Friday, December 14, 2007

Don't Kick to Hester (But not for the reason you think)

While the consensus seems to be that a football team would have to be "Packer Fan" stupid in order to kick the ball to Devin Hester, there are a few voices out their that suggest it might not be as dumb as its made out to be. And I've spent a lot of this week wondering if those voices were right.

One of the things about people is that we tend to have a selective memory. We remember the big plays, but not the average one. We tend to overrate small sample sizes. It's one of the reasons why baseball players that make flashy plays get overrated defensively--they might not have the range of another player, but because they made a jump throw (*cough* Derek Jeter *cough*) where a better player would have made a routine play, they're considered better, because we remember the jump throw and not the routine play or the numerous seeing eye ground balls that he couldn't reach.

So I've been wondering if people have been doing that with Devin Hester. When I started looking into it, I figured that Hester would have a ton of the Bears Big Plays, as measured by Cold, Hard Football Facts. He had six, one of which was his 81 yard touchdown reception against the Vikings. The rest were on kick and punt returns. The Bears have a total of 45 big plays, with 24 of them made by the defense. So Hester has 1/9 of the Bears big plays, a solid total, but not anywhere near as high as I would have expected.

That's not the only thing that struck me when I was looking at Hester's stats. He has six fumbles, two on kick returns and four on punt returns. And he's very much a boom or bust returner, only gaining more than 40 yards the five teams he went the whole way. That means over 36 kick returns and 37 punt returns, Hester only has five returns for more than forty yards. To put that in perspective, of Aundrae Allison's eleven kick returns, he has three returns for more than forty yards.

Honestly, I think there are a lot of good reasons not to give up field position because of the fear of Hester returning a punt or kick for a touchdown, the main one being that it's much more likely he'll fumble or contained than it is that he'll score.

Here's the thing though-even prior to Orton getting named the starter, the Bears have had one of the worst offenses in the NFL. They're 25th in yards per passing attempt with a 5.50 YPA and are the worst in the NFL at running ball, averaging only 3.18 yards per carry. Quite simply, their offense is a joke. And that's why the Vikings shouldn't be kicking the ball to Hester--he's the only threat the Bears have to score. If he were on a better offense, I would likely argue that giving up field position by kicking away from him was worse than kicking to him, but he's not. Now Chris Kluwe just needs to make sure that he actually gets it out of bounds.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, the point is that there isn't a lot of downside to sacrificing field position to the Bears, given that neither their offense OR their defense is even average this year. Frankly, going for it on fourth and short, and onsides kicks, should be attempted more frequently against the Bears than the typical NFL team.

parsongeorge said...

I'm not sure wether to kick it to Hester or not, but what I am sure of is that i absolutely HATE it when teams give up all that field position on squibbing a kick. How many times have you seen games blown by teams that squib it trying to keep the ball out of someone's hand and winding up with the ball on the 40 yard line or better. It makes me crazy. Kick it deep and hustle your ass down the field and make a tackle. As far as the punting goes, I'm all for directional kicking it away from Hester, without a doubt.

Peter said...

I read an article at FootballOutsiders saying that kicking it to Hester is very safe as long as it's not right down the middle. Force him to a sideline to field the ball and you're all set.

If he does score on a return, the Vikings will be embarassed in front of a national audience when the announcers will inevitably talk about how dumb it is to kick the ball to him.