Chicago Bears: Anthony Miller should not return punts

Chicago Bears (Photo by Rob Leiter/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by Rob Leiter/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bears should be careful about who returns punts on Sunday.

As you know the Chicago Bears are without Tarik Cohen, who was lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL in the win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. They have signed rookie undrafted free agent Artavis Pierce to the roster to try to replace Cohen’s production in the offense.

However, it’s their likely replacement for Cohen on special teams (Anthony Miller), which is a bit of a head-scratcher for obvious reasons. Cohen has served as the primary punt returner on this team for the last few years. His speed and elusiveness make him a threat for a big return every time he touches the ball.

But so far this year, the results have been, well, non-existent. In three games, he has returned one point for zero yards and has called for a fair catch on three others. So it’s fair to say the punt return game hasn’t done much to set up the offense for success in what is admittedly a limited sample size.

However, even last year, when he was near the top of the league in average punt return yards, he was only netting a little over nine yards per return. Granted nine yards is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you’re talking about starting field position. Yet, it has to be balanced against the prospective risk and cost, especially when you consider Cohen was injured on a punt return.

Speaking of that potential cost, we turn to their likely replacement, the aforementioned Miller. It doesn’t make sense for the Bears to throw Miller back there and risk injury. First of all, he’s too valuable to the offense as their second wide receiver to take the chance — especially with Nick Foles under center. Second, he injured his surgically repaired left shoulder on a kickoff return less than a year ago against the Vikings!

Put another way, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, and here’s what I mean by that. You’ve likely heard of the statistic Wins Above Replacement which tries to assess a baseball player’s value by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement player. Along those lines, how many more return yards is Cohen worth than his replacement. Well, Cohen was 6th in the league last year averaging 9.2 yards per return. The 16th ranked punt returner averaged 4.3 yards.

Artavis Pierce could make things awkward for Pace. dark. Next

So the disparity between good and great isn’t all that significant. Are an extra five yards worth the risk of losing Miller for the season too?  Not even close — especially when you consider you also have Ted Ginn on the roster who, in his career, has 2,600 total punt return yards. The move makes little sense. Hopefully, it won’t come back to bite the Bears.