Everyone knows that Bears return man Devin Hester is struggling this season. The man who looked in his first two years like he was on his way to being the greatest returner in NFL history doesn't have a touchdown this season.
But Hester's performance is, I think, worse than most people realize. It's not just that he doesn't have a touchdown, it's that he's not even coming close: He has only one kickoff return longer than 40 yards, and no punt returns longer than 40.
The advanced stats at FootballOutsiders.com show that if the Bears just had a league average return man -- let alone a superstar, which is what everyone thought they had -- they would have picked up about four more points' worth of extra field position than Hester has given them this season. Last year, the field position Hester gave the Bears was worth about 32 more points than an average return man would have given them.
There is a little bit of good news for the Bears, as far as field position goes: Kicker Robbie Gould is off to a fine start this season, averaging 66.5 yards per kickoff. That's a lot better than he did last year, when he averaged 59.5 yards per kickoff.
But even then, the overall result isn't as great because the Bears' coverage units haven't played as well this year as they did last year. The Bears are allowing four more yards per kickoff return than they did in 2007, and the bottom line number is that the Bears are only very slightly better than league average in their opponents' average starts after their kickoffs.
So the Bears, the team that had statistically by far the best special teams in the league the last two years, are now pretty much mediocre in the kicking game. Of course, the Bears are in first place anyway. They've got to like their chances, especially if Hester becomes the Hester of old in the second half of the season.
Despite Robbie Gould, Chicago Bears Losing Field Position Battle as Devin Hester Struggles originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Thu, 06 Nov 2008 10:18:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.