Notebook: Trick Play Revealed

WR Johnny Knox (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

We discuss Chicago's trick-play punt return at the end of Sunday's game, Cutler's growing tendency to rush his throws, the return of recently departed Greg Olsen, safety performances and more.

How is it that Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub knew the Packers would punt the ball down the west sideline with 1:09 left in Sunday's game, when the Packers' coverage team didn't know?

Toub picked that point to unveil one of the most creative trick plays in recent memory. Devin Hester lined up to return the punt and gave an Academy Award performance pretending to wait for the ball. Meanwhile, Johnny Knox had lined up on the line of scrimmage to help block the Packers' gunner. At the snap of the ball, Knox turned and sprinted back down the west sideline toward the end zone, catching the ball over his shoulder at the Bears' 11-yard line. With the Packers' coverage converged on Hester, Knox had only to beat punter Tim Masthay, who was blocked by Winston Venable, to go 89 yards for an apparent touchdown. Unfortunately the play was nullified by a holding call on Corey Graham.

The key to the play was the Packers punting down the west sideline, which Toub figured would happen.

"They have a strong tendency to pooch kick the ball to our right," Toub said, "and the coverage thought it was just a mis-hit when they saw Devin running the opposite way (from the middle of the field toward the east sideline). They just drew to Devin. They didn't want to make a mistake and let Devin catch the ball and get a return on them."

The Bears had run the play twice in practice and Knox, with his elite speed, was able to get back fast enough to catch the ball, but it also took a great acting job from Hester.


WR Johnny KNox
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

"Even the players on the field were looking up, waiting for the ball, like, 'Where's the ball at,' " Toub said. "And Johnny's already 50 yards down the field."

Toub said he saw "nothing out of the ordinary," on Graham's part that would have drawn a flag.

"I think maybe the official thought he was trying to prevent (the gunner) from going to Devin, which is where we wanted him to go," Toub said. "He just kind of was pushing him that way, I'm not sure what (the official) saw to be honest with you."

--If it seems like Jay Cutler is rushing some throws, even when he doesn't have to, it's because he probably is after being sacked a league-high 14 times in the first three games, not to mention the league-high 52 times he was sacked last season.

"I think there may be some truth to that," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "I know what's happened here in the past. And I think all quarterbacks go through that to some extent. (But) I think when we looked at the tape (of the Packers game), he was very pleased with the protection. That (rushing throws) goes away real quick. And he's very confident with where we're going with that thing."

Maybe confident isn't the right word, but Cutler realizes he's going to sink or swim with the offensive linemen on the roster.

"I have no choice," Cutler said. "Those are the guys we've got to go with, and we've got to get them ready, and I've got to believe in them. At the end of the day, they're going to do the best possible job they can for me."

So far, their best hasn't been good enough, but right guard Lance Louis could be back in the starting lineup this week after missing the past two games with a sprained ankle. Right tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) is probably still a couple weeks away at least.

--Because of injuries, the Bears started Craig Steltz at strong safety and Brandon Meriweather at free safety last week and coach Lovie Smith characterized their performance as "OK." In the season opener, Chris Harris was at strong safety and Major Wright at free safety, but Harris missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and Wright was out last week with head and neck injuries.

Both Harris and Wright are expected back this week, which means depth-chart decisions will have to be made. Best bet is that Harris starts at strong and Meriweather at free, although Wright will probably see some time in a rotation, possibly with both of the starters.

--Former Bears tight end Greg Olsen caught seven passes for 57 yards last Sunday, including the game-winning 16-yard TD pass with 4:20 left in the Panthers' 16-10 victory over the Jaguars.

Olsen, a former first-round pick who was traded for a third-round pick just prior to the start of training camp, also caught the 2-point conversion pass after his TD. He has 12 catches for 169 yards, on pace for 64 catches and 908 yards. His best season as a Bears was 2009, when he caught 60 passes for 612 yards.


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