In the 2020 NFL Season, Chicago’s strong suit was undoubtedly their special teams. Led by kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson and kicker Cairo Santos, this unit made few mistakes and consistently helped the Bears offense to the best of their ability. Meanwhile, the Bears coaching staff had another dismal season after performing so well two seasons ago. Here are the end of season grades for the Bears special teams and coaching.
Kick Returner and Punt Returner: A
Midseason grade: B+
The Chicago Bears have the best kick returner in the league in Cordarrelle Patterson. A first team All-Pro for the second year in a row, his versatility, explosiveness, acceleration and speed make him one of the best, if not the best, special teamers in the league. In the 2020 NFL Season, he led the league in return yards, had one kick return touchdown and was second in yards per kick return. His season alone deserves an A+ grade.
However, the Bears punt return game was more of a mixed bag. There was much turmoil at the position due to starting punt returner Tarik Cohen‘s injury in Week 3. The Bears turned to Ted Ginn, who struggled, then the inexperienced Anthony Miller, then veteran Dwayne Harris. Harris was by far the best of the bunch, with the 32nd most punt return yards in the league despite starting just three games.
Despite Patterson’s impressive performance, Chicago was unable to find their punt returner until the very end of the season. Dwayne Harris performed very well in his three games, but it may have been too little, too late to raise the Bears return game grade to an A+. The group does still end with A due to Patterson’s dominance.
Kicker and Punter: A-
Midseason grade: B+
Bears kicker Cairo Santos was outstanding this season, while punter Pat O’Donnell had a fairly good season as well. Santos and O’Donnell frequently bailed out the offense for being unable to move the ball and successfully get it into the end zone.
Santos hit 93.8% of his field goal attempts on the season. He did not miss a field goal for the last 13 weeks of the season and broke Robbie Gould‘s record of most consecutive field goals made for the Bears franchise. Santos also hit 97.3% of extra point attempts, ranking fifth among kickers.
Santos’ one issue, however, was on kickoffs. He ranked 34th in percentage of kickoffs ending in touchbacks at just 48.8%. Despite his automatic performance on field goals and extra points, his struggles on kickoffs lowers Santos’ grade on the season.
Meanwhile, O’Donnell quietly played well this season too. O’Donnell ranked 10th in percentage of punts inside the 20 yard line and 10th in total punt yards.
Santos’ continued dominance throughout the season and O’Donnell’s consistently solid performance raises the kicker and punter grade from a B+ to an A-.
Midseason grade: C+
After winning the award for Coach of the Year in 2018, it was another disappointing year for head coach Matt Nagy. His play calling was often questionable and he once again seems to be wasting the talent on this Bears roster. However, Nagy’s strength is his label as a players coach, one whom they respect and love.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s unit started off the season well. Through the first eight games of the season, Chicago’s defense was among the top teams in nearly every category. However, by the end of the season, their statistics are underwhelming.
This big drop can largely be attributed to poor coaching. The defense did not suffer many injuries, they just seemed more worn out and lackadaisical game by game. Pagano was unable to get his defense back on track, and for that reason, he brings down the Bears coaching grade.
The Bears saving grace, however, was the improved play calling over the last five weeks of the season. Once Matt Nagy handed over the play calling to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, the offense significantly improved. Lazor strategized to play to quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s strengths – being a run first offense to open up play action and let Trubisky throw outside of the pocket. By refiguring the Bears strategy on offense, Lazor helped the team perform better offensively.
Matt Nagy continued on a mediocre level throughout the season and Chuck Pagano’s ability to lead the defense suffered as the season went on. However, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s improved play calling helped make up for Pagano’s difficulties, keeping the Bears coaching grade at a C+.
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