Bears-Packers matchup of the day: Thursday

Posted Dec. 22, 2011 @ 4:03 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Bears kick returners vs. Packers special teams

How bad have things gotten for the Bears? So bad that probably their only weapon capable of putting a scare into the Packers on Sunday night is kick-return ace Devin Hester, even though he's been out of sorts in recent weeks with assorted injuries and has been making fair catches more often than not. Hester had yet to practice this week as of this writing (ankle) but still leads NFL punt returners with an 18.5-yard average.  

He became the NFL's all-time leader in punt returns for TDs earlier this season and currently has 12 for his career, including a back-breaking 62-yard return for a score in the Bears' first game vs. Green Bay last season. Hester also has five kickoffs for TDs.

Khalil Bell probably replaces Johnny Knox (season-ending back injury) as the Bears' kickoff returner the remainder of the season. Don't be shocked if the Bears try another trick play against the Packers' special teams like the kickoff return for a TD by Knox earlier this season that caught the Packers totally off guard but was nullified by a holding call. 

In the last three games vs. the Bears, Packers P Tim Masthay has done a terrific job neutralizing Hester. In the Week 17 game last season, two of his punts were downed at the Bears' three- and two-yard line. In the NFC title game, Hester averaged only 5.3 yards per return, and Masthay boomed a 58-yarder that put the Bears in a big hole with only 3:07 remaining. In the first Bears-Packers game this year, Hester was limited to one punt return of 21 yards and a fair catch.

In the last month or so, Masthay has done an outstanding job of directional punting. Last week he had a 71-yard punt, with three of his five punts landing inside the 20-yard line. In each of the recent games vs. the Lions and Giants, he landed 4-of-5 punts inside the 20. The weather forecast for Christmas night appears relatively mild for this time of year, which should make for an easier night for the punters.