The Third Phase: Kicking the Bears to Success

The Third Phase: Kicking the Bears to Success
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 06: Pat O'Donnell #16 and Robbie Gould #9 of the Chicago Bears celebrate after Gould makes the field goal in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field on December 6, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Written by Joe Tidei/Special to Bears Backer

January 14th, 2007. It was a frigid Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field as the Bears took on the Seahawks in the divisional playoffs. Robbie Gould tied the game late in the 4th quarter and had a chance from 49 yards out in overtime to send the Bears to their first NFC Championship Game in 18 years.

When the ball left Gould’s foot, my heart sank because it looked like it was going wide left, but Gould drew it back perfectly to the right and it went through the uprights. The Bears won the game, 27-24.

After that kick, Gould established himself among the NFL’s elite. He has had a great career with the Bears; 11-years, 85 percent overall (74.2% 50+, 72.8% 40-49, 89.1 30-39), 12 game winning kicks and is one of the most accurate kickers in history from 50 plus yards.

Gould’s 2015 season though was one to forget. After his 49-yard game winner vs the Raiders in Week 4, he missed big kicks against the Vikings in Week 8, 49ers in Week 13 and Redskins in Week 14.

The 2015 Bears were a six-win team last year regardless of Gould’s misses. They lacked talent and suffered too many key injuries, but they should be much improved in 2016 and there are going to be games that fall on Gould’s leg.

The truth though is that Gould is 34. He is on the tail end of his career and it is legitimate to question whether he can rebound from last year. Not many kickers are ageless wonders like Morten Anderson, Gary Anderson and Adam Vinatieri. Can Gould bounce back and recapture that clutch gene?

This season does not rest solely on Gould’s leg, but his performance will have a bigger impact than it did in 2015 because the Bears will be more than just competitive. Their goal is to win the close games they lost last season and they will need a clutch kicker to do it.

The other key to the kicking game is third year punter Pat O’Donnell. O’Donnell became a folk hero in training camp because of his huge leg; not many punters get a nickname like ‘MegaPunt.’

O’Donnell has been a disappointment in his first 2 years, though. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Bears ranked 21st in punting last season. That cannot happen again in 2016.

The raw talent and power are there, but O’Donnell has to improve his precision. Hang time is just as important as distance. He needs more height on his punts so he does not outkick his coverage. He needs to work on his directional kicking and placement so he can pin teams inside the 20-yard line.

So far in the preseason, O’Donnell has looked good and hopefully that carries over into the regular season. If O’Donnell can find a way to harness that power, he has huge upside and that will help the Bears quite a bit.

John Fox preaches connected football. Every phase is tied together. Take care of the football, keep opponents out of the end zone, maintain a balanced offensive attack and win the field position battle.

The field position battle is where O’Donnell comes in because the longer the field the more of a grind the game becomes, which is exactly what Fox wants. As the game goes on, the Bears will wear teams down with their physical style.

The kicking game is vital to the Bears’ success in 2016 because of how both fit within the talent framework and Fox’s philosophy.

Author’s note: Joe is an associate producer at CSN Chicago. Give him a follow on Twitter @Joe_Tidei. He talks Chicago sports all day every day.

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