If the Bears are locked in a low-scoring battle with Vic Fangio’s Denver Broncos on Sunday, it won’t necessarily mean coach Matt Nagy will take more risks with long field goals.
Nagy passed on having Eddy Pineiro attempt a 51-yard field goal during the third quarter of the Bears’ 10-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers last week, noting that number wasn’t within the range determined by Pineiro and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor prior to the game. Had Pineiro attempted and made that kick, it would’ve cut the Bears’ deficit to one point in the third quarter; instead, the Bears went for it on fourth and 10 and did not convert.
Nagy and Tabor didn’t frame that seemingly-curious decision as one based in a lack of trust in their 23-year-old rookie kicker, who in part won the team's job because of his leg strength. In addition to adhering to the distance set pregame, Nagy said he didn’t want to give the Packers better field position by attempting and possibly missing a field goal — an approach he’ll take with him into Sunday’s game against the Broncos as well.
“I would assume that this is a week with the altitude of the balls and kicking which is talked about that the ball can travel further in Denver, so I would assume that that number’s probably further back,” Nagy said. ... It just depends on the flow of the game. I don’t know how it’s going to go. If you’re in Game A and it’s a defensive battle, field position’s at a premium. So if you’re going to kick a 54-yard field or a 53-yard field goal, that’s a risk there of losing some big-time field position in a low-scoring game. I think it’s dependent by the type of game.”
Tabor said that distance is not determined solely by the longest kick Pineiro makes in pregame warmups. If he made a kick from, say, 55 yards but the ball flight was ugly, then his line will be shorter than 55 yards. Wind plays a factor as well, as does the game situation and opponent. Perhaps the Bears will be more willing to risk giving Joe Flacco a shorter field than they were willing to with Aaron Rodgers.
And for Sunday, altitude will also be a factor, as Nagy alluded to. Pineiro recently talked with Broncos kicker Brandon McManus — the two share the same agent — who gave him a few general tips on how to kick at 5,280 feet.
“He told me nothing changes, just hit your ball and it’s going to fly up here regardless,” Pineiro said.
The Bears in a perfect world would only have to rely on Pineiro for PATs — but until this team scores a touchdown, and proves it can score touchdowns consistently, Nagy may need Pineiro more than he ideally would like.
Nagy, though, will trust Tabor’s process and trust the numbers he’s given before Sunday’s game. But it’ll nonetheless be interesting to see how Nagy operates if presented with a similar situation to the one he had Thursday: Kick a long field goal or try to convert a fourth-and-long?
For now, the Bears will head to Denver happy with Pineiro — who, after all, is the team’s leading (and only) scorer after one week.
“I understand why there was a lot of hoopla on the kicking thing, probably in my opinion a little much but that’s okay, I get it,” Tabor said. “But I was really happy for him and I was excited for his opportunity to go out there. Good snap, hold, kick, guys did a great job in protection. It’s Game 1. Now let’s see how he does in Game 2 and I expect him to play well.”