Each Wednesday throughout the season, PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush identifies one Packers player, coach or area of the team that is most under the microscope. This week, Dan focuses on the Green Bay special teams’ need to be at their best against the Bears’ Devin Hester this Sunday.
In case you’ve forgotten, as big a reason behind the Packers’ 20-17 loss to the Bears in their first game against them this season back in Week Three was shoddy special-teams play.
Not only did the Packers allow a 62-yard punt return for a TD by Devin Hester, the Bears’ record-breaking return specialist, as well as a 44-yard kickoff return by Danieal Manning, a very dangerous kickoff returner in his own right but the Packers’ coverage units were also responsible for a fair share of the 18 back-breaking penalties in that game. It’s also worth noting that, while one of Green Bay PK Mason Crosby’s FG attempts was blocked in the first game, Bears PK Robbie Gould came through big time in the clutch with two late field goals to turn the tide.
In recent weeks, Hester has been a major force, consistently establishing instant field position for the Bears. Hester leads the NFL in punt-return average (17.1) and was a no-brainer Pro Bowl selection earlier in the week. Packers P Tim Masthay, who posted a scant 19.0-yard net average in Week Three mainly because of Hester’s TD, must do a much better job this time around.
Masthay has shown steady improvement since that game and had two monster efforts in particular against the Jets and the Lions. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy called Masthay’s outing in the 9-0 road shutout of the Jets the finest performance by a punter that he had ever witnessed, and the time couldn’t be more right for a strong repeat performance this Sunday.
It also would be nice if Packers rookie KR Sam Shields could turn it up a notch. The fleet-footed Shields has been ordinary at best since taking over the kick-returning duties, and a Hester-like home run that daily team observers believe he is more than capable of delivering would come in extremely handy.
The Packers’ coverage units also must persevere without key contributor Korey Hall, who is expected to miss Sunday’s game with a knee injury.