The Bears came out a little flat offensively (as usual) and their defense was struggling to tame the Lions. Fortunately for the Bears they have one of the better special teams units in the NFL, led by coordinator Dave Toub. Brad Maynard was his normal stellar self, Robbie Gould finally got the 50 yard monkey off his back, but it was the man most in need of a nickname, Johnny Knox, that sparked the Bears to their win on Sunday.
Kickoff coverage has evolved. Gone are the days of simply staying in your lanes. Teams spend so much time on the third phase of the game these days. Working on funneling the returner where you want him to go, crisscrossing the coverage players, but the main emphasis is always on keeping the return man to your inside shoulder. The lanes the players need to stay in now are meant to turn with the direction of the kick and the return man, and by always keeping the returner to your inside he should never be able to get outside your widest man. Some teams will assign a player to be the contain men on each side of the field in case of cutbacks. Either the Lions don't employ this strategy or their left contain man was sucked to the ball. The Bears set up the return in the first half. Dave Toub from chicagobears.com;
"It was a designed bounce or naked, however you want to call it. Everyone is blocking left and then he bounced it out naked to the [right]. We saw that they were over-pursuing. We ran left, left, left in the first half, and then we came out in the second half with the left and bounced it to the right."
At some point in scouting for the game the coaches must have noticed the Lions being over aggressive in their pursuit. On the play the entire kick return team will all look to set up their blocks to the left, as if they were running to the left. The key is for them all to sell the return left.
The kick took Knox to the middle of the field 2 yards deep, he immediately darts to the left hash and at the 5 he starts to veer right, at the 10 he makes a hard cut right, then he turns up field past a few Lions, cuts left again away from the kicker and he's gone. From the Chicago Tribune:
The first decision was by special teams coach Dave Toub, who noticed in the first half that the Lions had a tendency to over pursue on kick returns. So at halftime he told kickoff return man Johnny Knox he was going to break one.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Toub called for a kick return in which everybody starts out blocking left. Then Knox was supposed to bounce the return to the right.
It was a perfect call at a perfect time in the game. With the counter action from Knox looking to go right the whole way, the Lions didn't have any idea what hit them.