Bears Phase Improvements Part 1: Special Teams
Improvements in all phases are needed for the Bears. Let’s take a look at Special Teams first.
The 2019-20 NFL season is only a little over a month away and there is still so much work to do. With the players reporting to camp, getting back into season shape, and learning each other all over again, each phase of the Chicago Bears has improvements to be made. I’d like to dive into those individually here with you.
The first phase I’d like to discuss is often overlooked but extremely important: Special Teams. I know what you’re thinking. Special Teams isn’t that big of a deal. Any professional NFL kicker can make field goals, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole here Bears fans. Kickoff rules the NFL implemented consistently create touchback after touchback which produces little to zero excitement. I agree with you that it’s dull, but I believe now, more than ever, Special Teams is vital to success. Why?
We’ll begin with the obvious: field goals. Every team needs a competent kicker. It’s not completely dependent on the 50+ yard attempt like Sebastian Janikowski, but it’s expected of a kicker to make the chip shots. It’s no secret that the Bears must improve here. Maybe Elliott Fry or Eddy Pineiro can be the answer. We’ll soon find out. I would just like to see consistency here. If you’re bad then you’re bad. I don’t want to see a bad weeks 1-3, great weeks 4-5, and then a blown huge game in week whatever. Consistency is the key to the kicking game along with good accuracy and solid leg strength.
That brings me to my next point: kickoffs. The Bears kicker needs to be able to kick the ball deep. They have to force touchbacks 99% of the time to win the battle of field position. This is precisely why I feel Special Teams is so critical! Field position is so important in today’s NFL.
It makes entirely too much sense, scientifically speaking. If the offense has fewer yards to travel in order to score, in theory, it should take them less time and energy to move the ball down the field. Therefore, they’re conserving energy and can expel it throughout the rest of the game when they just might need a late fourth-quarter game-winning drive, all the while their defense is on the sidelines catching their breath.
This also goes for the Bears return specialists. They need to be carrying the ball out more often and can’t just settle for the easy 25 yards. I understand ball security is a real issue (I.e the Packers fumbled the game away last season) but to me, the reward outweighs the risk. Has anyone forgotten what newly added specialist Cordarrelle Patterson did against the Bears just a season ago?
I didn’t think so. Granted, if we had a more aggressive and manly kicker, maybe he would have made that tackle, but I digress. It’s not about returning every kickoff for a touchdown, it’s about beating the opponent in who has further to go.
I believe these same ideas coincide with the punting game also. Pat O’Donnell is a skilled punter. His longest career punt is 72 yards, and in that career, he’s only had three punts blocked. I must give credit to the offensive/special teams line in front of him, too, because that’s great protection yet he still possesses the skill to get the ball off his foot quickly and accurately. To be completely honest, I think the punting is the one aspect of the Bears’ Special Teams that needs no serious improvement. In fact, the biggest improvement would be to see even less of Pat O’Donnell, and I mean that in the kindest way possible.
In 2017, the Bears offense was so atrocious that O’Donnell punted a career-high 87 times for 4,087 yards. That is just insanely unacceptable. However, just one year and one young, spunky head coach later, O’Donnell punted a career-low 62 times for 2,791 yards! That is the type of trend I like to see. If we could see those numbers get even lower in 2019, then I’d be ecstatic.
Overall, the Special Teams have their work cut out for them. It might take a week or two to really get things to gel together, but I feel pretty confident they will pull through. These slight tweaks to specific aspects of the Special Teams plays can really go a long way to bringing more numbers to the W column of the Chicago Bears’ 2019 season.
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