Offense Not Missing Hester..............
Bears offense doesn't miss Hester
Team better off with speedster focusing on return game
Dan Pompei On the NFL 3:52 p.m. CST, December 3, 2011
In Devin Hester's absence from the offense over the last three games, it has become very apparent the Bears are better when Hester treats special teams like a wife and the offense like a mistress.
There has been talk of Hester returning to a starting job and a prominent role on offense.
Bears fans should hope it is just talk.
Hester can be effective as a supplementary offensive player who plays in the slot in multiple-receiver packages, but the offense is better served with Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett on the field as much as possible, and with Roy Williams getting a fair share of snaps.
And the entire team is better served with Hester conserving his energy for the return game.
Check this out: When Hester was playing offense full-time, he averaged 15 yards on punt returns; since he stopped playing offense full-time, he has been averaging 26.9 yards on punt returns, even though he has been banged up. If you take away his 82-yard touchdown return against the Lions, he's still averaging 17.7 yards per return in his last three games.
As an offensive player, Hester has not been very effective this year. He has caught only 44.9 percent of the passes thrown to him, the lowest percentage on the team according to STATS.
For comparison purposes, Bennett has caught 62.1 percent of the passes thrown to him, Williams has caught 60 percent of the passes thrown to him and Knox has caught 52.8 percent.
Those numbers are influenced some by the kinds of routes each player is asked to run. It figures that Hester and Knox's percentages would be lower than Bennett's. But Hester's percentage is inordinately low. It's almost 10 percentage points lower than it was one year ago (54.8).
At the time of Hester's injury, he had taken more snaps than any other wide receiver on the Bears. He still has the second-most wide receiver snaps and is 43 behind Knox, according to profootballfocus.com.
The Bears have thrown to Hester 49 times this season, making him the second most targeted receiver on the team behind Knox, who has had 53 passes thrown to him.
Any opponent would be more concerned to see some of those passes going to others, and Hester planning his next punt return touchdown celebration.
Numbers games: Give them a hand
Bears receivers have not been as helpful to their quarterbacks as they should have been so far this season.
The Bears have had 23 drops. That's tied for sixth most in the NFL. The Bears have had one drop for every 10.3 passes that STATS defines as "catchable." That puts them at fourth worst in the league.
You might have a hard time guessing who the least reliable receiver has been. It's rookie Dane Sanzenbacher, who was signed in part because he is supposed to have glue fingers.
Sanzenbacher leads the team with six drops, which is tied for ninth most in the NFL. He has dropped 16.7 percent of the passes he could have caught.
Fellow receivers Hester and Williams have four drops apiece, while Knox has three.
Among tight ends, Kellen Davis has two drops and Matt Spaeth one.
Among running backs, Matt Forte, Tyler Clutts and Marion Barber have one apiece.
Comprehend the trend: Red zone defense
The Bears may not own Soldier Field, but they own part of it — the area between their 20-yard line and their goal line.
The Bears have the best red zone defense in the NFL. They have been remarkably resilient and tough when the field is the shortest and the stakes are the highest. It is a testament mostly to the character of the defenders.
Opponents have scored an average of 3.76 points per trip inside the red zone against the Bears. That's the lowest average in the NFL, according to STATS.
A successful offensive play in the NFL usually is defined by an offense gaining at least 40 percent of the yards necessary for a first down on first down; at least 50 percent of the yards necessary for a first down on second down, or a play that results in a first down on third or fourth down.
Against the Bears in the red zone, opponents have had successful plays 31.7 percent of the time — the lowest percentage in the NFL.
The Bears have held opponents to 1.8 yards per play in the red zone, which is the best average in the league. Their opponent passer rating in the red zone is 43.8, also lowest in the NFL.
And inside the 20, the Bears have six interceptions — again, best in the league.
Front-office chess: Linebacker gamble
The Bears quietly made an interesting transaction last week, waiving Brian Iwuh and promoting Patrick Trahan from the practice squad.
The move was prompted when Iwuh pulled a hamstring against the Raiders. He was expected to miss several weeks. Given Iwuh's primary role is as a special-teams player, there is no guarantee that his hamstring would have allowed him to race the length of the field repeatedly, as is required, the rest of the season.
So the Bears moved up Trahan, who is two years younger, faster and has fresh legs. Iwuh is a solid special-teams player, but not a killer.
Where the Bears could miss him is on defense if there is an injury. Iwuh has something none of the Bears' current backup linebackers have — experience on defense. Trahan, Dom DiCicco and Jabara Williams all are first-year players who have yet to be initiated on defense.
If the Bears do lose a starting linebacker, they can always sign a veteran with experience. Maybe someone like Pisa Tinoisamoa.
But they won't be able to go back to Iwuh this season. After having reached an injury settlement with him, the Bears are prohibited from signing him again for 10 weeks.
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