Football

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.

The Good:

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.

The Bad:

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.

The Weird:

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.

The Future:

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.

Football

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be considering edge rushers as linebackers.

Roster/PFF Grade/Stats:

Kevin Pierre-Louis (90.5) 27 tackles, 0 sacks
Khalil Mack (86.2) 34 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Nick Kwiatkoski (72.6) 51 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception
Leonard Floyd (69.8) nice 32 tackles, 3 sacks
Danny Trevathan (61.9) 54 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Isaiah Irving (61.1) 8 tackles
James Vaughters (60.0) 3 tackles
Roquan Smith (52.4) 76 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception
Joel Iyiegbuniwe (42.1) 2 tackles
Aaron Lynch (36.0) 2 tackles, 2 sacks

First, let’s parse out the data. Irving and Iyiegbuniwe aren’t on the team next year, Vaughters might be. Aaron Lynch needs to go, though. I can shrug off Irving and Iggy’s small sample size, but Lynch played in every game this year. He logged 244 snaps, about 15 a game, and he sucked. I thought he was only brought here to be part of Vic Fangio’s defense as an old friend from San Francisco, but they kept him around for another season and it was a season too long. As low as I am on Irving, I’d rather see him get some run, or see if James Vaughters can play with the starters for a spell. Lynch has to be gone next year, right? Right?

Roquan Smith started off slow, got hot in the middle of the season, and cooled off before his injury against Dallas in week 14. Opponents caught 75% of the passes he was credited as the primary defender on, which is about right given the amount of swings and dumpoffs he was required to stop. His tackling is still his best quality, and he maintained the same level of dominance there in 2019 as his stellar rookie campaign. His only two sacks both came against Detroit in week 13 against first-time starter David Blough, so take that with a grain of salt too. Chuck Pagano needs to make sure to scheme better for Roquan to move in space. If Danny Trevathan doesn’t come back next year, the pressure will be on Smith to do all the things he does so well while also being the main focus of all the second level blocking on inside runs. For what it’s worth, Smith was rated highly for his block-shedding coming out of college, so at least there’s hope.

If the Bears think they could do okay with replacing Trevathan with Nick Kwiatkoski, it would be Kwit’s excellent last few games that made his resume too much to pass up. He hadn’t played as many snaps as he did in 2019 since his rookie season, and the team and fans saw a kid who has developed from playing behind outstanding veterans and learned how to be a Swiss Army knife. He is a stud on special teams, but if the Bears end up letting Trevathan go and sign the cheaper Kwiatkoski, they might have to find a new replacement inside linebacker that can go make the plays he does on kick coverage. One of these two dudes leaves and is starting in a new uniform Week 1 of next year, it’s just a question of who. I personally think the Bears pay AR12 and let Danny walk, which hurts my heart but it is what it is.

I’m a sucker for Leonard Floyd but I kinda waxed too poetic about him in my team defense review, so I’m gonna skip it now. Just know, I say nice things about his ability to set the edge and I think the Bears should seriously consider re-signing him depending on how this year goes.

Khalil Mack is a hard player to write about because he really reminds me how amateur I am in all ways, even in talking about how awesome he is to watch. So many real journalists have poured over Mack that it almost feels pointless to say anything. His numbers could never truly represent exactly how much shit he ruins and how much his being on the field alters the very concept of the way the game is played. You know whenever any referee apologist says something like “well, there’s holding on every play” they’re right, but it’s kinda hard to focus on long enough to prove? Yeah, Khalil Mack gets chipped, double-teamed, and held on literally every single play. It’s like watching a created player in Madden that you just said “fuck it” on and made everything a 99 overall, but instead of shredding CPU lineman while quarterbacks takes seven-step drops, the AI actually gameplanned to stop Mack and half the time it still didn’t matter. The game would stop every play if they called holding on Khalil Mack the way they do for most other players, which is truly a blessing and a curse.

Basically, this linebacker corps has studs in all spots and maybe two quality backups. This offseason is gonna be a tough one, but hopefully the Bears linebackers go into 2020 being their strongest unit once again. That’s a special feeling that makes all Chicagoans do three things: look for that old Bears starter coat in their closet, pretend for one fleeting moment that Mike Ditka wasn’t a hardcore right wing drunken buffoon, and just vibe, baby.