's encouraging to see those guys, and I'm expecting big things out of those guys these next three games."
(3) Eberflus likes what he's seeing from Fields not only as a runner but as a passer.
The second-year pro had another stellar game on the ground, rushing for 95 yards on 15 carries to reach 1,000 yards on the season. In the process, he set the Bears record for rushing yards by a quarterback and became only the third NFL quarterback to reach that milestone, joining Lamar Jackson and Michael Vick.
Though he was under heavy pressure and sacked six times, Fields also showed flashes in the passing game—most notably on his aforementioned touchdown throws. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 152 yards despite playing with a depleted receiving corps. Already down Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool and N'Keal Harry due to injuries, Equanimeous St. Brown exited with a concussion on the game's first possession.
"I just think [Fields] is progressing in that way," Eberflus said. "He's doing a really good job with that. I think yesterday with that good defensive line that they have, he didn't have a lot of time when we were dropping back. They did a really good job with stunts, and that was something we obviously noticed during the game. But when he does have time, I think he does a really good job of progressing through his reads and delivering the ball on time. That first third down we made when St. Brown got hurt, that was an excellent pass, excellent timing and I thought his rhythm was really good."
Eberflus also praised Montgomery, who rushed for 53 yards and one TD on 12 carries and caught three passes for 38 yards and one TD. "Montgomery had a great game," Eberflus said. "Had two scores. I thought he ran the ball well. I think we were over five yards a carry (5.2), so that was good."