By Carlos Nazario
We have taken a look at the Bears offense and defense, and now we will take a look at the third part of the team, the special teams.
Over the years, the Bears have been one of the best special teams units in the NFL. They ranked 2nd in kick return average (25.4 yards/return), and led the league in punt return average (17.1yards/return). They also led the league in punt return touchdowns (3).
A big reason for those gaudy numbers was Devin Hester. He has been a beast returning since he came onto the scene in 2006. He has 14 career return touchdowns, which is a NFL record. His numbers on kickoff returns, however, may go down.
The NFL instituted a rule making teams kick off from the 35, rather than the 30. This will result in more touchbacks, thus giving Hester fewer opportunities to score. Also, in the past teams would sometimes kick the ball out of bounds, which resulted in the Bears having the ball on the 40, creating a smaller field for the offense. Now they will be starting at the 20, necessitating a more efficient offense.
This new rule may have an unintended advantage for the Bears. Gone is Danieal Manning, Hester’s running mate on special teams. In is Johnny Knox, a player who is considered a faster runner than Hester. In the opening game of the preseason, in fact, he had a 70 yard return. If teams decide to kick to Knox rather than Hester, they may be in for a rude awakening.
Kicking the ball off is the ever reliable Robbie Gould. With Gould, the Bears were 10th in the league in touchbacks (16). On a team with a weak offense, he was good, converting 25 of 30 field goal attempts. On attempts from 50 yards and beyond, Gould was 3-4. He also converted all 35 of his point after attempts (PAT’s). In fact Gould has been good on 194 consecutive PAT’s, and has converted 99.5% of those kicks. There is no wonder as to why he is called “Good as” Gould.
On punts, longtime punter Brad Maynard was released this offseason and Adam Podlesh was signed. Maynard’s punt average has steadily declined since 2006, when his average was 44.2%. Since then, he has not reached 42%, and had a career low 40.1 yards/punt last season.
Podlesh played for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. He averaged a career high 43.8 yards/punt. He also pinned 26 of his 57 punts (45.6%) inside the opponents’ 20 yard line. In comparison, Maynard hit 24 of his 83 (29%) punts inside the opponents’ 20. This is a critical stat for the Bears. Whenever they give the other team a long field, it presents them a chance to unleash that great defense on them.
In their second preseason game, the Bears special teams had a rough game. They allowed a 73 yard kick return which led to a Giants touchdown. They gave up a block punt which set up another score. The returners could not get past the 20 and the offense had to operate on a long field for most of the game. That game seemed to be an exception, however, and not the rule on how the Bears will fair on special teams.
Adam Podlesh’s kicking should give the Bears defense some great opportunities to stop opposing offenses and give the offense a smaller field to score. With that, Robbie Gould should have more field goals kicked and add to his consecutive PAT’s streak. This in turn increases the Bears points per game and should lead to another successful season for the Monsters of the Midway.