Packers-Bears matchup of the day: Saturday

Posted Jan. 22, 2011 @ 12:58 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Here's a look at a key matchup heading into the Packers battle against the arch-rival Bears in the NFC championship Sunday at Soldier Field

Packers special teams vs. Bears RS Devin Hester

The Bears clearly won the special-teams battle in their Week Three 20-17 win over Green Bay. Not only did Devin Hester (NFL-record 14 career returns for TDs; league-leading 17.1-yard punt-return average) have a TD on a 62-yard punt return, Packers PK Mason Crosby had a 37-yard field-goal attempt blocked and at least a handful of the Packers' team-record 18 penalties were called on special-teamers.

But the Packers turned the special-teams tables in their playoff-clinching 10-3 victory over the Bears in Week 17. Tramon Williams' 41-yard punt return set up a key Crosby field goal, and Packers P Tim Masthay did a tremendous job keeping Hester in check, employing a directional strategy deep downfield. Masthay, whose 37.6-yard net average this season was the best in franchise history, limited Hester to two returns for 35 yards, with four of his punts landing inside the 20-yard line.

Hester could be double trouble for the Packers on Sunday, as he will be employed as both a punt returner and kickoff returner, facing a unit that allowed a 102-yard kickoff return for a TD by Eric Weems last week in Atlanta - the longest in NFL playoff history.

The Seahawks' strategy against Hester last week in the Bears' playoff win was to kick punts to Hester longer than 35 yards and try to limit him to fair catches as much as possible. Hester had three fair catches on nine punts and returned only two, for gains 26 and four yards.

Obviously, the wind and cold at Soldier Field will greatly dictate Packers special-teams coach Shawn Slocum's strategy against Hester. Weather permitting, look for Masthay to try to do exactly what he did in Week 17.