Only four punters in the NFL average less than Brad Maynard’s 41.5 yards per kick. Yet he’s had arguably the best season of his 12-year career. Because however far Maynard punts the ball, that’s where the ball stays. The difference between Maynard’s gross average and his net average of 38.3 is a league-low 3.2 yards.
Only four punters in the NFL average less than Brad Maynard’s 41.5 yards per kick.
Yet he’s had arguably the best season of his 12-year career. Because however far Maynard punts the ball, that’s where the ball stays. The difference between Maynard’s gross average and his net average of 38.3 is a league-low 3.2 yards.
“That’s because I can’t kick it as far as I used to,” Maynard joked.
No, it’s because Maynard kicks the ball to the right spot – and gets good help. Maynard leads the NFL with 36 punts inside the 20 yard line and 25 fair catches. And Chicago’s punt coverage team ranks second in the NFL, allowing an average of 5.5 yards on opponents’ punt returns.
“Our guys are doing a great job,” Maynard said. “We’re giving them good hang time, but even punts that I didn’t have quite enough hang time on, our guys made plays on.”
The top five punters in the league average 7.1 yards more than Maynard (48.6), but their net gain (38.3) is only two-tenths of a yard more. In 11 of Chicago’s 15 games, including the last six in a row, opponents have had fewer than 10 yards on punt returns for the entire game.
Maynard credits the best gunner play in his 12 years in the NFL. The gunner is the tackler who lines up like a wide receiver and is the first man down on punt coverage.
“We have got guys we can count on,” Maynard said. “We have guys that know how to cover a punt and can find the ball while it’s in flight, and they are making plays on it.”
Rashied Davis, benched as a starting wide receiver Monday, made perhaps the biggest play of the game in Chicago’s 20-17 overtime win over the Packers as a gunner. Davis shoved Green Bay’s Jarrett Bush into the path of a Maynard punt. The ball bounced off Bush’s leg and Jason Davis recovered the muffed kick at the Green Bay 27 to set up the Bears’ first touchdown and start a comeback from a 14-3 deficit.
“My whole deal was to let him think he was blocking me, then push him into the football,” Davis said.
Bush was facing the kick, yet didn’t know where it was. Davis was running away from the kick, yet knew exactly where the ball was. And what he had to do.
“I could hear (special teams coach Dave) Toub yelling from the sideline, ‘Short kick. Short kick.’ I looked up, saw the ball was short and it was coming my way, so I tried my best to push him into it,” Davis said. “I was trying to get up and recover it too, but he pulled me down, so I couldn’t get to it. But Jason did. Thank God he did.”
When the punt team isn’t setting up Chicago’s offense, it’s setting up the Bears defense by consistently pinning teams deep in their own territory. More than one-third of Maynard’s punts have been downed inside the 20. His 36 such kicks are tied for third highest in the NFL since 1976.
“That gives us the ability to play our whole defense,” defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. “We can have our whole game plan when they are backed in. That helps a lot.”
The Bears have allowed only 24 yards in punt returns the last six games.
“I’ve never had a six-game stretch like this,” Maynard said. “Field position has a lot to do with it. I’m not going to say it’s all me or all the cover team. We’re getting some kicks from midfield. Those are good opportunities for fair catches and inside-the-20s.”
Chicago’s coverage is so good teams usually don’t even try to return Maynard’s kicks: only 38 percent of his 90 punts have been returned.
“That,” Davis said, “is what we do. We do our best to get down there and cover and not give up any big plays.”
INJURY NOTE: Three starters were held out of practice Wednesday: linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (ankle), safety Mike Brown (calf) and cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle). Fullback Jason McKie (quad) was limited.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or email@example.com.