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Hoge’s Tweetbag: What’s Up With The Bears’ Special Teams?

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Adam Podlesh, left, and Robbie Gould.  (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Adam Podlesh, left, and Robbie Gould. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Adam Hoge Adam Hoge
Adam is a senior writer, columnist and Chicago Bears reporter for...
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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) Naturally, there’s always more questions after a loss, so I’m going to expand the Tweetbag a little bit this week.

Most of the concern appears to be aimed at the Bears’ defensive line and special teams unit, but there were some good questions all around this week.

Let’s get right to them:

I’m not sure the special teams unit has been as bad as some fans are making it out to be, but it certainly appears to have taken a step back from last year’s unit. There have been two big returns allowed by the Bears — Cordarrelle Patterson’s game-opening kick return for a touchdown and Michael Spurlock’s 57-yard punt return — but other than those two plays, the coverage has been pretty good. The problem is, those were two huge plays as they both cost the Bears seven points.

From a return standpoint, the Bears’ wouldn’t have beat the Vikings without Devin Hester’s 249 return yards in that game, so I’m not sure anyone can conclude that the blocking has been bad. The Steelers did a good job of keeping the ball away from Hester in Week 3, but I’m sure the Bears would have liked to see more in the return game against the Lions, considering Detroit wasn’t afraid to kick Hester the ball and he touched it eight times. That said, Hester did average 24. 5 yards on six kick returns, which is not bad.

Meanwhile, Robbie Gould remains arguably the best kicker in the NFL and the extra point he had blocked in Pittsburgh was not on him. There was a blown assignment on the left side of the line and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis was not happy about it. I’d be surprised if something like that happened again this season.

Fans are always quick to jump on the coordinators when there’s a problem, but DeCamillis is a well-respected special teams coach and to me, the problems appear to be depth related, not coach-related. You could maybe question the decision to punt away from Spurlock after his long return, but those punts were poorly executed too.

Which leads us to the next question…

Podlesh got off to a slow start last season too before finishing with a really strong second half of the season. That said, there’s no excuse for some of those punts he kicked in Detroit, especially considering the game was played indoors.

Trestman acknowledged Monday that the punting game has to improve and if it doesn’t, I would imagine the Bears would eventually think about bringing some competition in. Remember, the Bears worked out some punters at Halas Hall in mid-November last season and that was around the same time Podlesh started playing better. This offseason, they had Tress Way compete head-to-head with Podlesh and Podlesh easily won that competition with a strong preseason, even though Way probably had the stronger leg.

The problem is, no team wants to carry two punters on their 53-man roster so the Bears would have to feel pretty comfortable about a guy before making a move like that. I imagine they’ll stick it out with Podlesh for now and see if he improves. Don’t be surprised if you hear about punters getting a workout at Halas Hall though.

Update: Sure enough, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the Bears held tryouts for punters today at Halas Hall. Those invited included Chris Kluwe, Tress Way, Drew Butler, Brian Moorman and Mat McBriar, according to the report.

When comparing Chandler Jones to Shea McClellin, it’s important to remember that Jones has played over double the amount of NFL snaps as McClellin, so naturally his total numbers are going to be higher.

That said, when you average them out, it’s clear that Jones is the better player early on in his career, although the pass rush numbers are closer than you might expect.

Per Pro Football Focus, Jones has 591 pass rush snaps in the NFL and is averaging a sack every 59.1 rushes, a quarterback hit every 45.46 rushes and a quarterback hurry every 18.47 rushes.

By comparison, McClellin has 362 NFL pass rush snaps and is averaging a sack every 91 rushes, a quarterback hit every 60.67 rushes and a quarterback hurry every 15.17 rushes.

Obviously any general manager wants to see his defensive ends pile up sacks, but Phil Emery also pays close attention to what he calls “disruptions”. There’s no way of knowing how many disruptions he has credited McClellin for, but McClellin has created some sort of pressure once every 10.7 pass rushes, compared to once every 9.23 rushes for Jones. Jones has the edge, but it’s probably not as big as you would think. In fact, if you just look at last year, McClellin created pressure every 8.86 rushes compared to  9.81 for Jones. That’s a pretty big indicator that Emery probably doesn’t regret taking McClellin as much as you think he does.

The problem is, this year’s numbers are worrisome when it comes to McClellin. The second-year defensive end is still not playing as much as Jones is, but that gap is shrinking. Unfortunately, the gap in production is widening.

This year, Jones has 169 pass rush snaps and is averaging a sack every 42.25 rushes, a quarterback hit every 42.25 rushes and a quarterback hurry every 13 rushes.

By comparison,  McClellin has 107 pass rush snaps this season and is averaging a sack every 107 rushes, a quarterback hit every 53.5 rushes and a quarterback hurry every 53.5 rushes.

In other words, Jones is creating some kind of pressure every 8.05 rushes, while McClellin is creating pressure every 21.40 rushes. That’s a pretty big difference.

And I haven’t even touched on how they play the run, which is probably the biggest difference between the two players. Jones has proven to be a much stronger player against the run, which is backed up by the PFF grades. Jones earned a 4.2 mark against the run last season (-0.4 this season), while McClellin was at -0.1 last year (-4.7 this season).

What ultimately matters most is how Phil Emery is grading out McClellin, but it’s hard to ignore the apparent dip in production despite the increase in reps.

This question is in regard to the New Orleans Saints’ offensive line, which the Bears will see Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Saints currently rank 10th in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking efficiency ratings. By comparison, the Bengals are first, the Lions are fifth, the Vikings are 15th and the Steelers are 22nd.

I give you all those rankings to show you that the Bears have faced some good offensive lines so far this season, which may explain some of the defensive line struggles. The one poor offensive line they faced — the Steelers — they had success against.

To give you a point of reference, the Bears’ offensive line is ranked 24th. That may surprise you because Jay Cutler has only been sacked six times (and PFF only pins three of those on the offensive line) but the unit has allowed a lot of pressure, which Cutler has done a good job of escaping.

As for the Saints, specifically, they have a pretty good offensive line, but they have allowed eight sacks, four hits and 30 hurries, so it is possible to put pressure on Drew Brees.

If Earl Bennett were to go down with an injury, there’s a good chance Marquess Wilson would find his way onto the field. He still needs to get much stronger though, so if the wide receiver unit stays healthy, Wilson might not see any game action this season.

I doubt it. Josh Freeman would have to be viewed as a guy the Bears feel like they can turn around and groom to replace Jay Cutler, who I don’t believe is going anywhere. Freeman doesn’t make sense as a backup on this team either because the Bears really like Josh McCown as an extension of the coaching staff and they’re not going to add Freeman as a third quarterback. Emery wants to add draft picks at this point, not trade them away.

The tarps are there to protect the grass, as 53 football players and a coaching staff can do a considerable amount of damage standing on the same area of grass for three-plus hours. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that those tarps are not used on artificial surfaces, such as Ford Field where the Bears played Sunday.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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