By Brad Thompson–
Devin Hester publicly denounced the NFL rule changes that move the kickoff up to the 35-yard line and, as one of the best return specialists the league has ever seen, he should be upset. Not all of the rule changes hurt the Bears, however. What’s being overshadowed by the kickoff rules is how one of the changes benefits Chicago more than other teams – the new instant replay rules.
Lovie Smith is one of the worst coaches in the league at deciding when to use a red challenge flag. Remember his blunder during the Bears-Redskins game last October? Smith failed to challenge a play that was ruled, on the field, as a fumble by Jay Cutler when, in fact, the replay clearly showed video evidence that Cutler crossed the goal line. It was one of the biggest coaching errors of the season and arguable cost Chicago the game.
There’s no question in my mind that the kickoff rule changes will hurt the Bears. Chicago puts more emphasis on special teams than most teams in the league and their impressive special teams units reflect it. With not one, but two spectacular return specialists, like Danieal Manning and Devin Hester, opposing kickers will be sailing kicks into the end zone against the Bears next season.
Call me an optimist, but I’m trying to look at the bright side of the rule changes for the Bears (plus I wrote about the kickoff rule changes last week).
Next season the booth replay official will have to confirm all scoring plays, saving coaches from using challenges in these situations. What’s unclear is if plays like Cutler’s fumble against the Redskins will be an automatic booth review, since the ruling on the field was a fumble and didn’t result in a scoring play.
The modifications to instant replay rules takes some of the decision-making away from coaches in crucial situations – scoring plays – which is great news for Bears fans. This new change should save Smith from embarrassing moments like the press conference on the Monday following the Redskins game when he admitted that in hindsight he should have challenged Cutler’s fumble.
Having the booth official confirm all scoring plays gives coaches more time to think about play calling, game strategy and time management, instead of watching scoreboard replays to determine if a call was correct. This should help all NFL coaches, but none more than Lovie Smith. While this doesn’t take the red flags away from Smith, it lessens his impact on scoring plays.
Just as new kickoff rules hurt the Bears’ effective return unit, the instant replay rule works in the Bears’ favor with Smith at the helm. Considering Smith’s poor track record with challenges this new rule should let Bears fans rest easier knowing that the decision isn’t in Smith’s hands anymore.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.