Bears

After Connor Barth's crunch-time miss, will Bears move on from veteran kicker?

After Connor Barth's crunch-time miss, will Bears move on from veteran kicker?

Sometimes the kick just doesn’t go through the uprights.

But that’s likely not going to be a satisfying conclusion for seething Bears fans.

Connor Barth’s latest bout of inaccuracy was in too high-leverage a moment for anyone to excuse, the Bears’ kicker pushing a game-tying field-goal try wide, wide right in the waning seconds of Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the visiting Detroit Lions.

The miss stung, no doubt about it, especially after Mitch Trubisky led the offense down the field on an impressive two-minute drill that featured the rookie quarterback converting a fourth and 13 with a weaving scramble that is sure to be on No. 10’s highlight reel for years to come. With the youngster putting his team in position to advance to overtime, it was up to the veteran leg — and the veteran leg missed. Bears lose.

Barth, to his credit, had the right attitude after the game, explaining that sometimes you just don’t make the kick. Not everyone can be Adam Vinatieri, right?

“I think I hit the ground a little bit and didn’t make good contact. Tough one,” Barth said. “You never want to miss. I’ve been a positive guy. This one kick’s not going to define me.

“It’s a team game. Everyone makes mistakes. Of course I want that one back, but at the end of the day, it happened. You move on. I’ll take it, it’s on me.”

But here’s the thing. This is far from the first time this has happened.

In his second season with the Bears, Barth has missed 10 field-goal tries in 26 games. He’s 11-for-16 so far in 2017 after going 18-for-23 a year ago.

Add to that the way in which Barth got the job in the first place — benefitting from the ouster of longtime kicker Robbie Gould — and a large number of fans have always seemed ready to run Barth out of town on a rail.

It’s important to note to those sharpening their pitchforks, however, that Gould matched a career worst with six missed kicks in 2015, his last year with the Bears. Since leaving the Bears, Gould has made 29 of his 31 field-goal attempts with the New York Giants (2016) and San Francisco 49ers (2017).

But fans pining for a return to those Gould-en days aren’t the only ones who have put the heat on Barth in recent weeks. Andy Phillips, a kicker the Bears had in training camp, sent out a eye-popping tweet after Barth missed a field-goal try in last month’s loss to the New Orleans Saints.

So now more than ever — with Barth’s his field-goal percentage dropping lower thanks to a critical missed kick — the question looms: Is this it for Barth in a Bears uniform?

Head coach John Fox didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement of his kicker following Sunday’s defeat.

“It’s like everything. We are a production-based business. That’s what we get paid to do, whether it is winning games as a head coach or whether it’s making kicks as a kicker. We will evaluate it,” Fox said. “Like I said, every time we go out there, we will do everything we can to put the best team we can out there.”

Of course, it’s easy to rush to judgments when an athlete screws up with the game on the line. The situation magnifies the mistake, whether it be a closer blowing a save, a free-throw shooter coming up empty at the foul line or a kicker missing a potential game-tying field goal with eight seconds left on the clock.

But for Barth, the more worrying part of this whole thing is the trend. Ten missed kicks in 26 games.

Missing might be part of the job, and fans should understand that. But miss a lot, and there might be no more job at all.

“That’s just the way it is. I signed up for this,” Barth said. “You’re going to make some, going to miss some. That’s the way it goes.”

What was it like to coach against Devin Hester? 'You hold your breath'

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Associated Press

What was it like to coach against Devin Hester? 'You hold your breath'

Jeff Rodgers had to gameplan for Devin Hester twice in his career as a special teams coordinator under John Fox: First, in 2010 with the Carolina Panthers, and second, in 2011 with the Denver Broncos. 

“You're holding your breath,” Rodgers, who’s in his third year as the Bears’ special teams coordinator, said. “There's been nobody like him in my generation.”

Neither of those games were necessarily the most memorable performances by Hester, who set an NFL record with 19 special teams touchdowns (14 on punt returns, five on kickoff returns). But the fact that Rodgers — like every other special teams coordinator from 2006-2016 — had to gameplan for Hester was notable in and of itself. 

“He was really the first guy that you really game-planned for and you saw different people take different approaches,” Rodgers said. “You see people try to punt the ball out of bounds. Well, defenses can combat that with some of the rush scheme so you may have to change that. Saw people try to kick fair catch balls and short because the reality is, if you played Chicago when he was rolling and you came out of the game with a 35 or 36 punt, which isn't great, but against him, you're usually taking that every time. He's as good as it gets.”

In that first meeting, on Oct. 10, 2010 in Charlotte, Rodgers’ strategy was to punt out of bounds or away from Hester to prevent him from fielding anything. 

At first, it didn’t work: Hester ripped off a 50-yard return on the first punt he fielded.

“We tried to punt the ball out of bounds and our punter put the ball about four inches from the sideline,” Rodgers said. “He reached in and got it and shot straight up the sideline.” 

From there, punter Jason Baker largely succeeded in kicking away from Hester, with his next six punts not being fielded or being fair caught. But the downside to that strategy was the Bears frequently received good starting field position — though having drives begin between the 40s was preferable to Hester ripping off a big return to set up a drive beginning in the Panthers’ red zone. 

A year later, Rodgers again had to figure out how to mute Hester’s success with the Denver Broncos. He was more successful in this Dec. 11, 2011 meeting, with Hester returning one kickoff for 25 yards and gaining 36 yards on two punt returns. Hester fair caught four punts, and one went out of bounds.

But Hester still notched returns of 26 and 10 yards despite Denver’s strategy to kick the ball as high as possible. 

“In Denver, we tried to hang it up there,” Rodgers said. “Did a good job on the first couple. Actually the best ball that our punter hit that day, that was the 2011 game, the best ball our punter hit that day with hang time and distance, he kind of circled around, went backwards, sideline, all of a sudden he turned a corner and you're holding your breath. We were able to get him on the ground, but he's a game-changer.”

The game-changing success Hester found as a return specialist should get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday, unless the rather strange stinginess on special teamers in Canton continues. But there’s no doubt in Rodgers’ mind when it comes to how great Hester was — and how maddening it was to scheme against him. 

“I'd say (he) changed the game on both kickoffs and punts,” Rodgers said. “He's the best that's ever done it.”

Bears film review: Adam Shaheen was better than you may have thought against Cincinnati

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Bears film review: Adam Shaheen was better than you may have thought against Cincinnati

Adam Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards with a touchdown in the Bears' blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, making it his most productive game as a pro. Three of Shaheen's catches were particularly productive: An 18-yard reception with the Bears backed up near their own end zone; a 16-yard grab on fourth and three; and a one-yard touchdown. 

But Shaheen's positive impact extended beyond his contributions to the Bears' passing game. In this week's film breakdown, we're going to look at a dozen plays on which Shaheen was involved -- nine of which were positive. 

We'll start with Tarik Cohen's near-touchdown in the first quarter, on which the rookie running back stepped out of bounds before dashing into the end zone. The play still went for a 14-yard gain. 

Shaheen is lined up in-line in a two-tight end set, and his assignment on the play is rookie linebacker Jordan Evans (blue arrow). 

Shaheen engages with Evans (blue circle) while Cohen patiently waits for a hole to develop between Shaheen and left tackle Charles Leno. Evans sticks his hand in Shaheen's neck, but Shaheen is able to maintain leverage. 

A zoomed-in view of where Evans' hand was:

Shaheen is able to drive Evans back, and the hole opens up for Cohen to duck through it, nearly breaking a touchdown. 

Jordan Howard wound up scoring the first of his two touchdowns on the next play. 

***

The second play is another example of Shaheen succeeding in the run blocking game. Here, he lines up off the line of scrimmag and pulls to his right across the offensive line. Howard (red arrow) is going to follow a hole to his left created by the offensive line. 

Shaheen squares up against Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (blue circle), who's pretty much the same size (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) as Shaheen. 

Boom. Shaheen plows into Dunlap (blue circle), not allowing him to get a shot to tackle Howard. This play goes for a 10-yard gain. 

***

This was Shaheen's first target of the game, coming on a second-and-12 from the Bears' own three-yard line. Shaheen's route has him running across the face of safety George Iloka (No. 43).

Trubisky has time to let the play develop thanks to excellent blocking from the offensive line and tight end Dion Sims (red circles). Without good pass protection, this could've been a dangerous play, but it shows the confidence and aggressiveness with which Dowell Loggains called Sunday's game. 

Trubisky, with a clean pocket, sees Shaheen get a half-step on Iloka, and throws a pass to a spot only his 6-foot-6, 270 pound tight end can catch it for a 16-yard gain. This throw was a good representation of the growing trust and confidence Trubisky has in Shaheen, and Shaheen's good knack for route-running and creating an opportunity for a catch with his size. 

***

The biggest passing play involving Shaheen was his 18-yard grab on fourth and three. Shaheen isn't Trubisky's first read here, as he has Dontrelle Inman (yellow arrow) running a route to the sticks and Cohen (red arrow) running a wheel route to the near sideline. 

Inman (yellow circle) is pretty well covered, and Cohen (red arrow) hasn't separated enough to make it a safe throw on fourth down. 

So Trubisky clicks through his progressions and spots Shaheen sliding into open space around the 25-yard line. Trubisky makes an excellent throw to get the ball to Shaheen to convert the first down. 

"Just took what the defense gave us, just trust my read, going through progressions," Trubisky said. "And again the O-line did a great job up front, giving me time so I'm able to go through my progressions, just quiet feet in the backfield and Adam ran a great route and just put the ball on him so we could convert. That was a big drive for us."

***

The Bears got the ball to Shaheen on the very next play, with Trubisky running play-action to his left and rolling to his right. The Bengals' defense flows left with the play fake, and Shaheen leaks into open space just beyond the line of scrimmage. 

Trubisky takes the easy completion, and Shaheen powers forward for a nine-yard gain. 

"We’ve just got to share that wealth," coach John Fox said. "To play Y tight end in this league there’s a lot to it, both in the run game and in the pass game. … I think he’s starting to see that maturation." 

***

This was another aggressive call by Loggains, with the Bears taking a shot at the end zone on third-and-1 just after the two-minute warning. Trubisky rolls to his right and looks for Shaheen, guarded by safety William Jackson, in the front of the end zone. 

Trubisky's throw was slightly behind Shaheen, allowing Jackson to stick his arm in on the play. 

The pass falls incomplete, though Shaheen felt he shoud've came down with it. 

"I should have caught it," Shaheen said. "It was a good ball. It was a little low, but you’ve got to come up with that.”

***

Here's one of Shaheen's two negative plays from Sunday, coming early in the third quarter. The play is designed to take a downfield shot to Kendall Wright or Markus Wheaton (red arrows), with Shaheen coming to his left across the offensive line to combo block defensive end Michael Johnson. 

Shaheen whiffs on Johnson, who's able to overpower Howard and drop Trubisky. 

Wheaton and Wright may not have necessarily got open down the field, but at the least, this could've been a zero-yard play instead of a negative one. 

***

Back to a positive play for Shaheen. This is similar to what he did on the first play we broke down, coming to his right across the offensive line to block Dunlap. 

Shaheen lowers his right shoulder into Dunlap, which is enough to spring Howard for a 14-yard run. 

Shaheen has been on the injury report this week with a chest injury, though Fox said the tight end suffered it on that incompletion in the end zone rather than on this play. 

***

Shaheen drew a pass interfernece penalty on linebacker Kevin Minter here, with Trubisky underthrowing a jump ball and Minter not dis-engaging or turning his head. 

Shaheen, clearly, is tough to cover in the end zone...

***

... As shown again here. Shaheen runs right at Minter but doesn't let him engage or re-route him. He cuts to the far side of the end zone on this route. 

Trubisky drops a dime over the head of Evans (No. 50) for a touchdown. 

"The more and more we play and the more and connections we have, the more trust you have with the receiver," Shaheen said. "That’s good." 

***

This was Shaheen's only clear negative play as a run blocker. He's in-line and matched up against Johnson (blue circle) with Howard's run going to the left of him and the offensive line. Shaheen engages with Johnson but doesn't have a good base. 

Johnson is able to throw Shaheen to the side, leaving Shaheen on the wrong side of Johnson as Howard looks to cut upfield. 

Shaheen winds up on the ground, while Johnson is able to tackle Howard for a three-yard gain. 

***

We'll end on a positive note, with Shaheen again pulling across the right side of the offensive line to block defensive end Jordan Willis. 

Shaheen blocks up Willis well, leaving a clear hole for Howard to gain at least a first down. Instead, Howard drags himself into the end zone for a touchdown. 

So what changed for Shaheen in terms of his run blocking success on Sunday?

"I think it’s experience," Loggains said. "It’s him being able to go out and do it. He did play better in the run game. That’s the biggest area of his game and we knew it would be the toughest challenge for him in making the adjustment from Ashland to the NFL. It’s preparation, going back having a good Wednesday, having a good Thursday, and he understood what was going on, is there pieces moved, he processed a little bit faster than the week before and took a step that way."