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Choosing to receive opening kickoff working for Bears

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Some unconventional strategy by coach Matt Eberflus has paid major dividends for the Bears this season.

After winning the coin flip, the Bears have chosen to receive the opening kickoff rather than defer until the second half an NFL-high four times this year. They are 3-1 in those games, beating the Commanders, Raiders and Lions and losing to the Saints. And they've scored touchdowns on their opening possession three times, taking 7-0 leads over Washington, New Orleans and Detroit.

Only 22 teams in 208 games so far this season (13.5%) that won the coin toss opted to receive the opening kickoff.

"It's really about just visiting with our game-management guy, Harry [Freid], and us deciding what's best for our football team," Eberflus said, "based on the strength of the opponent in terms of their offense and defense, how they are in terms of their openers. Really, it's just about that. And then, obviously, wind's a factor. So there's a lot of things that go into it.

"But we make that decision, and typically I'll tell the team ahead of time. I'll tell them usually in my situations meeting on Friday. I'll tell them that when I'm going through that, and they can get ready."

Savvy veteran

Eberflus praised safety Eddie Jackson for his performance since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for three games. Since the seven-year veteran has been back, the Bears are 3-2 and have generated 11 takeaways, including nine interceptions.

"What's great about Eddie is the communication," Eberflus said. "He really does a nice job of settling everybody down on the back end. We do have some checks to our calls based on formations and with certain calls, and he's done a really good job with that, making the adjustments.

"He plays mostly in the deep part of the field. We don't pressure him very much and those types of things. He's made some good tackles in the run game … to play good run defense, you have to be able to do that. I think he's done well." 

On the Vikings' first play from scrimmage in a Nov. 27 Monday night game in Minnesota, Jackson broke across the field to assist rookie cornerback Terell Smith, breaking up a long Joshua Dobbs pass intended for receiver Jordan Addison.

"They took a shot on our rookie, which we always expect them to do early," Eberflus said. "[Jackson] did a nice job of ranging that out and making a play on that and getting that ball out."

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall to continue their preparation for Sunday's road game against the Cleveland Browns.

In good health

The Bears are relatively healthy entering Week 15, with only two players on their 53-man roster unable to practice Wednesday due to injuries: receivers DJ Moore (ankle) and Equanimeous St. Brown (pectoral).

"It's a tribute to everybody," Eberflus said. "It's a tribute to, first of all, the players for taking care of their bodies with the performance staff, the training staff and strength staff. Those departments need a bunch of credit too. I think we've done a good job using the mini-byes to really refresh, recharge mind, body and spirit. I think that's really a big part of it, continuing to do that as we go through these next games."

With that focus in mind, the Bears modified their practice schedule Wednesday, shortening their individual and 7-on-7 periods before holding a walk-through.

"We'll get the same number of reps, actually more reps, than we would typically," Eberflus said. "We want to get our guys to optimal levels for Sunday this time of the year. We just want to make sure our guys are rip and ready to go for Sunday."

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