DAVIE - There's a very fine line between winning and losing an NFL game, and sometimes it comes down to a yard or two.
That's why collecting hidden yardage in the NFL is like finding loose change in the couch. It might not be enough to impress at first, but keep adding it up and there will be a payoff.
Give enough hidden yardage away in the return game, on penalties or by committing negative-yardage plays, and it can seal your fate.
"It's huge," said Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose team leads the NFL in starting field position (32.7) because of Chicago's strong return game. "You say hidden yardage because most of the time it goes undetected, but not to us. A lot of times, that has a lot to do with special teams. It's a base part of how we've won games around here. We realize the importance of it."
So do the Miami Dolphins, but coach Tony Sparano's team hasn't won as many hidden yardage battles as he would like. That's why the Dolphins used the bye week to focus on cleaning up the penalties and improving the Dolphins' return game.
"The rule the way I learned it is 100 yards equals seven points," Sparano said, explaining his hidden-yardage formula. "It isn't exact, it isn't 100 percent, but at the end of it, when you start adding it up, it's pretty close. You can make an argument that give or take a few yards, that's usually where the problem lies."