By Dan Durkin—
(CBS) In back-to-back weeks, the Bears’ kickoff coverage unit has given up a 100-plus yard return for a touchdown.READ MORE: New ILogin Verification System Is Locking Out Illinoisans Trying To File Unemployment Claims
Special teams plays facilitate change of possession and field position, but they can also serve as momentum changers during the course of a game. Both touchdowns the Bears surrendered came at the start of a half and were tempo-setting moments.
For the return team, a kickoff is similar to a long running play. A blocking scheme is set up, and it’s up to the ball-carrier to run with purpose and vision as he sets up his blocking and looks for daylight.
For the coverage team, defenders are assigned roles, landmarks and lanes that they must adhere to in order to squeeze down on the returner and limit his options. In parallel, the kicker must execute either a directional kick to cut the field down or simply put the ball out of the end zone.
If a kicker is unable to get the ball out of the end zone for a touchback, a coordinator typically chooses a side of the field for a directional kick and looks for at least four seconds of hang time. Because the ball is kicked off from the 35-yard line and defenders get a five-yard run-up, they should be able to cover 40 yards of field position and reach their opponent’s 25-yard line by the time the ball is caught.
On Seattle’s 105-yard return by Tyler Lockett last Sunday, Chicago’s lane discipline wasn’t ideal, the kick was just barely four seconds in the air and the coverage team simply didn’t get off blocks. However, the biggest key to springing Lockett came down to a crack block that the Seahawks schemed based on a tendency they saw in the Bears’ coverage unit’s rules and roles.
Kickoff coverage units are typically comprised of defensive backs and linebackers who are fast, physical, disciplined and adept at bringing down ball-carriers running at full speed in the open field. That unit is further broken down into three groups – the ball players who key on the ball and take the quickest path, the coverage group that arrives just afterward to play contain and the safeties.
The goal is to stagger your coverage, so everyone doesn’t arrive at the same time. If all 10 were to arrive simultaneously, it makes it easier for the return team, as the returner typically only has to make one guy miss in order to generate a big play.
Let’s step inside the film room to take a closer look at Seattle’s return for a touchdown.
(All images courtesy of NFL GamePass)READ MORE: Dolton Police Involved In Incident Where Shots Were Fired On Bishop Ford Freeway
The Bears execute a directional kick to the right. Players are designated as R1 through R5 and L1 through L5 based on the direction of the kick, with the 1-player being closest to the sideline. The players’ jersey numbers are located above, and the different color lines indicate their roles – red lines are the ball players, yellow lines are coverage players and green are the safeties.
The Seahawks execute a man-blocked left boundary return up the numbers with perfect timing and spacing. They elect to leave two players unblocked — kicker Robbie Gould and safety Antrel Rolle, the L1 safety player with the longest path to the ball.
Rather than catching the ball at a standstill, Lockett gets a running start. This is notable, as the coverage team has just reached the 30-yard line by the time he starts his return.
The double team pancaked Lamin Barrow, and the two-man wedge kicks out the R2 (Jacquizz Rodgers) and R3 (Christian Jones) contain players. The play was ultimately sprung by the block from receiver Ricardo Lockette, who executeed a crack block on (now former) Bears safety Brock Vereen. Lockette fakes his customary block on L3 (Sam Acho) and peels all the way across the field.
The Seahawks leave Vereen unblocked down the field, but Lockette’s crack block catches him by surprise and nearly de-cleats him, giving Lockett a clean lane to work through with only Gould to beat. Lockett makes one cut to the sideline and is off to the races.
Here’s an animated .gif of the play from start to finish.
This was perfect execution by the Seahawks.
The Bears have cycled through a few different sets of coverage units already this season and are still seeking the right combination. On average, they’re giving up 55 yards per kickoff return. With Vereen and Jon Bostic now gone, expect even more shuffling as special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers finds out his core players.
On Tuesday, the team signed safety Chris Prosinski and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, both of whom have played on special teams throughout their careers.
The Bears have only five kickoffs this season but must self-scout and pay attention to how they align and use their players. Teams are already picking up on their tendencies to spring big, game-changing plays.MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Cool Changes
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.