Countdown to the NFC Championship Game: 3 Days
The last matchup we will look at is Special Teams. At first glance, this is a matchup that would seem to favor the Bears, if for nothing else than the fact that the Bears have Devin Hester, and the Packers do not. Whether or not Hester even sees an opportunity to return a punt or kick remains to be seen. So lets look at the other matchups
Punting: Green Bay’s Tim Masthay versus Chicago’s Brad Maynard:
Chicago’s Brad Maynard finished WORST among all qualified punters in punt average of 40.1, and 4TH WORST in net average with 35.2 . The Packers’ Masthay finished 7th in the NFC with an average of 43.9 yard per punt and a 37.6 net average. The Bears’ punt coverage unit held teams to an average of 7.8 yards per return; while the Packers’ allowed a whopping 11 yards per return. So if Masthay cannot get kicks out of bounds or force fair catches, there should be room for Hester to break a big return.
Kicking: Green Bay’s Mason Crosby versus Chicago’s Robbie Gould:
This is another area in which the Bears’ seem to have an advantage. Only 2 kickers in the NFL had a worse percentage than the Packers’ Mason Crosby, who missed 6 of 28 kicks, including 2 from inside 40 yards. The Bears’ Robbie Gould, who is currently the 6th-most accurate kicker in NFL history, had a sub-par year by his standards, missing 5 kicks—including 4 from inside 50 yards. However, he made his first career kick from outside of 50 yards this season (he only had 2 prior attempts), and ended up making 3 of 4 from beyond 50 yards. Throw in Gould’s knowledge of Soldier Field’s winds, and the Bears would seem to have the edge here.
Normally, the Bears’s coverage units are at or near the top of the league; and I would bet statistically this year is no different. Corey Graham should have made the Pro Bowl this season, as he led the NFL in special-team tackles. He can control a game from a kick-coverage standpoint, as we saw last week against the Seahawks. However, as I have stated in previous posts, I have some concern about our ability to eliminate one or two big returns per game. In fact, in the last 5 games, we have allowed kick returns of 60, 49, and 62 yards; and punt returns of 35, 42, and 41 yards. In a game that should be about as close as you can get, we cannot afford to let a return swing the outcome in the Packers’ favor.