By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Through six games, the Bears rank 24th in the league in average starting field position, at the 25-yard line. Last week against the Falcons, they were below their season average, starting on average from the 19-yard line. After the game, Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler mentioned how difficult it is to have to go 80-plus yards on a drive, as it leaves you such a small margin for error.
There are a variety of reasons for the Bears’ struggles in the return game. Injuries on defense have resulted in a constant shuffling of players at the bottom of the roster, which affects core special teams players, and the returners themselves have been indecisive about when to take the ball out.
A few weeks back, coach Marc Trestman said the team has a line of demarcation in the end zone that they try to use as a guide about when to bring the ball out or not. Both he and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said the offense’s play-calling isn’t affected if the team starts a drive between the 16- and 20-yard line.
“We have parameters we set up every week,” DeCamillis said. “There is no difference between the 16 and the 20 from a play-call standpoint, so every rep we can get to try to get better at it, we’ve got to do that. We’ve been close a couple of times, but I don’t think we were close last game. They did a nice job of covering, we knew that going in. It was a tough game from that standpoint in kickoff return.”
Current kick returner Chris Williams had two returns for 35 yards at Atlanta. Prior to him, Senorise Perry and the now-departed Rashad Ross filled the role as well. No Bears kick returner has brought the ball past the 18-yard line this season.
Trestman was blunt in his assessment, but he also said the team is fine with the returners taking a chance when bringing the ball out deep in the end zone.
“It hasn’t done much,” Trestman said. “But it hasn’t done much with most teams. We look at it as an opportunity. It’s like taking a shot on offense. You’re taking a shot, if we can get out past the 15, 16-yard line, in between the 16 and the 20, it’s not really changing up play-calling in that regard. When we get a chance to run it out, we want to do it because there’s a chance for a big play. We recognize the percentages aren’t going to be in our favor, but we work hard at it, and if we can get one along the way, that would really help us.”
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.