Bears’ special teams could loom large vs. Texans
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org November 9, 2012 11:18PM
Corey Wootton celebrates scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt with teammate Blake Costanzo. | Getty Images
Rank Team starts start
1. BEARS 3 26.0
2. Vikings 5 25.2
3. Bills 2 25.1
4. Giants 13 24.3
5. Jets 9 24.2
32. Texans 8 19.3
Rank Team starts start
1. BEARS 10 19.5
2. Saints 11 19.7
3. Browns 14 19.9
4. Raiders 6 20.1
5. Seahawks 10 20.2
32. Texans 9 26.1
Updated: December 11, 2012 6:12AM
Life on the Bears’ special-teams’ coverage units is a controlled race where everyone wins just as long as someone does their job.
But the race is very real.
“We really legitimately fight over tackles,” Bears safety Anthony Walters said.
“We argue on the sideline of who got there first,” linebacker Blake Costanzo said. “But that’s the competition.”
That equates to top-notch coverage units, which could be a key for the Bears against the Houston Texans on Sunday night.
Devin Hester’s struggles aside, the Bears’ special teams have performed well almost all year. They have succeeded with their main objective: giving the offense and defense good field position, especially on kickoffs.
Entering Week 10, the Bears led the NFL in average starting position after kickoffs (26.0) and average starting position of opposing teams (19.5). The Texans rank last in both.
According to Pro Football Focus, which breaks down each game play by play, the Bears’ special teams rank sixth. The Texans are 31st. Can that spell trouble for the Texans?
“Yeah, I think every game,” said Costanzo, who has a team-high 10 special-teams tackles. “You start out the game always with a special-teams play. Field position is important, especially in a game like this with two great defenses going against each other and two high-powered offenses.
“Maybe the field-position battle could become the determining factor, and obviously special teams is all about that.”
Despite having former Bears returner/safety Danieal Manning, the Texans use receiver Keshawn Martin as their primary returner. His career long is a 26-yard punt return last week against the Buffalo Bills. Receiver Trindon Holliday has the Texans’ longest return of the season, a 36-yarder in Week 2.
The Bears are averaging only 8.7 yards per punt return, but much of that can be attributed to teams kicking away from Hester. The same can be said about the Bears’ 18.3-yard average on kickoff returns, especially after the Carolina Panthers used several squib kicks.
But the Bears hope they have some momentum after defensive end Corey Wootton recovered a blocked punt by cornerback Sherrick McManis for a touchdown and Hester had a season-long 44-yard punt return against the Titans.
“Our No. 1 deal is to create field position for our offense and defense,” said special-teams coach Dave Toub, whose units consistently rank among the league’s best. “But anytime you can have a big play like that, it really creates a big spark for everybody.”
Preventing big plays, though, can be more crucial.
“The mentality is that we have a lot of guys who take it seriously,” Costanzo said. “You go from Eric Weems to J.T. [Thomas] to McManis, we’re all out there trying to make a tackle. We take pride in it. Our team devotes a lot of time to it. We go out there like we want to make a play just like the offense or defense will make a play.”
Walters, who has eight special-teams tackles, said the Bears’ units are better this year than last year.
“There’s confidence and trust,” Walters said. “There’s a lot of trust that has to take place, whether it’s Devin fielding the ball believing he has blocks set up and doesn’t need to fair catch it or whether it’s kickoff and guys going down there and having guys zoom around. It’s no different than on defense. You expect somebody to be there.”