Bears

The case for Eddy Pineiro being the Bears' kicker in 2020

The case for Eddy Pineiro being the Bears' kicker in 2020

Eddy Pineiro isn’t the only kicker going through a rut in 2019. If anything, he’s part of a larger, bizarre trend. 

On 625 field goal attempts entering this weekend, NFL kickers have made 499 — good for a success rate of 79.8 percent. That figure represents the first time since 2003 the league’s field goal rate has dipped below 80 percent, but it’s not like this 2019 drop-off could’ve been seen coming. 

From 2013-2018, kickers made at least 84 percent of their field goals in a given year; in 2018, they made 84.7 percent of their kicks, the second-highest rate in that span (behind 86.5 percent in 2013). 

So does Pineiro, who’s made 70.6 percent of his kicks entering Week 12, know why this is happening?

“Not really, honestly,” Pineiro said. “I don’t really talk to other kickers — I mean, I talked to (the Lions’) Matt Prater and (guys) like that, guys who are experienced and just ask, try to pick off their mind and feed off their mind. But I don’t ask why they missed and stuff like that.”

This isn’t because the NFL has overwhelmingly trended toward cheap, young kickers like Pineiro at a high rate (rookies Austin Seibert and Matt Gay have made 88.9 and 87 percent of their field goals, respectively). Longtime reliable kickers like Greg Zuerlein (78.3 percent), Adam Vinatieri (76.2 percent) and Robbie Gould (65 percent) have had significantly disappointing seasons. 

Elsewhere: The Giants’ Aldrick Rosas has seen his field goal percentage drop 17 points from 2018 to 2019; Jason Myers, who signed a rich free agent deal with the Seahawks, is down 18 percent. And Miami's Jason Sanders’ field goal percentage is 20.8 percent worse this year than last year. 

Plenty of young kickers — like Pineiro, the Jets’ Sam Ficken (63.6 percent), the Chargers/49ers’ Chase McLaughlin (71.4 percent) and the Panthers’ Joey Slye (73.9 percent) — have struggled, though. 

“I do think that sometimes the perception of it is kickers just grow on trees and that you can just pluck one,” Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said, noting the league’s worst field goal percentage in 16 years. “Obviously we don't want to be a part of that and help that number. It's just one of those things — there's younger kickers. 

“I think that going back to your patience, you don't want to underreact. So what's that fine line, and I think that some teams can do that. That's probably why there's an influx of guys coming through and the consistency gets hurt that way.”

The league-wide context here is important: A number of teams could be in the market for a kicker in 2020’s offseason. The Bears will, probably, be one of them, even if it’s only to add competition for Pineiro during OTAs, minicamp and training camp. 

But finding a reliable kicker in free agency looks difficult, especially for a team still bearing the scars of Cody Parkey’s disastrous contract. Using one of the team’s meager amount of draft picks on one may not be viable, either. And would it really be better for the Bears to try a different undrafted free agent who’s never kicked at Soldier Field again in 2020?

So a path the Bears can follow is hanging on to Pineiro with the knowledge that 1) Kickers have struggled across the board in 2019 and 2) There is a track record of young kickers improving after inconsistent rookie seasons. 

Gould made 77.8 percent of his field goals for the 2005 Bears before launching a career that left him as the leading scoring in franchise history. Vinatieri — way back in 1996 — made 77.1 percent of his field goals for the New England Patriots. Mason Crosby didn’t make more than 80 percent of his field goals for the Green Bay Packers until his fifth year in the league. Only 26 of Prater’s first 38 field goals (68.4 percent) went through the uprights before he went on to become one of the league’s better kickers in Denver and Detroit. 

The Bears believe in Pineiro’s strong leg and upside, to the point where they didn’t bring in anyone for a tryout this week after he missed two field goals against the Los Angeles Rams. While coach Matt Nagy needs to re-gain his trust in Pineiro on gamedays, Tabor relayed to his 24-year-old the team’s trust in him. 

“He said you’re my guy, I’m not bringing anybody in and we’re going to go through this process together,” Pineiro said. “We’re going to be going through it — the highs and the lows — together.”

The Bears see a significant part of Pineiro’s development as being how handles kicking in less-than-ideal weather conditions. And it’s not just how he handles the cold and wind at Soldier Field — it’s how he handles his opportunities to kick in warm weather during Chicago’s brutally-long winters. 

Pineiro didn’t handle that well in Los Angeles, trying to kick his first field goal (which went wide left) too hard in 70-degree weather and then over-compensating on his next attempt, pushing it wide right. 

“Going from kicking in the cold and then going to a nice weather place, you just want to kill the ball and the ball's going a lot farther than it usually does when you kick in the cold,” Pineiro said. “… It's a transition for me. This is my first year. Trying to transition in a good way. It's all a learning experience.”

Pineiro still has to make good on those learning experiences and the team’s faith in him over the Bears’ final six games of 2019. If his field goal percentage can creep toward 80 percent by the end of the season, he’ll have built himself a foundation on which to build in 2020. 

The Bears don’t want to go through this whole kicking search again. Ideally for everyone in Halas Hall, Pineiro becomes a better kicker after learning the hard way how difficult it can be to kick in Chicago. It’s happened before, and until further notice, the Bears believe it can happen again with Pineiro. 

“There's no excuses,” Pineiro said. “I’ve gotta make all my kicks. But I'm learning on my way. This is my first time kicking in the cold, different situations with wind and stuff like that. Learning experience. Gotta be confident and go out there and try my best.”

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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