Hey, Bears fans! This year sucked major ass from almost every metric that one can find. I’ve been tasked with looking at the trainwreck with special focus on the special teams unit, a task I find immensely interesting and also difficult, because damn how exactly does one quantify special teams outside of “well, they didn’t fuck up the game so it’s good enough”? Luckily, I just ordered PFF so be prepared for an onslaught of stats that hopefully paint a vivid picture of what exactly went on during all those unreturned kickoffs and missed field goals.
According to PFF, the Bears’ special teams unit was 8th in the league with a 79.4 grade.
The Bears had two core special teamers contribute a PFF grade of over 90, Sherrick McManis and Nick Kwiatkoski (90.9 and 90.0, respectively). McManis only played in 9 games, so while that may contribute to his elite score, it hurts his tackle production (though 6 special teams tackes in 9 games would put him on pace to be near the league lead if adjusted to a full season, the NFL leaders this year had 16 total stops). Kwiatkoski had 8 stops to lead the Bears, and both players only missed one tackle.
Also, aside from an embarrassing blocked punt versus the Saints, the punt coverage team was downright good. The Bears had 55 more total punt return yards than their opponents on two less returns, which is pretty good considering it didn’t seem like Tarik Cohen was getting the same opportunities to be a gamebreaker in 2019 that he did the year before.
Cordarrelle Patterson made the Pro Bowl and was a 1st team All-Pro as a kick returner this year, leading the league in total return yards with the second highest average return. I guess I should feel ashamed for always rolling my eyes when he brought a kick out from 9 yards deep in the end zone, because dude was killing it when he took it out.
Okay, so it also needs to be said that the Bears utilize Patterson in coverage as well, covering all but 3 punts this year and covering 6 kickoffs. Patterson is a gamewrecker as a gunner on the punt team, but his disruption on kicks is best suited at downing punts. He’s missed as many special teams tackles as he made this year (5), and missed gunner tackles on punt returns can be deadly, since it opens up secondary and cutback lanes (I say as I sit in sweatpants, shirtless, eating peanut butter from a spoon). I would personally like to see Patterson on the field goal block team, since there’s no reason Duke Shelley (3 penalties in 53 snaps over 5 games) should be out there, either.
Eddy Piniero is a hard player to analyze, but he is what he is: a league average kicker. He was 17th in field goal percentage, and 19th in extra point percentage. I’m putting this in “the bad” because, well, it’s Chicago. We’re going to be hard as fuck on our kickers, which I think is a little unnecessary but it is what it is. Piniero is average, and for Bears fans that isn’t enough. Ideally, next year he’s kicking more extra points than 30-39 yard field goals next year.
Duke Shelly had a 29.0 grade for the year from PFF, and these end of the roster players need to contribute on special teams to stick around. Look for his roster spot to be on the bubble next year.
Joel Iyiegbuniwe was also a hot pile of trash according to PFF’s metrics, getting a measly grade of 40 on 136 special teams snaps where he could register that stat. 2 penalties, 3 tackles, 2 missed tackles, and 3 total snaps on defense. This guy is also seemingly on his way out.
Anthony Miller’s 63.2 grade on kickoff coverage was 3rd on the team.
Pat O’Donnell had another down season by his standards, however it seems like he goes up and down every year so let’s hope 2020 finds MEGAPUNT back to being a top 10 punter.
The Bears brought out their first team defense to stop the Raiders in the 4th quarter on a 4th and one fake punt they knew was coming, and they still blew it.
Special teams is hard to predict, since player variance tends to be high as dudes fight for a roster spot and potential screen time on Hard Knocks. It seems like the model of having one or two core special teams players to keep around is something the Bears embrace with McManus, but here’s hoping losing Kwit this summer (if it happens) won’t hurt this unit as well, because after those two, it’s Patterson and a various assortment of bums.