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

The Bears season is not going to end with any kind of post-season glory, so in lieu of a CHI/KC match up, we’re looking at some internal match ups this week of positions/players with something legitimately left to play for. Enjoy.

Tony: Wes, I appreciate the idea of re-focusing this week’s matchup on some of these end-of-roster players that we’d like to see more of in the last two weeks. It’s a lot easier than trying to figure out 400 words or so each that basically says “The Chiefs should win this one very easily”. So, since you’ve gifted me the offense, here’s 4 guys I’d like to see get some real run in the last two meaningless games.

Ryan NallFor no other reason, to finally appease the people who think Nall is a franchise-caliber RB; you know, the same people who thought Dane Sanzenbacher was the next Wes Welker. I know he’s had a couple nice 69 yard runs in consecutive pre-seasons, but let him get some carries against the starters and see what happens.

Javon WimsJuice has been out there quite a bit this season, but he doesn’t get much in terms of looks in the passing game. We all remember his outstanding Week 17 game last year; I’d like to see what we get from Wims with somewhere between 5-7 targets a game. He knows the offense much better than…

Riley RidleyHe’s been hurt, but he doesn’t seem to know where to line-up ever and I’m starting to believe he shouldn’t be out there and the coaching staff is exposing him to an unnecessarily high number of situations where he isn’t prepared. It would be nice to have a package of plays he can confidently run and we can see if he has more to offer the team than just a somewhat relevant last name.

I wrote half a paragraph about Ben Braunecker before I remembered he was in concussion protocol and is now on IR, which should tell you how high my hopes are that he makes the team next year. So instead, let’s talk about:

Jesper HorstedIn his 3 career games, Horsted has 7 catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. In Braunecker’s 47 games, he’s produced 13 catches for 142 yards and one TD. In my mind, Horsted is the only TE that is a lock to be on the roster next season, since Burton has underwhelmed and The Adam Shaheen Experiment needs to be chalked up as a loss before Mitch gets his head taken off when he misses his chip. Yeah, I know, the Bears passed on George Kittle in that draft but WWE never signed Pentagon Jr, so I guess just shut up or I’ll hit you with a package piledriver, nerd. The Bears will draft a TE high, and Horsted could be a capable #2. Bradley Sowell is a total team player and will always be Matt Nagy’s Taysom Hill, but with less of a chance to fuck your fantasy team. He might be there next year too, but with a strong showing I think Horsted sticks.

Wes: Tony, the Bears and the trash they give us to discuss every week is the true gift this season. Thank Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace and whoever else helped get us here more than ya boy. You covered a couple interesting players on the offensive side, so I guess I’ll toss out a few names on defense, especially hoping the Bears just put Akiem Hicks on IR and give him the rest of this lost campaign off. Apparently the starters will play the last two games, but here’s to hoping we get some decent looks at the younger pieces on the roster.

Also, thank YOU for the gift of reminding everyone that Dane Sanzenbacher exists.

Leonard Floyd: Not really an end of roster player I guess, but ho-boy that fifth year option is looking pretty bad right now. Floyd flew out of the gates with two Sacks in Week 1, but he’s totaled all of ONE since and had his best stretch of stats during the mid-season losing streak. Not exactly standing out in 2019. Methinks his $13M, non-guaranteed contract is going to find him cut before June 1 unless they can come to some other agreement. He’s probably playing more for his own film at this point, but you never know.

Josh Woods: Woods was a favorite of all of ours this pre-season, and while he didn’t get any game action until four weeks ago in LA (a game we’d all like to kind of pretend didn’t happen, ugh) he’s seeing some defensive snaps and work on ST. With Roquan and Trevathan both on IR, and the future of the latter a big question mark, Woods (along with current starter Kevin Pierre-Louis) has a chance to keep his name in the queue at ILB and make Pace believe he’s got plenty at the position to make it a lower priority this upcoming off-season.

Deon Bush: The Bears will have a decision to make at Safety opposite Eddie Jackson (who himself is due new money in 2021) as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DeAndre Houston-Carson and Bush are all coming up on Free Agency. Unless Dix wants to take a similar small money/1-year pact (doubtful), getting to see a lot more of Bush (Phrasing, I know) these last two weeks should be the plan. He’s still only 27 and shouldn’t demand a high salary for sound, steady work at the position, and cap-flexibility will be key with not much readily available for Pace

Kevin Toliver II: Toliver has been a nice bright spot these last few weeks as Prince Amukamara dealt with nagging injuries. The 2nd year player out of LSU has 10 tackles and two passes defended the last two weeks, and speaking of cap space the Prince can be cut to save $8M against $1M in dead money. Again, unless Amukamara wants to restructure it’s looking like the Sophomore CB is making Pace’s decision easier come March and he can further solidify it with continued solid play against tough offenses in KC and Minne-HO-ta.

Eddy Pineiro/Pat O’Donnell: I’m cheating a little here as these are not defenders, but who isn’t thinking the Bears could move on from both their kickers in 2020? Pineiro has done nothing to stake his claim since his walk-off winner Week 2 in Denver and carries no cap penalties, though I can’t see Pace committing much over a minimum to the position. O’Donnell can also be cut for next to nothing, and while he’s not really any worse than last season he’s been treading water at bottom-third rankings in punt AVG, NET and Returns. If the Bears are going to get better they really need to improve consistency in these positions.

Football

vs.

RECORDS: Chargers (2-5) at Bears (3-3)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 12:00pm

TV: FOX 32 

Radio: WBBM 780 AM/105.9 FM

Is it possible for both teams to be looking at the same game as a “get right” matchup? Sunday at noon we’ll find out which of these teams is worth saving, and which one needs to start “assessing the talent on the roster” (tanking). The Los Angeles Chargers show up to Soldier Field on a three-game losing streak, and the Bears come in losers of their last two, but really let’s be honest the Bears don’t look like they could beat the bye week so let’s just say both teams are damn near on tilt. Barring huge turnarounds, this game (which looked like a great matchup six short weeks ago) will have zero national attention and no relevancy to anyone but fantasy football players. That said if you have any Bears players on your fantasy team who aren’t Allen Robinson, you should quit fantasy football (as I glare at David Montgomery on my bench).

Something’s gotta give, right? Looking strictly at DVOA, the Bears on offense are -12.5%. That’s bad. The Chargers on defense are 12.1%. That’s also bad. The Chargers are 22nd against the run this year, the Bears are the 28th ranked rushing attack in football. I’m picturing one of those electric football games to take place when the Bears offense is on the field, in fact it might be an improvement if it was. At least during electric football the margin of error is so big you couldn’t blame the offense for being hot garbage.

Brian Baldinger (he of the amazingly disfigured pinky) had an outstanding Baldy’s Breakdown video of a Bears run that I think encapsulates the problem. In the video, a shotgun run up the gut with Tarik Cohen, Baldy shows how Nagy’s jet motion brings the DB into the box that ends up going unblocked and stuffing the run, when otherwise there’s nothing but green grass in front of the diminutive speedster. Can Matt Nagy scheme his way out of a wet paper bag and embrace the run, or is this game another seven rushing attempts game? Will Joey Bosa destroy Mitch Trubisky? Can the Bears contain the one Bosa brother I actually LIKE rooting for?

The answer is going to depend on how well the Bears defense and special teams play. Remember when the defense was getting to the quarterback, stopping the run, and forcing turnovers? Last year seems so far away right now. The Bears are getting turnovers, but have been exposed by Jon fucking Gruden by all people. Teams know to run away Khalil Mack now that Akiem Hicks is out. The linebackers are getting blown up on the second level, and the defensive backs are playing more on their heels instead of jumping short routes. The Chargers have the blueprint to beating Chicago, and Chuck Pagano hasn’t adjusted.

The special teams is so bad. So, so bad. Sherrick McManis is still in concussion protocol as of this writing, so punt returner Desmond King has the chance for a big day, assuming the Bears punt protection holds long enough for Pat O’Donnell to get a kick in the air. He was only credited with one block last week against New Orleans, but it should’ve been two; and the Bears starting defense was brought in against the Raiders to stop a fake punt and couldn’t do that either after a running into the kicker penalty moved Oakland up, a sequence that eventually cost the Bears the game. A good punt and kick return over the last two games doesn’t negate the pisspoor blocking and kick coverage.

Keenan Allen is a stud at wideout, and if the Chargers are trying to get Melvin Gordon back into form they’d be wise to run him early and often. The team has rushed for 106 yards over the last three games COMBINED, and a goal line fumble by Gordon sealed their fate last week against Tennessee. Mike Williams and Hunter Henry are also outstanding players, even if Henry is basically a slower Evan Engram and Williams is almost exclusively a jump-ball threat.

Oh, and Philip Rivers is still around, somehow. The man has been the starting QB for the Bolts since 2006, which was three Presidents, like 18 children, and countless bolo ties ago. His 11 TDs to six picks this season looks a lot more impressive than it really is, considering most of it has come via checkdowns. Let’s find out if the Bears can stop Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen from dominating with the short routes that make everyone look good statistically. Rivers is basically the upgraded Jay Cutler, with constant temper tantrums and meltdowns on various sidelines over the years, but if the Bears had Rivers during those early 2010s teams, Chicago would have at least one Super Bowl trophy.

Since around November 2nd 2016, Chicago sports has begun to worship the hallowed “players only meeting”. The Bears had one of their own this week, which is either a total indictment of Matt Nagy or just what they need to right the shit. Yeah I know that’s a typo, but if you’ve been watching this team you know why I’m leaving it in.

Final Score Prediction:
Chargers 23 Bears 6, and Virginia McCaskey comes down from the luxury box and fires Matt Nagy, making herself head coach. The Bears win out the rest of the year.

Football

Last Thursday, the Bears lost a football game that didn’t matter. However, for Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry it meant everything. Just about every NFL kicker and punter knows that for them, preseason games are just as important as the real games. No other position has as much riding on their future employment as specialists do in preseason games. This was not a preseason game for Pineiro and Fry, this was game 1.

After one game, the Bears kicking situation became only marginally clearer. Here is what we learned:

Because he has a stronger leg, and probably because he was the frontrunner to win the position going into the game, Eddy Pineiro was given the opportunity to kickoff the preseason opener. Pineiro blasted his first offering into the endzone for a touchback and phase 2 of the longest and most talked about kicker competition in NFL history was underway.

Kicker Scoreboard: Pineiro 1 Fry 0

After a few stalled drives and Pat O’Donnell bombs, David Montgomery continued to impress with a 7-yard touchdown run. Enter Elliott Fry for the point after; Fry was pure as the Bears tied the game at 7-7.

Kicker Scoreboard: Pineiro 1 Fry 1

Fry handled the ensuing kickoff and didn’t have the leg strength to cancel out a return. The ball was fielded at the 1-yard line and brought out 22 yards to the 23-yard line. This was a good coverage kick, however, the best way to limit the possibility of a big return is to ensure there is no return at all.

Kicker Scoreboard: Pineiro 1 Fry 0

On the next Bears drive, Pineiro’s night took a turn for the worse as he was called on to attempt a 48-yard field goal late in the second quarter. Pineiro never sniffed the middle of the uprights and was wide left on the attempt. No one would say a 48-yarder is a gimmie, but it certainly won’t get any easier to convert when its December, the turf is green spray-painted frozen dirt, and the wind is blowing 20mph off the lake. A low pressure, preseason, 80-degree Chicago night with no wind to speak of is easily the best conditions to kick in the kicker graveyard known as Soldier Field.

Kicker Scoreboard: Pineiro -2 Fry 0

An impressive 43 second drill from Chase Daniel brought the Bears to the Carolina 25-yard line, which meant Elliott Fry would come on to attempt…wait for it…A 43 YARD FIELD GOAL WITH 3 SECONDS LEFT (in the half). Fry calmly banged home his first FG attempt as a Chicago Bear – a smooth looking ball that never left center cut. The result yielding the loudest fan reaction of the night. Something you may have missed is that prior to the kick, Riverboat Ron Rivera called a time-out. When asked about this decision, Rivera said he was trying to help the Bears and their coaching staff out. This was a very cool moment and shows a lot about the character of one Rico Rivera.

Kicker Scoreboard: Pineiro -2 Fry 3

With just over seven minutes left, Eddy Pineiro had a shot at a little redemption. Pineiro easily punched through a 23-yard field goal to savage what would have been a largely disappointing night for the kicker.

Kicker Scoreboard: Pineiro 1 Fry 4

The final kick of the night was an Eddy Pineiro kickoff which failed to reach the endzone. The greater problem with this result and that Pineiro is in this competition due to his supposed kickoff power. This was not evident on this kick vs. the Panthers.

Final Kicker Scoreboard: Pineiro 0 Fry 4

I feel Fry’s game one performance was good enough to move him ahead in the kicking competition. After going center cut on his first extra point attempt, the former ‘Cock (never not funny) made his only FG attempt. Fry’s kickoffs left something to be desired but placekicking consistency will always trump kickoff strength in a league where a premium is placed on points. This a guy who made 161 of 162 extra points during his college career; there is no concern over his short-range accuracy.

The other participant in the Bears Kickerpolloza did not have nearly as good of a night. While Eddy Pineiro has a stronger leg, consistency issues continue to plague him. This was a first impression of sorts for Eddy, and unfortunately, he had the look and the performance of guy who is struggling with confidence issues.

While extra points and field goals get a majority of the attention in this kicking battle, do not overlook the importance of kickoffs and how they will affect the Bears decision on who stays and who goes. Neither kicker pulled away from the competition last night and the neck and neck race continues. If everything continues as it has, the job will go to the better kickoff man. The Bears will not carry a kickoff specialist on the 53 man roster and Pat O’Donnell cannot fill that role. So, moving forward, look beyond extra point and field goal accuracy and focus on touchbacks and kickoff placement.

So, after almost 900 words about kicking, I leave you with this…right now, I don’t see either guy being the Bears kicker in the week 1 opener vs. Green Bay.