For the majority of Lovie Smith’s tenure as Bears head coach, the team has won games based on the play of its defense and special teams. With the exception of the Super Bowl season in 2006 when the team was clicking in all three phases, the Bears’ offense has been late to show up to the party, or in some cases, has failed to arrive at all.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub joined the Bears when Smith was hired in 2004 and he has survived the coaching purges of the last few years based on the performance of his units. It’s possible that if not for the excellence in the third phase, Smith might not have gotten a huge contract following his Super Bowl appearance — or even got to the Super Bowl — and, thus, he might not have been coaching the Bears this season. That’s a story for another day, though.
The NFL Super Bowl log doesn’t place asterisks next to teams that have won championships without a strong offense or defense. All that matters is whether you win or lose. And based on what we’ve seen out of the starting offense and defense through three preseason games, the Bears will have a hard time winning games this year, let alone making the playoffs and attempting to win a Super Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Bears, the special teams have been just as bad, if not worse, then the offense and defense in their three appearances.
Against the Chargers, the Bears allowed kickoff returns of 51 and 35 yards and also allowed a Brad Maynard punt to be blocked in the end zone for a safety.
In the Raiders game, the Bears showed they did not have a backup plan if long snapper Patrick Mannelly were to suffer an in-game injury as Desmond Clark botched three snaps in his stead. Additionally, another Maynard blocked punt resulted in a safety and a 37-yard kickoff return by the Raiders turned into a 52-yard return after 15 yards were tacked on when Garrett Wolfe was penalized for a horse collar tackle.
As if things didn’t look as bleak as possible through the first two games, the Bears came back for an encore performance against the Cardinals. The normally sure-footed Robbie Gould missed a pair of field goals, one that was blocked and one that hit the left upright, both of which he took responsibility for. We didn’t get a chance to see the kick coverage of the starting kickoff unit until the third quarter because the first string offense failed to score any points.
For a team that has three solid return men in Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, and Johnny Knox, the Bears are going to have to rely on them to get good field position to keep them in games. The Bears will need another solid season from Brad Maynard to pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory and Robbie Gould will also have to be solid as usual because those games in which the Bears have a chance to win will likely come down to a field goal or two.
There’s an old saying that goes, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” That certainly rang true when, after setting kick return records his first two seasons in the league, Hester failed to score a single touchdown the past two years. Let’s hope the rest of the solid special teams play of the past six years doesn’t disappear this season. The offense and defense will have enough burden trying to hold up their end of the bargain without having to cover for the third phase.