Matt Eberflus doesn’t really have a rival as a coach, but he’s about to find one in Matt LaFleur.
When Eberflus takes the Bears to Lambeau Field on Sunday, it will be the start of a long chess game between the two head coaches. LaFleur’s dominance over Matt Nagy — a 6-0 record and 75-point differential — was one reason this job was open for Eberflus.
He said this week that the Packers were never mentioned in his talks with Bears president George McCaskey, but it’s so obvious it didn’t need to be said. It’s imperative that the Bears catch up to the Packers, and between LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it’s going to be tough.
But if Eberflus is going to coach the Bears for the next decade, as he envisions, he’ll have to outsmart LaFleur along the way. It’s nearly impossible to keep that job for long without landing punches against the Packers.
Like the Packers, the Bears were hoping to have a young offensive player in Nagy who could turn their offense into a machine that could keep pace with Rodgers. He could not.
The Bears’ new approach is to pair an experienced, defensive head coach in Eberflus with an offensive coordinator they stole directly from LaFleur’s staff in Luke Getsy. They literally have the Packers playbook.
“Certainly you have the insight, but it will always depend on the execution,” Eberflus said. “You’ll still have to do the parts when you need them and you’ll still have to fundamentally play sound.
“When you’re playing against such an experienced and good quarterback, if you make a mistake, he’ll make you pay.”
There are only a limited number of quarterbacks who force a defense to play perfectly to beat them and “what makes this league special is guys like that,” Eberflus said.
LaFleur was so superb, however, that he began to claim his position as an important part of the Packers’ success equation. At 43, he is already 39-11 and is off to the best start to a coaching career in league history. There’s good reason the Packers feel good about him finally leading their post-Rodgers future.
Eberflus and LaFleur first faced off as coordinators in 2017, when LaFleur led the Rams’ offense and Eberflus was the Cowboys’ linebacker coach and pass defense coordinator. The Rams won 35-30.
They met twice in 2018 with Eberflus leading the Colts’ defense and LaFleur as the Titans’ offensive coordinator, and Eberflus won both games by a combined score of 71-27.
His Colts also held off the Packers 34-31 in overtime in 2020. Eberflus seemed to have decoded something about Rodgers in that game. After allowing 28 points in the first half, the Colts held him to an 83.7 passer rating the rest of the game. Rodgers said he watched that game this week but wasn’t sure how useful it would be because the staff is totally different than what he’ll see on Sunday.
Eberflus felt the same way about LaFleur’s preparation, saying there was nothing to be learned from facing him when he was with other teams.
“There’s a system they’re in, but the system highlights competence,” Eberflus said.
Skill is the Bears’ biggest concern. Their defense has rarely matched Rodgers’ skills, and now they’re going after him with a roster full of uncertainties. Rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker, for example, have looked good so far, but they’ll have to be perfect against Rodgers.
Dumbfounded too. The path to NFC North support goes through Green Bay, Rodgers and LaFleur. And even if it turns out that the Bears are not yet ready to overthrow the Packers, Eberflus must show from the start that he masters them better than his predecessors.