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It’s Not Just a Cody Parkey Problem: The Bears’ 26th Ranked Special Teams Needs Some Serious Work

Chicago Bears

The moments of excellence for the Chicago Bears’ special teams unit have been few and far between since Dave Toub skipped town. But there was plenty of optimism entering this season as Chris Tabor, a successful special teams coach with the Browns and Toub pupil, arrived as an assistant on Matt Nagy’s staff. Surely, turning back the clock and bringing in someone connected to better days would help change the vibe in the special teams room at Halas Hall. Right?

Sigh.

Cody Parkey’s misadventures aside, the Bears’ special teams problems weren’t limited to kicking. NFL special teams guru Rick Gosselin released his annual special teams rankings, which don’t paint Chicago’s efforts in a flattering light. The Bears check in at 26th on the Gosselin special-teams rankings, with only the Cowboys, Bucs, Chargers, Browns, Bills, and Packers coming in behind them in overall ranking. So while the Bears weren’t the worst in the league, conference, or division (lulz Packers), there are still a ton of red flags that are a cause for concern.

And while your instincts might pull you toward laying the blame at the feet of a certain kicker, just know that he wasn’t the lone issue.

Chicago ranked dead last in kickoff returns (19.1 yards) and kickoff starting point (23.4 yards). That’s not great, especially when you consider that taking a knee in the end zone will get your team out to the 25-yard-line. The Bears also allowed 12 special teams points, which was tied with five other teams in having that dubious honor. They were also one of 12 teams with no blocked kicks and one of 16 who didn’t score any points on returns. Too many appearances at the bottom for my liking.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad for the Bears. They ranked second overall in punt return yardage (12.5) and punter Patrick O’Donnell checked in tied for 10th with 28 punts inside the 20-yard-line. From a yards per punt perspective, O’Donnell ranked among the middle of the pack with a 39.7 yard net average. Sure, it could’ve been better. But it could have been far, far worse.

Overall, these numbers aren’t encouraging. A better showing would have put the Bears offense in better field position and could have set them up to score more, though ranking 27th in field goal percentage and 24th in extra-points made suggests there were reasons to not believe the kicking game wouldn’t come up empty when given the opportunity.

The good news is that change is coming. Then again, change among special teams units happens annually as the bottom third of rosters gets turned over. I suppose better days could be ahead simply by shaking things up. Even then, there are still important decisions to make in order to make this phase a positive factor on a winning club. On top of replacing Parkey, the team needs to figure out if it will retain O’Donnell for another season and find solutions to its kick return conundrum. Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell Sr. didn’t blow anyone away with their returns, which was a big reason why the team finished where it did in that aspect of grading.

Football is a three-phase game and the special teams lagged behind the defense and offense. That’s problematic, but at least we have a full grasp of how bad the situation is and which areas need the most work. Soon, the Bears will embark on the hard part – actually going about fixing said areas of need. If only that was as easy as it sounds.



Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.