With time running out, Bears still need answers in kicking battle

USA Today

With time running out, Bears still need answers in kicking battle

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With time expiring at the end of the first half of the Bears’ preseason game against the New York Giants, Javon Wims hauled in an impressive 29-yard snag from Chase Daniel. The play moved the Bears from the Giants’ 38-yard line to the 12. 

It was the kind of play that’ll help cement Wims’ case to make the Bears’ 53-man roster — and also the kind of play the Bears might not call in the regular season, given the pass was caught in bounds and Chase Daniel spiked the ball with just one second remaining. Consider it an important “test” play, though, for seeing how close Matt Nagy can cut it without any timeouts with the clock running at the end of a half. After the game, Nagy said he was pleased with how testing that play — which the Bears have done in practice — translated to success in a game. 

But that success meant Eddy Pineiro would attempt only a chip shot with time expiring instead of what would’ve been a 56-yard try. 

“I was itching for a far one, to be honest with you,” Pineiro, who made his 27-yard try, said with a grin. 

Nagy, though, said he doesn’t view a short kick any different than a long kick so long as it goes through the uprights. 

“So every kick they get, it’s going to count and these preseason games carry some weight,” Nagy said. “Wherever it’s at, I don’t care. Just make the field goal.” 

Still: Making a 56-yard field goal could’ve helped Pineiro separate himself from not only Fry, but other kickers around the league who could be on the Bears’ radar. Every kicker is expected to make a 27-yarder. Showing an ability to make a kick as long as 56 yards could've been an important marker. 

“I was hoping we would get more kicks, more farther kicks but that’s just the way the preseason plays out,” Pineiro said. “Next game, maybe I get a long one, maybe you only get short ones. You just never know. That’s just part of the game.” 

Pineiro made a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter, which was a step in the right direction for a guy who missed from 48 in last week’s preseason opener. Elliott Fry, meanwhile, missed wide left on a 47-yard try in the second quarter — his only attempt of the game. 

While Fry did go on to make a PAT, he said it’s hard to not think about missing his only field goal try in one of the Bears’ four preseason games. 

“You’re trying to come back, I know you get an extra point and in the NFL that’s like a shorter field goal, a 33-yarder,” Fry said. “Still gotta hit those good, try to come back and make that but yeah, it’s definitely frustrating. But as a kicker that’s what you gotta do, you gotta move on and go to the next one.” 

The clock is very much ticking on the Bears’ kicking competition, with only five practices and two preseason games left to figure this thing out. Both Pineiro and Fry have had a good game and a bad game apiece — Pineiro is 3/4 without a PAT attempt, while Fry is 1/2 with two PAT makes. Each have made field goals in practice at, unofficially, a low-80’s clip. When general manager Ryan Pace said on FOX-32 prior to Friday’s game the kicking competition was "close," from what we’ve seen, it’s that way because neither Pineiro nor Fry has separated himself. 

The Bears were interested in acquiring Kaare Vedvik, the kicker/punter dealt from the Baltimore Ravens to Minnesota Vikings earlier this week. But the Bears probably weren’t in a position to beat the Vikings’ offer of a fifth-round draft pick; they do not have a first, third or fourth-round pick, and their fifth-round pick could reasonably be expected to be a few spots lower than that of the Vikings. 

Plus, dealing a fifth-round pick would mean the Bears would go into next year’s draft with two second-round picks and then selections in the sixth and seventh rounds (that could change if Jordan Howard meets certain performance requirements to turn the Philadelphia Eagles’ pick from a sixth-rounder to a fifth-rounder, though the Bears shouldn’t count on that happening).  

Additionally: Trading a fifth-round pick, when the team has found Adrian Amos, Howard and Bilal Nichols in that round, for a kicker who hasn’t played in a regular season game yet might be a little too aggressive, even for a need as glaring as the Bears have. As the Bears begin to pay guys like Cody Whitehair, Eddie Jackson and Mitch Trubisky more money in the coming years, hitting on more mid-round picks will be important to sustaining the success the team found in 2018. 

The Bears could wait and try to snag a kicker on waivers instead of trading a draft pick (or a player), but that may not be a sure thing. 

The kicker-starved New York Jets — who saw Chandler Cantanzaro retire and replacement Taylor Bertolet miss two PATs in a preseason game this week — have a higher waiver priority than the Bears. So do the Green Bay Packers, in case they aren’t comfortable with incumbent Mason Crosby or undrafted challenger Sam Ficken going into the season. The Packers were reportedly interested in Vedvik, too, before he was dealt to the Vikings. 

The Bears, then, may need to make a trade — instead of waiting for waivers — if they identify a kicker they believe can be a solution. Because right now, that solution hasn’t emerged on their roster with time running out between now and a decision needing to be made by Labor Day weekend. 

“There’s still two games left,” Pineiro said. “Anything could happen in the next two games.” 

(Too) Bold Predictions: Leonard Floyd scores the 1st Bears touchdown of the season

(Too) Bold Predictions: Leonard Floyd scores the 1st Bears touchdown of the season

(Too) Bold Predictions aims to take nuanced, well-researched information and use it to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

J.J. Stankevitz: 
1. The Bears' first touchdown of 2019 will be scored by...Leonard Floyd.
The thought here: Denver's offense is not designed to get the ball out quick, and Joe Flacco is generally immobile in the pocket. As long as the Bears' downfield coverage is as good as it was last week (save for one play-action bomb Aaron Rodgers hit), Floyd and Khalil Mack will have plenty of chances to tee off on Flacco. So one of those chances will lead to a strip-sack deep in Broncos territory, with Floyd scooping it up and jogging into the end zone. 

2. Mitch Trubisky will have a passer rating of 95.4.
That was Trubisky's passer rating in 2018...which was 33.3 points higher than his rating in Week 1. Generally speaking, it's hard to imagine Trubisky being significantly worse in 2019 than he was in 2018, even in light of how bad things were against the Packers. So even against a Vic Fangio defense, Trubisky will put up numbers close to or matching his per-game averages in 2018: 66.6 completion percentage, one touchdown, one interception, 230 yards, two sacks. And that'll be good enough for the Bears to win. 

Cam Ellis
1. The Bears will double their season touchdown total in the 1st quarter
This is, admittedly, just a round-about way of saying the Bears will actually get into the end zone this week, which would typically not be very bold. And yet, here we are. After 10 days of having to hear about the run game issues in Week 1, the bet here is that Nagy goes to David Montgomery early and often. Even with Vic Fangio at the helm, the Broncos' defense doesn't yet look like the intimidating sides he's been synonymous with. Let's say Montgomery gets in first from 10-15 and then Trubisky hits Anthony Miller for the 2nd. 

2. Eddy Pineiro will hit his first NFL field goal from 50+ yards
This game has Pineiro's name all over it. Consider: 

a. The way the offense played in Week 1 
b. The thin air
c. How frequently Nagy's decision to not try Pineiro from distance in Week 1 was questioned. 

The Bears spent all summer talking about the 'leg talent' Pineiro had, and while that alone didn't win him the job, it certainly didn't hurt (*Elliot Fry nods sadly*). They also frequently talk about getting Pineiro in a rhythm, and what better place to let him rip some than Denver in September? Since (Too) Bold Predictions are really just thinly-veiled optimism, let's say he sneaks one in from 53.

Three keys and prediction: Bears at Broncos

Three keys and prediction: Bears at Broncos

1. Let David Montgomery eat. Before the season, one of the narratives surrounding the Bears' offense was turning over 75 percent of the running back personnel from 2018 to 2019 would allow Matt Nagy's run scheme to flourish, which in turn would help Mitch Trubisky be a better quarterback. Having Trubisky pass 45 times with only 12 rushing plays to a player in the backfield in Week 1, then, hardly fit that narrative. 

A better run-pass balance will only help Trubisky be more comfortable going through his reads in the pocket, which should lead to him being more efficient. It has to happen this week, too, given the looming specter of Broncos edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb 10 days after the Packers generated a ton of pressure and five sacks on the pass-happy Bears. It’ll be a lot easier for Miller and Chubb to get after Trubisky if they can reasonably know a pass play is coming. 

So this brings us to the main point here: The Bears need to get Montgomery going. They didn’t trade up within the third round, sacrificing a 2020 fourth-round pick, to draft a running back who only gets seven touches. Yes, Montgomery will share time with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen (assuming Cohen doesn’t line up out wide or in the slot on nearly every snap he takes again), but committing to a better run-pass balance — with Montgomery leading it — will work wonders for the Bears’ offense. 

The Oakland Raiders did this in Week 1, with rookie Josh Jacobs rushing 23 times for 85 yards (3.7 yards/carry)…while Derek Carr completed 22 of 26 passes in a 24-16 win. 

2. Don’t let Joe Flacco push the ball downfield. Flacco completed seven of 11 passes that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage in Denver’s season opener, but only one of those traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The Broncos’ offense isn’t totally designed to get the ball out quick and scheme out edge rushers, but it might have to with big-ticket free agent right tackle Ja’Wuan James out (though the team trusts backup Elijah Wilkinson). The Bears’ defense should be good enough to make the necessary tackles and plays on those short throws to keep Denver out of the end zone. 

The goal, then, will be to not let Flacco hit a deep shot to Courtland Sutton or Emanuel Sanders, be it on play action or a straight drop-back. The good news is the Bears paired their coverage and pass rush well against Green Bay in Week 1, with cornerbacks and safeties generally not letting things develop downfield while Leonard Floyd/Khalil Mack/Roy Robertson-Harris/Akiem Hicks/etc. got after Aaron Rodgers. Do the same and Denver’s offense will have a tough time getting on the scoreboard. 

3. Win on first down. The best way for the Bears’ defense to deal with the attitude and heat facing them Sunday will be to not allow positive plays on first down. Denver’s offense wasn’t totally inefficient in Week 1, and reached Raiders territory on six of its eight possessions — yet didn’t score a touchdown until its last drive of the game. The Bears would do well to keep the Broncos from having the kind of extended drives they had on Monday (7.6 plays per drive) given the conditions Sunday.

The worry here is if Denver is able to extend drives, the Bears’ defense will get gassed quickly and might be more prone to allowing those drives to end in points than a Raiders defense high on inspiration but middling on talent was. So this means getting a good pass rush if Flacco drops back on first down, or having Akiem Hicks boss the interior while Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan get downhill to stop the run. Do that, and Denver’s offense likely won’t be good enough to overcome second- and third-and-long downs. 

Prediction: Bears 19, Broncos 16. The Broncos haven’t lost at home in Week 2 since 1979, and have a 12-game winning streak in Week 1 or Week 2 home games. Beneath those numbers are two things: First, the Broncos have been one of the NFL’s best franchises over the last 40 years; and second, it’s often difficult to play on the road at altitude early in the season, when players aren’t quite in peak football shape yet. 

The altitude will, of course, be present on Sunday. A good Broncos team will not. This game will nonetheless be close, but the team with the better roster will win. And that team is the Bears.