Cordarrelle Patterson's carved out an important role on the Bears, just not the expected one

Cordarrelle Patterson's carved out an important role on the Bears, just not the expected one

When the Bears brought Cordarrelle Patterson in on a two-year, $10 million contract, there were probably grand designs of red zone jet sweeps, reverse tosses and a dynamic return game that didn’t involve those panic-inducing, one-handed punt returns from Anthony Miller. 

As it turns out, Patterson hasn’t been the natural fit in Nagy 202 that people expected (is anyone?) – he’s only been on the field for more than 25% of the offense’s plays three times this season. He was on the field for 20 snaps in Week 1’s loss to the Packers, and has yet to reach that number since.  

What he has been, surprisingly – or perhaps not – is one of the league’s premier special teams weapons. His abilities as a kick returner are well known, but it’s Patterson’s role on punt coverage that’s pleased the Bears more than anything else this year.

“He's doing it – I'm obviously biased – at a high level this year in that cover area,” special teams coach Chris Tabor said on Tuesday. “There's other things that show up on tape with him that people don't see, [like] when someone else gets a tackle. But he comes down and he takes his guy and essentially throws him into the hole, causing the guy to hang a left into someone else. We give him a forced tackle for that. He's playing really well.” 

Sunday may have been Patterson’s best game of the year on special teams, even considering that electric return score against the Saints a few weeks back. Against the Giants, the gunner downed two of Pat O’Donnell’s punts inside the 5-yard line and made a touchdown-saving tackle on Jabrill Peppers’ 40-yard punt return. 

“Honestly, I thought he fair-catched the ball,” Patterson said. “I kind of gave up on the play, I was out of bounds and was like, ‘he fair-catched it’ … I looked up and he was running my way. I was like, oh shit, I need to get in and make a play.” 

After the tackle, Patterson went right to Tabor and apologized for pulling up early. When asked if the punt he downed inside the five later on made up for it, Patterson wasn’t having it. Tabor wasn’t too worried about it either, pointing to the fact that Patterson hasn’t played much gunner since his time in Minnesota, when then-Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer asked him to do so. 

“I started doing it during my fourth year in the league,” Patterson said. “It’s fun. I enjoyed it, and I haven’t looked back ever since.” 

Playing on special teams is still somewhat stigmatized as a unit where backups can get reps and younger players are placed before the offense or defense can trust them. Patterson, who’s been on four teams, won a Super Bowl, and signed multiple contracts, disagrees. 

“It’s just fun. It’s special teams,” he said. “A lot of players look past special teams probably, and have a lot of pride because it’s special teams and they can’t make a lot of money or whatever. But there’s a lot of guys where we’ll die for special teams.” 

Patterson’s value on that unit will only rise if the Bears are without their other special teams star, Sherrick McManis, for an extended time. McManis was hurt on that same punt return – part of the reason why Peppers got 40 yards down field, according to Tabor – and there are some concerns that the groin injury is somewhat serious. Patterson, even as a $5 million insurance policy, mitigates some of that. 

“I haven't had a player like this since I coached Josh Cribbs, to be honest with you,” Tabor added. “Cribbs was a great returner and he was an excellent cover player, also. Kind of the same type of player. Blessed to have him.” 

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Studs and Duds from Bears' Week 12 win over Giants

Studs and Duds from Bears' Week 12 win over Giants

The Bears have won two of their last three games after defeating the New York Giants 19-14 Sunday at Soldier Field, bringing their record to 5-6 and a chance to move to .500 with a winnable game against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving.

It was arguably the best offensive performance from the Bears this season, even though it still fell short of Matt Nagy 202 expectations. Mitch Trubisky looked like a capable NFL starter, completing 25-of-41 passes for 278 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Some of his production was robbed by a Ben Braunecker drop and a penalty that took a 60-yard completion away from Allen Robinson, but the Bears managed to move the ball well in the third quarter led mostly by Trubisky and his two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing).

The defense did its job too, thanks in large part to the return of Khalil Mack. He was back to his dominant form and had a key strip-sack of Daniel Jones that set up one of Chicago's two offensive touchdowns.

But Sunday's win wasn't just about Trubisky and Mack. There were several other studs (and a few duds) worthy of recognition. 

Stud: WR Allen Robinson

Robinson was a force on Sunday, registering six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown (32 yards). It was A-Rob's season-high in yardage and arguably his most impactful game as a playmaker downfield since joining the Bears as a free agent in 2018.

Dud: TE Ben Braunecker

Braunecker's pitch for the tight end job in Chicago may have slipped through his fingers when he dropped a first-quarter pass from Trubisky that would've likely resulted in a 29-yard touchdown. That drop was part of an all-around terrible game that resulted in Braunecker having the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of all Bears players on offense (50.0).

Stud: WR Anthony Miller

Miller's season-long hibernation ended Sunday when he totaled six catches for 77 yards. He was the kind of high-energy playmaker the Bears hoped he'd be when he was drafted in the second round out of Memphis in 2018. He has the potential to be a top-tier intermediate target for Trubisky, which he proved with his crisp route-running against the Giants.

Dud: C Cody Whitehair

Whitehair struggled against the Giants' defensive line Sunday, finishing with a 51.7 grade from Pro Football Focus. His illegal hands to the face penalty in the second quarter wiped out the 60-yard completion to Robinson. Not good.

Stud: SAF Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Clinton-Dix has been one of the Bears' best all-around defenders in 2019 and he continued his march toward a multi-year deal with another really good game in Week 12. He led the team in tackles (7) and was the second-highest-graded player on the defense, per PFF.

Dud: CB Prince Amukamara

Amukamara seemed a step slow in coverage through Sunday's win over New York. He was targeted seven times and gave up four catches for 61 yards, including 30 yards after the catch.

Stud: WR Cordarrelle Patterson

Patterson didn't do much on offense against the Giants, but he was a star on special teams, especially in punt coverage. He made a touchdown-saving tackle on Giants safety Jabrill Peppers in the second quarter and downed a fourth-quarter Pat O'Donnell punt on the three-yard-line. He impacted field position, even without touching the ball.

How will the Bears replace Trey Burton and, potentially, David Montgomery against the Rams?

How will the Bears replace Trey Burton and, potentially, David Montgomery against the Rams?

The Bears will be without tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen against the Los Angeles Rams, and running back David Montgomery will be a gametime decision prior to Sunday night’s contest in California. 

Burton missed all three of the Bears’ practices this week with a calf injury suffered at the end of the Bears’ win over the Detroit Lions last week, while Shaheen popped up on the injury report with a foot issue and missed both Thursday and Friday’s practices. Montgomery rolled his ankle during practice Wednesday, was held out of Thursday’s practice and then returned in a limited fashion on Friday. 

The upshot here is the Bears may need to take a deep dive into their depth at tight end and running back just to staff those positions for a game they can’t afford to lose. The emphasis, though, is on the word “may.” 

Coach Matt Nagy has frequently referred to the “U” tight end position — which Burton plays — as an important “adjuster” in his offense. But he indicated the Bears could look at other positions to be that “adjuster,” meaning the Bears wouldn’t necessarily need to lean on, say, current practice squad tight end Jesper Horsted on Sunday. 

The Bears were already without Shaheen last weekend when they decided to make him a healthy scratch on gameday, and had Ben Braunecker and J.P. Holtz take over the 2017 second-round pick’s snaps as an in-line (“Y”) tight end. Braunecker has the flexibility to step in for Burton at the “U,” so the Bears could wind up feeling okay about having him and Holtz as their two primary tight ends on Sunday. Bradley Sowell is on the roster, too, and could be active for the first time since Week 2 a backup "Y." 

Meaning: Those waiting for Horsted to get a shot two and a half months after his impressive preseason ended may be left wanting. 

“Jesper’s just now learning the position,” tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said this week, while also praising his work ethic and desire to improve. 
So the best bet here is Horsted gets called up to the active roster but isn’t a significant part of the Bears’ gameplan on Sunday. Notably, though, Nagy did not dismiss the idea of placing Burton on injured reserve — which would end his season — when asked on Friday. 

“It’s been frustrating for Trey,” Nagy said. “You can understand that. And it has been frustrating for us, which you can understand that as well. They’ll be some decisions that we’ve got to collaborate — we’ve got to get together and just talk it through and see what’s best for him and what’s best for us and then decide on that.”

If Burton were to go on injured reserve, it would give Horsted a better chance to be evaluated in 2019 with an eye on if he could contribute in 2020. 

The same goes for Ryan Nall, the second-year undrafted free agent who could play his first regular season snaps on offense if Montgomery is not able to go on Sunday. But the Bears aren’t at the point of looking ahead of 2020 yet, not while they still have a chance — albeit a small one — of reaching the playoffs. 

So instead of Nall, that could mean the Bears use Tarik Cohen and Cordarrelle Patterson as their primary running backs, even if neither is prototypical at the position. 

“There's definite opportunities there (for Patterson),” Nagy said. “Again, there's some flexibility in our roster and the versatility that we have. It can sometimes make it a little bit difficult as a play-caller, as a schemer as to what you want to do, but when things like this come up out of nowhere and they're unfortunate, you just have to be able to not flinch.”

(As an aside: The Bears still made the correct call in releasing veteran Mike Davis last week, as doing so indicates they believe they’ll receive a compensatory draft pick in 2020 through the league’s complex, secretive formula.)

The Bears are 4-5 and have a greater than zero percent chance of making the playoffs (Football Outsiders has it at 3.6 percent entering the weekend). Once this team’s hopes in 2019 are extinguished, then it’ll be time for them to start looking at players like Horsted and Nall who haven’t got a chance this year but perhaps could in 2020. 

But they’re not there yet, meaning it’s not yet to time start throwing undrafted free agents on the field to see what they can do. 

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