Bears vs. Redskins: Five things to watch during Sunday's game
WASHINGTON (AP) - Devin Hester against a team doing some serious special teams soul-searching.
That hardly seems fair.
"He's probably licking his fingers," Washington Redskins special teams regular Niles Paul said. "It's a great challenge. We have to step up and be big. It's a great way to come back and show the type of special teams we want to be this year."
The Redskins allowed an 86-yard punt return and a 90-yard kickoff return last week. They have a first-year special teams coach, Keith Burns, who was flagged 15 yards for getting in the way of an official. Maybe he was trying to show his players it's actually possible to slow up someone who's running downfield.
Now the Redskins (1-4) have to deal with the Chicago Bears (4-2) and Hester, who holds the NFL record for most combined kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns.
"It was a rough night for them, obviously," Chicago special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "I'm sure that they're going to be emphasizing that area."
Indeed, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan spent extra time focusing on his special teams units this week, and veterans called a special, special teams meeting for Friday.
One suggestion that certainly came up: Don't kick the ball to No. 23.
Here are five more things to notice as the Bears try to pad their record against another team from the pitiful NFC East.
RG3 TRIES TO CROSS A VERY THIN LINE: The Bears are running out of players on defense. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams is done for the season with a shoulder injury, and his replacement is a rookie. They've lost defensive tackle Henry Melton and his replacement, Nate Collins, to knee injuries. They've had to move defensive end Corey Wootton to tackle.
Sounds like a worst-case scenario as they prepare to face a multi-threat quarterback like Robert Griffin III, right? Except that Griffin and the Redskins faced the same scenario last week and managed only one touchdown against the no-name injury replacements who lined up for the Cowboys. Griffin is starting to run more, but the passing game hasn't been in sync since he returned from a knee injury, and defenses are doing a better job game-planning against him.
"This year is different from last year," Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon said. "As you get older in this league, you've got to be able to adjust to what the defense is doing or you're not going to be ahead of the game."
DeANGELO HALL & THE MARSHALL PLAN: Redskins cornerback Hall is a streaky player who picked off Jay Cutler four times when the teams last met in 2010, and he also shut down Dez Bryant last week. His next assignment is Brandon Marshall, who leads the Bears with five touchdowns. "It's one of those games, man, where you've got to strap up, put on extra padding," Marshall said, "because he's tough."
The Redskins, ranked 24th in the NFL against the pass, wish that version of Hall would show up more often. "If you do it one time," Redskins coordinator Jim Haslett said, "why can't you do it every week?"
SOMETHING TO TAKE AWAY: Coaches harp on turnovers for a good reason. The Bears were second in turnover differential (plus-20) last year and are tied for third (plus-7) this year. The Redskins were plus-17 last year when they made the playoffs, and have sunk to minus-1 this year. Griffin has five interceptions, matching his total from 2012. He might want to pay special attention to Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings, who has returned two picks for touchdowns.
BEAR-LY SPECIAL: Good thing Hester's around, but otherwise the Bears haven't been very good on special teams, either. The coverage units have noticeably struggled, ranking 29th in punt coverage and 27th in kickoff coverage, including a 46-yard kickoff return by the Giants last week. Like Burns, DeCamillis is in his first year with his team, and he's trying to get players to buy in. "We're inconsistent, still. ... We just need to get some young guys stepping up," DeCamillis said.
HEY, CAN WE SWITCH?: The Bears would be in first place by themselves if they were in the East. Instead, they can't afford slip-ups against losing teams as long as the Lions (4-2) and Packers (3-2) are winning in the NFC North. The Redskins would be buried in Chicago's division, but there's margin for error - even at 1-4 - when the competition consists of the flawed Cowboys (3-3), Eagles (3-3) and Giants (0-6). "You can't let your record steal your joy," Griffin said this week.
True, but it's easier to keep the burglars at bay when you're only 1Â½ games out of first place.