When putting together the list of grievances surrounding the 2013 Bears, it's important to remember the forgotten unit.
Amid compulsory second-guessing over confounding tactical decisions on offense and growing public resentment over inept defense, the Bears abject failure on special teams has been overlooked somewhat. You remember special teams, don't you? All that punting and kicking and returning and penalty killing and power-play stuff?
Yeah, the Bears might as well play on skates the way things seem to be going on special teams. One NFL front office executive said simply that the Bears used to win because of special teams play and now they are losing because of it.
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The harsh reality is the Bears are 28th out of 32 NFL teams in the 22-category special teams ranking system Dallas sportswriter Rick Gosselin created. To put it in context, that's how low the Bears currently are on defense.
It's embarrassing considering the Bears were ninth in special teams last season, their league-best seventh consecutive top-10 finish under former special teams coordinator Dave Toub.
Joe DeCamillis replaced Toub, who bolted to the Chiefs when general manager Phil Emery didn't select him to replace Lovie Smith as head coach. Toub's unit in Kansas City is ranked fourth in the NFL. DeCamillis also received an interview for the job that eventually went to Marc Trestman. He was with the Cowboys the last four seasons, finishing 21st and 17th the last two years. They currently rank second under new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
One of the reasons the Cowboys have been so good has been the stellar play of return man Dwayne Harris, who missed the Cowboys' last game, a Thanksgiving victory over the Raiders. Harris is projected to miss the Monday night showdown with the Bears, which is good news for them.
"(The Bears have) had a lot of injuries and when you have injuries it has an effect on special teams," a personnel boss for a recent Bears opponent said. "Things get watered down. But everybody knows (DeCamillis) can't hold a candle to (Toub)."
There is no shame is not being as good as the best and DeCamillis has a good reputation. One of the more interesting subplots to Monday night's meeting with the Cowboys is the coordinator swap the two teams made in the offseason. The original plan when Trestman was hired was to keep Rod Marinelli as defensive coordinator, but the Bears were forced to go with Plan B, Mel Tucker, when Marinelli opted to leave.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin calls Marinelli a co-coordinator, but he's really the defensive line coach. He effectively took a demotion out of loyalty to Smith rather than continue with the Bears under Trestman. The Cowboys rank 32nd in the league on defense, but you can bet everybody around town would take Marinelli over Tucker if they could get him back.
DeCamillis, like Tucker, is viewed as an Emery hire, rather than Trestman in league circles. DeCamillis technically was promoted when he came to the Bears because he carries the title of assistant head coach along with special teams coordinator. Would the Cowboys want him over Bisaccia if they had the choice?
In fairness, Trestman is the head coach and he has come nowhere near the level of Smith in terms of prioritizing special teams. Smith seemed to value special teams more than he did offense. It was his second-favorite unit behind defense, one former team employee used to joke.
Now the Bears aren't as obsessed with finding special teams players as they were when guys like Tim Shaw and Brendon Ayanbadejo were inexpensive stars. Holdovers like Blake Costanzo (13 tackles), Craig Steltz (9), Eric Weems (9) and Sherrick McManis (9) have been the stalwart. But Sunday's road loss to the Vikings was an interesting example of the Bears seemingly contradictory philosophy on special teams.
They spent most of the game kicking away from Cordarrelle Patterson, relying on a pair of shorter kicks and three touchbacks to keep him in check. But when Robbie Gould attempted a would-be NFL record 66-yard field goal that came up short on the final play of regulation, Patterson fielded it and a Vikings source said it looked like he might have been able to break a return to the left side if he hadn't gotten on the field late and ill-prepared.
The decision to attempt a 47-yard field goal on second down in overtime led an emotional Gould to declare in the locker room afterward that his failure on that miss may have cost the Bears a playoff spot. Here's hoping there is no hangover effect for Gould, who along with returner Devin Hester is the best thing the Bears have going for them on special teams.
Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.