Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears

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Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011Posted: 11:30 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Maybe everyone is looking in the wrong direction with respect to the new kickoff rules. More than a few analysts and observers think the moving of the kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 may in fact benefit the Bears.

A lot.

The Bears dont have Danieal Manning anymore, Johnny Knox of 2010 (22.8 yards per return) was well short of the Johnny Knox of 2009 (29.0 ypr). Devin Hester is a threat anywhere anytime but hes returning punts and only handled 12 KORs last year. So the loss to the Bears kickoff-return game.Well see.

But look beyond that one phase.

As good as the Bears were returning kickoffs, they were among the NFLs worst at giving opponents field position after kickoffs: average start, 28.5 yard line, 27th in the league. Now, given Robbie Goulds leg strength, take, say, three kickoff returns and turn them into touchbacks. Starting point, the 20.

Put another way, every touchback Gould causes nets the Bears 8.5 yards of field position, using last years numbers for illustration purposes only.

And put into a bigger context: The Bears defense allowed a total of eight drives of 80 yards or longer last season. Every defense and its coaches will always take opponents starting at their 20-yard line.

Take this a step further: Every touchback theoretically starts those offenses 8.5 yards farther back, meaning that every defensive stop forces teams to punt 8.5 yards closer to their own goal line. And when they do punt, guess whos waiting 8.5 yards closer to the other guys end zone:

Devin Hester.

Bears considerations

Another reality to consider in the whole kickoff thing:

This years Bears coverage teams are young. No, they are young.

We may have four rookies starting on each phase kickoff returncoverage, punt returncoverage, said teams coordinator Dave Toub. Thats a lot.

Unreturnable kickoffs by Gould then cut down the chances for mistakes, breakdowns and other misfortunes that befall NFL newbies in any position.

Toub shakes his head a little and manages a half-smile as he says that. To put this in perspective, the 2011 Bears offense has one rookie (Gabe Carimi) starting. The defense has none.

So Toub is tasked with staffing his units, where every play is potentially a highlight-film score, with NFL kids who wont be allowed to be kids very long. Not at all, in fact.

Those will likely include Chris Conte, Dom DeCicco, Tyler Clutts, Mario Addison and others.

I played it all through college, DeCicco said. I stayed on kickoff and punt coverage every year. So its something Im comfortable with.

So who has more anxiety going into Sunday, Toub or the rookies?

The rookiesll be fine, Toub said, laughing, then adding the clincher for who will be the stress leader. I think.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears In-Foe: Since last meeting, Lions roar restored

Bears In-Foe: Since last meeting, Lions roar restored

What a difference two months makes. 

Matthew Stafford had his worst game of the season Oct. 2 at Soldier Field (23-of-36, 213 yards, no touchdowns, and two of the five interceptions the Bears have managed all year) in a 17-14 loss that left both teams 1-3. That was the last week the Bears weren't in last place in the NFC North by themselves.

Detroit has won seven of eight since, and is now in the division driver's seat, with a two-game lead over Green Bay and Minnesota (but it's really 2 1/2 over the Vikings after sweeping the season series). The Lions will either have a long memory from the first meeting, or look where the Bears have gone since, as they look forward to a difficult three-game finish if they're to hold on for the first division crown since 1993 (at New York Giants, at Dallas, host Green Bay).

Sunday's win in New Orleans was the first time the Lions hadn't trailed in the fourth quarter all season, with a start-to-finish 28-13 victory. While they had to settle for field goals on four of their trips to the red zone, they also answered the bell in a hostile environment.

The Saints had just scored to get to within 19-13 early in the fourth quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-10 from their own 34, Golden Tate got open for a 66-yard catch and score to quiet the Superdome. Yes, that's the same Tate who was benched during a one-catch-for-one-yard afternoon on the lakefront opposite Tracy Porter. 

The Golden Domer, admittedly dwelling on numbers following the retirement of Calvin Johnson, got the message. He's had 165- and 145-yard games (Sunday's was the latter) since, and seems back to his former self, up to 65 catches while ranking third among receivers in yards-after-catch. That's come as Marvin Jones has been hobbled by injuries since entering the first meeting with 118- and 205-yard efforts.

Ageless Anquan Boldin has caught six of Stafford's 21 touchdown passes, while Theo Riddick has five in ranking third among running backs with 53 receptions. While his 3.9-yard average fronts a 29th-ranked run game that's churning out just 81 yards per contest after the early loss of Ameer Abdullah, it's part of what's made this turnaround all the more impressive if you're into stats.

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The Lions are just 18th in points per game (22.9), entered Monday night 21st in yards (337.3), and middle-of-the-pack in red-zone touchdown percentage (55.9). Yet they're finding ways to win to make head coach Jim Caldwell's seat considerably cooler after a turnover in management. 

Speaking of turnover, even though he gave it up twice in Week 4 to the Bears, Stafford's been intercepted just 10 times over his last 23 games (with 47 touchdown passes). He set a franchise record by completing 13 straight passes Sunday. He ranks eighth in the NFL in completion percentage (67.2) this season, sixth in passer rating (100.5) and 10th in passing yards (3,224). 

After an injury-plagued first couple of seasons in which he was a Jay Cutler-like gunslinger, he's truly, finally, evolved into the franchise quarterback the Lions envisioned when they used the top pick in the 2009 draft on him, especially after Jim Bob Cooter took over play-calling duties midway through last season. His knack for comebacks (as noted this year above), keeps his team in games, and he's done it all along with shaky, at best, offensive lines.

The current makeup finds first-round pick Taylor Decker protecting his blind side, third-round rookie Graham Glasgow (from Marmion Military Academy) at left guard (supplanting struggling 2015 top pick Laken Tomlinson out of Lane Tech). 

Third-year third-rounder Travis Swanson continues holding down center, flanked on his right by 2013 third-rounder Larry Warford. Riley Rieff was once thought to be the left tackle of the future, but the 2012 first-rounder's been switched to the right edge in what may be his last season in Motown. 

Physically-gifted top 2014 choice Eric Ebron has been slow to blossom at tight end in an injury-plagued start to his pro career. He missed three games after the first meeting with foot and ankle woes, had a pair of seven-catch games upon his return, but has cooled down some since, while not scoring since the season opener.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Bears getting better?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Bears getting better?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times) plus former Bears Jason McKie and Patrick Mannelly join Kap on the panel. The Bears win but are they getting better or did they just crush an awful team?

Rajon Rondo gets suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team. Will he be suspended again?

Plus CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes has the latest on the Chris Sale watch and does Big Ten Champion Penn State have a legitmate gripe about not making the playoffs?

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below: