Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2011 Bears Position Reviews: The Special Teams

Just two reviews left on this whirlwind tour of the Team That Might Have Been, and today it’s time for the most consistently effective unit on the entire team: the special teams. Now, since Dave Toub came to Chicago with Lovie in 2004 it’s been no great secret that that Bears have had the best special teams in the NFL. They’ve returned more kicks for TDs and blocked more field goals than any other team, Robbie Gould has hovered right around the record for most accurate kicker in NFL history, and they’ve generally ranked very high in kick coverage as well. All of this was true again this year. Without further ado, the specifics:

K, #9 Robbie Gould, 16 games, 28/32 Field Goals (87.5%), 20-29 yds: 10/10, 30-39 yds: 6/6, 40-49 yds: 6/10, 50-59 yds 6/6. XP: 37/37, 43 Touchbacks.

Robbie Gould is awesome. You don’t need me to tell you that. He’s currently the 5th most accurate kicker of all time, with 85.8% accuracy (the record is 86.5%). He’s automatic with anything below 40 yards and generally the most accurate kicker between 40 and 50. The one perceived weak point in his game was that he supposedly couldn’t boot it beyond 50, but Lovie sacked up a few years ago and allowed him to try and, lo and behold, Robbie’s the most accurate kicker in the NFL from 50 yards or more, as he’s converted 11 of 13 tries over the last couple of years. He hasn’t missed an extra point since his rookie year. He also had a career high in touchbacks this year, but so did everyone else thanks to that damn rule change. Simply put, in 2011 Robbie Gould was…awesome. I should have stopped with the first sentence. T

he good news is, Robbie’s still young as far as kicker’s go and you shouldn’t have to hold your breath during a Bears field goal attempt anytime in the near future. Thanks, Robbie. Oh, and thanks for not standing with your back to the ball in that weird stance Paul Edinger used to use. That guy always pissed me off. P,

#8 Adam Podlesh, 16 games, 89 Punts, 3903 yds, 43.9 average, 4 TBs, 21 inside 20, 41 returns, 223 yds (5.4 avg), 3600 net yards, 40.4 net avg.

A lot of people questioned the move last year to replace the veteran Brad Maynard, who had lost quite a bit of power in his leg, with Adam Podlesh and to make Podlesh one of the NFL’s highest paid punters. Suffice it to say, Podlesh was worth the money, as he posted career highs in nearly every category. Unfortunately, the 89 punts was also a career high, but that number should drop drastically with a full season of Jay Cutler. Although he was put to work much more than we would have liked, Podlesh did his best to keep the Bears in games by pinning teams deep on multiple occasions, and he seems likely to be the field position weapon that Maynard was in his prime. Seriously though, hopefully next year Cutler will have more yards that Podlesh does, or I quit.

KR/PR, #23 Devin Hester, 28 punt returns, 454 yards (16.2 avg), 2 TDs. 33 kick returns, 723 yards (21.9 avg), 1 TD.

Do I really need to spend much time breaking down Devin Hester, the Greatest Return Man of All Time? No. He was awesome in 2011, with 3 more return TDs to put him in solo possession of first place in that category. He’s the balls.

What I’ll instead address is the usual meatball complaint that comes around every offseason when the Bears bring in more special teams guys and talk up Hester as a receiver: the addition of Eric Weems means nothing for Hester as a returner. Weems will probably take between 50-75% of the kickoff returns, while Hester will still be the primary punt returner. This is the same situation the Bears have had pretty much since 2008, when Danieal Manning and later Johnny Knox took over many of the kickoff returns. Considering that Hester’s done far more damage returning punts (career average of 12.9 yards per return and a record 15 TDs) than returning kickoffs (a good but not great average of 23.6 yards per return and 5 tds), this isn’t a big deal. Hell, Manning and Knox both have higher career averages as kickoff returners than Hester does. As does Eric Weems. It’s all mostly a moot point anyway, since the new kickoff return greatly reduced the number of returns anyway.

Will Hester’s role as a wide receiver diminish? Absolutely. Actions speak louder than words, and the team traded for Marshall, traded up for Jeffery, and extended Earl Bennett. So shut the hell up already.

KR, #13 Johnny Knox, 1 punt return, 9 yds. 15 kick returns, 397 yds (26.5 avg).

As I mentioned above, Johnny, a 2009 Pro Bowl Alternate at kick returner, also returned kickoffs this past year and did quite well. Considering he’s currently in two pieces, the move to pick up Eric Weems (who, by the way, can also play on kick coverage, something the team doesn’t use Hester for) makes a great deal of sense without resorting to WHY DON’T DEY REALIZE DAT HESTERS A RETURNER NORT A RECAIVER GORD DAMMIT FIL EBONYS NO BETTER DEN ANGERLO!

That wraps up the special teams review. Eventually I’ll move on to pouring scorn upon half of the coaching staff (or maybe just Mike Martz. Okay, it’s just Mike Martz), but that’s all for the player reviews. This is a unit that should, once again, be a strength for the Bears in 2012 thanks to the continued presence of Devin Hester and the addition of guys like Eric Weems and someone named Blake Costanzo who got Brad Biggs all lathered up in a manner not seen since Tim Shaw’s tragic departure. Go Bears.