CHICAGO – Matt Eberflus spent his entire offseason – in fact, most of his football life – preparing for Saturday, his first game as an NFL head coach.
The result: A 19-14 Bears win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field.
It was far from pretty, but hey, 1-0 is 1-0, even in the preseason.
Eberflus will be the first to tell you the Bears, especially the first-team offense and defense, have a lot to clean up.
"I was taking notes out there a lot today just to make sure we get everything cleaned up in terms of the pregame operation, in-game operation, and any post-game operation we have tomorrow as we go through and evaluate these guys," Eberflus said after the game. "We have a step-by-step process which we go through, and again, there's some things we've got to get cleaned up throughout the day that went on. And then really evaluating scheme in-game.
"So, I'm excited about getting that done for the offense, defense, special teams as we start to evaluate our scheme."
Speaking of evaluation, it's time for the first Bears Insider Report Card of the 2022 preseason. I can already sense the anticipation.
These grades will reflect mainly how the starters played, although I'll add partial credit for the play of Jack Sanborn, Trestan Ebner, Teven Jenkins, and others in the second half.
Here we go:
The first-team offense played 18 snaps, gained 78 total yards, and didn't score a point.
There are two ways to dissect what happened Saturday in Luke Getsy's first run as play-caller.
The first: How did Justin Fields play?
I'd stop short of saying he was incredible, but Fields played damn good football Saturday. He went four-for-seven for 48 yards and a 78.3 rating. He also showed off his legs with a 10-yard run. Fields delivered two big-time throws on third down for gains of 26 and 19 to Darnell Mooney and Tajae Sharpe. He also had two passes dropped and dealt with a shaky right side of the offensive line.
Fields will have to play at an elite level to get the offense going this season. He's capable of it.
He gets a B-plus for his play.
As for the passing offense as a whole, it left a lot to be desired.
Fields' chemistry with Sharpe is growing rapidly, and we know he's in lockstep with Mooney. But the absence of tight end Cole Kmet was noticeable, and the pass protection needs a lot of work.
Important to note that Jenkins had some big blocks in pass pro and the run game during the second half. A positive sign going forward.
The Bears rushed for 137 yards on 32 carries Saturday.
Sounds good, right?
That's deceiving. Fields, Nathan Peterman, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Dazz Newsome accounted for 44 of those yards.
The straight running game, outside of Ebner, was not so effective. With David Montgomery out, Khalil Herbert got the work for the first-team offense, but he managed just 20 yards on seven carries for a whopping 2.9 yards per carry.
The wide-zone scheme is known for taking a while to click, so we'll reserve judgment until Montgomery and right tackle Riley Reiff make their debuts.
But there are kinks to work out in the run game.
Patrick Mahomes played one series and shredded the Bears' starting defense minus Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith, Kyler Gordon, and Kindle Vildor.
Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker took some of the blame by noting that his "happy feet" gave some of the Bears' defensive looks away to Mahomes pre-snap.
Mahomes picked on linebacker Matt Adams, who was playing the WILL in place of Smith, as the Chiefs marched down the field.
Cornerback Lamar Jackson got the start in place of Vildor and missed a crucial tackle in the red zone.
On a positive note, edge rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad had two pressures in limited snaps and looks like he'll be a nice complimentary piece opposite Quinn.
Brisker settled down after the first series and showed why the Bears are so excited about what he can become. The Penn State product had an incredible three-play sequence in which he laid a massive hit on Chiefs receiver Skyy Moore, came around the edge and punished running back Derrick Gore, and then baited quarterback Shane Buechele into a near interception.
He's the real deal.
As for the non-starters, Sanborn, as mentioned, had a big day in his NFL debut. The undrafted rookie recorded an interception and recovered a fumble in the second half. Meanwhile, Dominique Robinson, Micah Dew-Treadway, and Trevon Coley got consistent pressure against the Chiefs' backups.
There were good moments, but Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense thoroughly handled the starting defense. That's nothing new. The Chiefs do that to most teams. But it shows there's a lot of room for growth.
Andy Reid had everyone from Mahomes to Dustin Crum chucking the ball around Saturday. The Chiefs threw the ball 40 times compared to 19 runs. Six of those 19 runs were quarterback scrambles or designed QB runs.
So, we're dealing with a relatively small sample size here. That being said, the Bears' run defense was solid Saturday.
The Chiefs gained just 52 yards on the ground for 2.7 a clip. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Isiah Pacheco each gained 6 yards on two carries, while Ronald Jones gained 1 yard on four carries.
It's hard to offer a grade with such a small sample, but the run defense did its job.
We might have to invoke the Justin Fields rule on special teams for this game.
I'll note that the special teams execution had some issues. Dazz Newsome muffed a punt, ran back 11 yards, got tackled, and the Bears got called for an illegal block in the back.
That's the stuff of F minus minuses.
But punter Trenton Gill was outstanding when needed, which was far too often. Gill punted seven times for an average of 42.6 yards per punt and had three downed inside the 20.
He looks like a field-position weapon.
Kicker Cairo Santos also remains reliable, but that's no surprise.
They both get an A.
Back to the return game.
While the punt returns were a net negative thanks to Newsome, Ebner was solid on kickoffs. The rookie took the opening kickoff back 34 yards and racked up 18 more after the Chiefs' first score.
I'd expect to see Velus Jones Jr. back there when healthy, but Ebner showed he's capable of handling those duties.
All in all, Richard Hightower's unit was just fine. The kicking operation appeared sound, but there's stuff to clean up in the return game.