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Bears-Raiders matchup of the day: Thursday

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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By Dan Parr

Here's a look at a key matchup heading into Sunday's battle between the Bears and Raiders.

Bears WR-RS Devin Hester vs. Raiders' kick coverage

Teams continue punting to Devin Hester, and he keeps making them pay with long returns. With Jay Cutler sidelined, will the Raiders give Hester a chance to beat them, or will they kick the ball out of bounds on punts and take their chances against an offense led by a quarterback making his first career start?

Oakland has one of the league's top placekicker-punter duos in PK Sebastian Janikowski and P Shane Lechler. Both have tremendous leg strength and are among the best at their respective positions. The Raiders, however, have allowed 14.5 yards per punt return — which ranks 28th in the league — and they have given up two punt returns for touchdowns.

Lechler has a booming leg, and managing that strength can be a problem on occasion. He will outkick his coverage at times. Giving Hester room to get going before there are any defenders around him is asking for trouble.

Janikowski, who handles kickoffs, is dealing with a nagging left hamstring injury, which he says still bothers him during games. After recording 18 touchbacks in his first five games, Janikowski has only one touchback in each of his last four games. He has the power to kick the ball out of the endzone when healthy, but it's likely Hester, or Johnny Knox, who already has two more kickoff returns (10) than he had all of last season, will get opportunities to field and return his kickoffs.

Knox doesn't get the attention that Hester, perhaps the greatest returner of all time, does, but he also gets opportunites to return kickoffs and had a 53-yard kickoff return last week against the Chargers, which was his longest since his rookie season of 2009. Hester isn't the Bears' only dangerous returner.

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