Beyond the defense for the Chicago Bears, another concern for the team this season has been their special teams unit.
After entering week 4 of the NFL season being ranked in the top ten by Football Outsiders for special teams, entering week 5, the Bears have fallen to number 18. The biggest negation against the Bears this season has been on kickoffs.
That should come as no surprise. When opposing teams have the opportunity for a return against a Robbie Gould kickoff, 9 returns this season, the returner is averaging 28.9 yards per return. That mark is the third highest in the NFL this season.
In addition to their struggles on kickoffs, the struggles of punter Adam Podlesh came to a front after the Bears’ game against the Detroit Lions. In the game against the Lions, constant line drive punts by Podlesh constantly set-up the Lions’ offense in good field position. Podlesh was put on notice this week as the Bears conducted workouts with several free agent punters on Tuesday.
Like the Detroit Lions, the New Orleans Saints have a dynamic offense. Podlesh and the Bears can not give the Saints the luxury on offense with good starting field position. That luxury would be enough for the Saints to get the clear advantage over the Bears and likely make easy work of the team like the Lions did last week.
For the Saints, their special teams unit is ranked by Football Outsiders as the 15th best in the NFL. According to the rankings, the two areas where the Saints’ special teams struggles the most is on field goals and kickoffs.
Saints’ field goal kicker Garrett Hartley has a field goal percentage of 80 percent this season (8-of-10). The two field goals that Hartley missed this season were between the 40-to-49 yard range. Hartley may have a bigger impact in the game on Sunday that Saints intend him to. The Saints will not be playing on artificial turf on Sunday, meaning the pace of their offense may be slowed and Hartley may be depended on more than he has been this season.
Saints’ punter Thomas Morstead handles the kickoffs for the teams. Of the 23 total kickoffs by the Saints this season, 16 have gone for a touchback. Of the seven returns, however, opposing returners are averaging 26.9 yards per return. That mark is the fifth highest in the NFL this season.
If Bears kickoff returner Devin Hester has the opportunity for a return on Sunday, that could be where the Bears can get the advantage over the Saints.
In any event, special teams will certainly play a factor in the game between the Bears and Saints on Sunday.