2015 Chicago Bears Grades
When the Chicago Bears were competing for division titles, one of their hallmarks was a solid special teams groups heralded by Robbie Gould as a kicker. Gould is perhaps the best symbol of the downturn the Bears have experienced on special teams in recent years. The Bears special teams manifested itself as a problem throughout the 2015 season in all three groups, from kickoffs, to punts and returns both punt and kickoffs. According to the Dallas Morning News, the Bears ranked 12th overall on special teams, combining elements of all special teams play.
Robbie Gould — One of the most inconsistent players on the 2015 Bears, Robbie Gould started off the year making his first fifteen field goals on the season. He then proceeded to finish the season making 18/24 of his field goals. While there were only 6 misses, a 66% success rate is very pedestrian for an NFL kicker, especially Gould who will have the highest cap hit for a kicker in 2016, according to SPOTRAC.com.
Along with his shakiness making field goals, the Bears ranked 27th in touchback percentage, according to teamrankings.com with a paltry 47% of kicks going for touchback. It may be time for the Bears to move on from Robbie Gould, however he was a team captain last season and is viewed as a team leader by teammates and Head Coach John Fox. Maybe removing Gould from his kickoff duties, and focusing more on field goals and PATS, would help Gould become a better kicker overall in 2016.
Pat O’Donnell — O’Donnell’s most notable game was against Seattle in week three where he had 10 punts that week, and suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss one game this year. O’Donnell improved on all statistics in 2015 with net average increasing by two yards and his punts that pinned opponents inside the 20 increased as well. O’Donnell’s job for 2016 should be safe.
Deonte Thompson — A revelation of sorts in the second half of the season, Thompson provided stability and confidence to the kickoff return unit. He brought kicks back to and past the 20 on a regular basis, did a great job following blockers. He probably played himself into the position for next season.
Marc Mariani — Mariani had a shaky year returning kicks between not fielding them cleanly and often getting stopped before reaching the 20 yard line. While Mariani proved to be a reliable target for Cutler in the passing game, his main job as a returner suffered and it’s likely Mariani won’t be part of the Bears plans in the return game for 2016.
The special teams certainly did improve from 2 returns in the first 3 weeks to only allow one more return for TD in the remaining 13 weeks. Overall, the Bears earn a C- for special teams. Improvement for this grade is dependent on the Bears adding more quality depth and increasing their talent pool across the team, thus making the special teams better.