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Chicago Bears: Special Teams and Coaching Midseason Grades

Chicago’s special teams unit has been up and down over the past few years. Their returners have been very solid, particularly star kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. However, their punting game and kickers has been dismal at best. This season, however, kicker Cairo Santos and punter Pat O’Donnell have stepped it up and improved the Bears special teams.

Meanwhile, the coaching has been a major disappointment. Head coach Matt Nagy has done a poor job with play calling and keeping players disciplined. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has done well, but otherwise, Bears coaches do not have much to be proud of.

Kick Returner and Punt Returner: B+

The Bears return game has been great for a long time. From 2006-2013, Chicago had Devin Hester, quite possibly the greatest return man of all time. Then, in 2019, Cordarrelle Patterson signed with Chicago. Patterson is one of the best kick returners of the decade, and he has been proving that this season.

He leads the NFL in kick return yards with 606 and return attempts with 22. Although he has yet to get a return touchdown this season, he frequently gets past the 25 and will likely score at some point this season.

However, Bears punt returners have not been as great this year. Tarik Cohen was the Bears star punt returner, but he tore his ACL in Week 3. Chicago was then forced to use veteran Ted Ginn at that role, and he performed terribly. The Bears subsequently signed return man Dwayne Harris and released Ginn.

Although the punt return game has been a disappointment, things are looking up. In Harris’ first game against the Saints, he played well and was a clear improvement over Ginn.

Kicker and Punter: B+

With a below average offense, the Bears punter and kicker are often seeing the field. Punter Pat O’Donnell has the 2nd most punts in the league, and kicker Cairo Santos has attempted 16 field goals, 11th most in the league. Both players have done pretty well with their many opportunities, helping erase some offensive miscues.

O’Donnell has the second most punt yardage and averages 46.4 yards per punt, ranking 16th of all punters. He also has placed the ball inside the 20 yard line 16 times, ranking second in the league in that important category.  O’Donnell has been solid when called upon.

Meanwhile, kicker Cairo Santos has been a very pleasant surprise this season. He was signed in the offseason to replace the injured Eddy Piniero, and has outperformed most expectations.

Santos has made 14 of 16 field goals and has not missed any of his 15 extra points. He seems to be improving as the season goes on, having not missed a field goal since Week 3. He has shown an ability to kick in tight situations as well, having made multiple game-winning or game-tying field goals in important moments.

The main problem with Santos is his trouble on kickoffs. He has the third smallest percentage of kickoffs ending in touchbacks among kickers with over 10 kickoffs. Santos is also in the bottom of the league in average yards on kickoffs.

Coaching: C+

There is no doubt that head coach Matt Nagy has done a poor job this year. Much of the Bears struggles on offense can be blamed on Nagy and his questionable play calling. He has not be able to keep his players disciplined either, as they are third in the league in penalties and fourth in penalty yards.

Nagy’s biggest strength is the camaraderie he has built among the team. The Bears players seem to get along very well with their teammates and believe in each other. This chemistry is great and definitely helps the team, but it can only get you so far.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has been more impressive than Nagy this season. The Bears have a top-tier defense, and Pagano is a large contributor to its success.

Quite possibly the Bears defense’s biggest strength is their conversion defense. They are best in the NFL for percentage of touchdowns allowed when in the red zone at 40 percent. They are also best in third down percentage at 29.8 percent. These statistics fall pretty heavily on the defensive coordinator, proving Pagano’s success with the Bears defense.

Head coach Matt Nagy has done a poor job this season, but defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has a positive impact on midseason grade for coaching.


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