The Chicago Bears are a disaster – they lack discipline, effort and intensity on a week-to-week basis, while the coaching staff and front office have put together a masterclass on propagating the demise of Justin Fields. This puts them in a situation where few can save them, but there is one man who might be custom-built for the job.
As I sat and watched the Bears play the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, I couldn’t help but be driven toward yawns, eye rolls, and a general lack of interest from the perspective of someone who, like many Chicago sports fans, has been waiting for this team to wake up for more than one game all year.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert sliced and diced the Bears defense to the tune of 14 straight completions and five straight scoring drives to begin the game. Los Angeles didn’t punt on fourth down until there was 6:19 left in the third quarter — and at that point — the game was 27-7 in favor of the Chargers and well out of Chicago’s reach.
The offense didn’t put up much of a fight either.
A lackluster offensive line room lost with dignity most of the night, the pressure from Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack forced Tyson Bagent to make quick throws, and a handful of penalties in the trenches stifled drives across the first three quarters.
The run game, considered the strength of the Bears offense (if there is such a thing), never found its legs. Chicago averaged a paltry 2.9 yards per carry after averaging no less than 4.2 yards per carry across their previous seven games. Their 73 yards on the ground equated to their second lowest rushing total of the season, just behind the 67 yards they gained on the ground against the Kansas City Chiefs in week 2.
Bagent looked poised in the pocket at times, but pushed his luck too much and threw two interceptions a week after putting together a spotless record in the turnover department against the Las Vegas Raiders.
In a press conference Monday afternoon, Bears head coach Matt Eberflus was asked about how the energy and intensity behind the HITS philosophy has seemed to not be there consistently on a week-to-week basis.
Eberflus replied that he disagreed with the question, and said he has seen the energy and intensity every week since the beginning of the year.
Now, that may be the case because I have no secret sources in Chicago’s locker room, but Eberflus could also be blowing smoke up where the sun doesn’t shine.
All I have to base my opinions on when it comes to the Bears, is the product I see on the field every Sunday, what I hear from players and coaches during press conferences, and the endless peddling of information across the media landscape.
Based on what I’ve seen and heard from this team, they seem ready to pack it in after week 8, with all energy to consistently perform on the field evaporated into thin air.
Based on what I’ve seen and heard in the media, praise for Bagent has skyrocketed, while Chicago has fallen silent when it comes to the support of QB1, Justin Fields, and are seemingly content to let an undrafted DII quarterback take the reins of their offense.
Regardless of whether or not Fields is disgruntled by the situation at quarterback, the Bears have in large part failed to unlock the talent of their former first round QB, who is now in a pivotal third year of his development.
When morale is low, a roster is underperforming, and the franchise quarterback has yet to reach his full potential, who could be better to revitalize Chicago football than Jim Harbaugh?
Harbaugh, a former college quarterback and Chicago Bear, is a quirky concoction of unbridled enthusiasm and midwestern euphemisms, bottled into a players-first coach and advocate who wraps himself up in a quarterback whisperer bowtie with a nice pair of pleated Lululemon khakis to match.
His record developing quarterbacks spans decades and speaks for itself. Since 2002, Harbaugh has worked with and/or developed the likes of Rich Gannon (Raiders), Josh Johnson (University of San Diego), Andrew Luck (Stanford), Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick (49ers), and current Heisman Trophy candidate J.J. McCarthy (University of Michigan).
Not only do his players love playing for him, he’s a borderline cult hero in their eyes. Before the alleged sign stealing scandal took hold of the college football world, Harbaugh served a three game suspension for NCAA recruiting violations.
His players detested the punishment and thought it was unfair, leading to “free Harbaugh” t-shirts being adorned by players at postgame press conferences, and an extremely dorky formation being used during their season opener against East Carolina, where players came out in an “I” formation and held up the no. 4 — Harbaugh’s number during his playing days at U of M.
The pro-Harbaugh protests are a recent example, but the same level of energy has been present since the first day Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor some eight years ago, when he hurled off tweets into the social media stratosphere, stating he would attack his first college football season as a Wolverine “with enthusiasm unknown to mankind” and thunderously posed the question “Who’s got it better than us?” to which anyone within ear-shot instinctually replied “no one!”
While such energy is a trip overseas compared to witnessing the ever mild-mannered Matt Eberflus on a day-to-day basis, Harbaugh’s ties to the City of Chicago and an example just a few hundred miles away in Detroit show that as long as a coach has a connection to his team and whatever effusive personality he puts on is authentically him — players will want to play for that coach, if his efforts bear fruit (wins).
I, of course, am referring to one Dan Campbell, who a short time ago was a laughing stock of professional football, making outlandish predictions of putting together a team who will “bite off your kneecaps” one week, and have a coach crying at the podium after another loss the next.
That man, after starting out 4-19-1, is now 14-4 over his last 18 games as head coach of the Detroit Lions, who currently sit in the no. 2 seed in the NFC at 6-2, and are one of the NFL’s darling teams with him as the captain of their ship.
Could a similar turn around be in store for Chicago if they managed to pull Harbaugh away from Michigan? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’s guided a an almost instant turnaround as a NFL head coach.
In 2010, the San Francisco 49ers finished 6-10 and were an afterthought going into the 2011 NFL season, even with the surprise acquisition of Harbaugh from Stanford, whom he had just led to a 12-1 record and victory in the Orange Bowl with Andrew Luck under center.
The 49ers ended up flipping the script in 2011, going 13-3 behind a revitalized Alex Smith, who threw for career highs in passing yards (3,144) and TD-INT ratio (3.4-1), while defensive coordinator Vic Fangio helped string together one of the best defensive units in the league.
Like Smith at the time, Fields is in need of a career renaissance after not being able to make the leap under his current coaching staff, and like San Francisco — historically speaking — the Bears are a team built on a reputation for defense.
The ingredients make sense, but in the end, the alleged sign-stealing scandal may end up being the reason any possibility of Harbaugh bolting to the NFL falls apart.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, the NFL is unlikely to make itself a safe haven for Harbaugh to escape any potential NCAA discipline that arises out of the alleged sign stealing scandal.
Rapoport and Pelissero’s sources pointed toward precedent set during the Jim Tressel/Terell Pryor Ohio State scandal where Pryor was suspended for five games for trading game memorabilia for cash and tattoos when he declared for the NFL Supplemental Draft in 2011.
Pryor tried to appeal the suspension, but the ban was upheld by commissioner Roger Goodell, who said partially in a statement, “This smacks of a calculated effort to manipulate our eligibility rules.”
Tressel was also suspended five games, but resigned from Ohio State instead. After taking a game-day consultant job with the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL allowed the team to handle the case, and the Colts announced that Tressel would not join the club until week 7 of the 2011 season.
Rapoport and Pelissero said it wasn’t officially a suspension, but in consultation with the league office, the effect was the same and it set the precedent that no one should escape discipline by jumping from the college ranks to the NFL.
This piece is a part of a weekly column that will be published on Tuesdays following each Bears game for the rest of the NFL season. For more on the Bears and other Chicago sports from WGN News, you can follow Eli Ong and Larry Hawley on X.