For consistently good teams in the NFL – teams that the Chicago Bears are attempting to emulate – special teams tend to be what their name implies: special.
During the 2018 Bears’ season, however, the third phase was mired in inconsistency, frustration, and disaster when it mattered most. And while You Know Who at kicker exemplified this trend the most, it was a chronic problem across all of new coordinator Chris Tabor’s units.
These are my final grades for the 2018 Bears’ specialists.
Tarik Cohen, PR
Cohen earned first-team All-Pro honors, as well as a Pro Bowl invite, for his punt returning. That should be enough to give him an A, right? Well, it’s more complicated than that.
Yes, Cohen was electrifying when he was on his game. There were a couple that extracted “No, no, no, no, yes!” reactions out of fans, and those were fun to watch. My favorite, however, was his 44-yarder against Green Bay that helped put the game – and the division – away for the Bears.
This was my favorite because it exemplified what a good punt returner should do: one cut and go. My dad remembers Devin Hester’sprime better than I do, and he always says that it was his decisiveness (as well as his freakish quickness and speed) that made him great. Cohen, too often, would pass up five or ten-yard returns for no gain or even a loss of yardage field position.
This offseason, he should watch all of Hester’s best returns and notice his tendency to get up the field after making one move. If he does, he could be a deadly weapon without occasionally being asset for the opponent as well.
Without a clear option besides Cohen, who head coach Matt Nagy understandably does not want to take too many hits, the Bears opted to play musical kick returners throughout the season.
The results were a mixed bag. Cunningham was essentially fired after showing an astounding ability to jog to the 15 yard line and get smothered shortly thereafter. Mizzell was a more straightforward runner and opted to take touchbacks more than the rest (which is a good thing), but he wasn’t anything special either.
Miller was the opposite of Mizzell. He actually had some successes when he took the ball out, using speed that propelled him to the 30 at times. That being said, taking the ball out from seven yards deep a few times was a problem. If he fixes it, he could be a long-term solution at that spot.
Miller showing a somewhat decent KR skillset made it confusing that the team inserted Bellamy for the majority of the playoff game. Cohen took the last one of the season and delivered when the Bears needed it most, but again, he can’t do it full-time because he’s too important. Overall, this revolving door of a position was too inconsistent to warrent an above average grade.
Pat O’Donnell, P
O’Donnell’s career in Chicago should come to a close in March, April, or early September. And like the rest of the Bears’ special teams corps, his time in Chicago was defined by excellent highs but terrible lows.
He was not the main culprit in the Bears’ playoff loss to Philadelphia, and trust me, I’ll get to him soon, but his contributions should not go unnoticed. He shanked a punt late in the fourth quarter and gave Philly the ball at around their own 40, making everyone in attendence – including myself – think “uh oh.” Our suspicions were correct, as the Eagles used their optimal field position to take the lead and eventually win the game.
The thing is, O’Donnell was having a superb afternoon until that point. He downed two balls inside the 10 and a whopping four inside the 20. But he just isn’t reliable enough to be worth bringing back.
Cody Parkey, K
This freaking guy.
Parkey was responsible for the Bears’ playoff defeat. He was not the only man who should be blamed for it, but he is the primary goat – and not the acronym kind. The bottom line is that if he makes that kick, the Bears would have been in LA the following weekend. After that… no use in getting angry thinking about what could have been. But the sound of that football doinking twice was a metaphorical gong, signaling the end of his time in Chicago.
Yes, it was tipped. But as CBS Sports’ kicking analyst Jay Feely pointed out, there was no push at the line of scrimmage to force a block. It was Parkey’s fault for not kicking it high enough.
As if losing the game wasn’t enough to dig his own grave, Parkey decided that it would be a wonderful idea to go on a nationally televised sympathy tour. The TODAY Show appearance sealed his fate, and Nagy could not have made that more clear in his end-of-season press conference.
“I didn’t think that was a “we” thing,” he said.
I couldn’t agree more. Good riddance.
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