In his first season as a Bear, Adam Podlesh set the franchise record with a 40.4-yard net punting average in 2011, so his slump this year was unexpected.
Through the first nine games, Podlesh's net was over 40.0 just twice and only 14 of 41 punts were downed insides the 20.
"There was a point where he was struggling a little bit after Houston (Game 9), and so we went back to fundamentals," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "(Assistant special teams coach) Kevin O'Dea kind of headed the whole thing up; he's a really good kicking guy. Adam turned it over to Kevin and said 'Hey look, just fix me,' and that really helped."
Since then Podlesh has really helped the Bears with field position. His net average has been over 40.0 in five of six games, and he's had 16 of 35 punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Not the same:
Although he was able to practice on a limited basis Friday, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is expected to miss his fourth straight game with a hamstring injury.
As Urlacher's replacement, Nick Roach has 33 tackles in the three previous games since moving over from strong-side linebacker, but the Bears still miss the eight-time Pro Bowler.
"He's a huge part of the success of our defense," weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs said. "He's a big leader, he's a playmaker, he's a guy who makes it very difficult for quarterbacks to throw the ball down the field. Before he was hurt, Brian was making a lot of big plays. So not having him is an adjustment.
"Luckily we have a Nick Roach, who understands all the calls and things like that. But we don't have a linebacker that is 6-foot-4. When we get in a long (-yardage) situation, where we need to play Cover 2, quarterbacks have been more inclined to challenge us down the middle of the field."
Seven-year veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has never played in a postseason game, put his fourth Pro Bowl selection in perspective.
"It's always an honor to be voted in by your peers and coaches around the league," said Marshall, who is second in the league in receptions (113) and receiving yardage (1,466). Fortunately it's my fourth time, but unfortunately it's been my playoffs.
"The Pro Bowl's great, it's a ball, you have a blast out there, but I'm ready to get to the playoffs, and that's more important. So hopefully those tickets go unused and we'll see what happens."
The Pro Bowl is played the week before the Super Bowl.
End of an era:
The last time Lance Briggs didn't make the Pro Bowl, Lovie Smith was a rookie head coach in 2004.
"It's one of those things," Briggs said after his streak of seven straight trips ended. "There weren't any traditional outside linebackers in the Pro Bowl, and that's just the way it goes. It's a vote."
All three outside linebackers on the NFC squad are pass-rush specialists with big sack numbers: the 49ers' Aldon Smith (19½ sacks), the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware (11½) and the Packers' Clay Matthews (12).
Briggs, who is rarely assigned to rush the passer, has 1½ sacks but leads the Bears with 109 tackles and 8 tackles for loss.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.