The operative word to describe the performance of Giants special teams last week, coach Tom Coughlin agreed, was "horrible." But linebacker Chase Blackburn, who captains the special teams, pronounced himself ready to go after a knee injury that sidelined him the past two games, and he said the challenge of stopping dynamic Chicago punt returner Devin Hester would provide a rallying point for the Giants' beleagured unit.

"I hundred percent agree with that," Blackburn said. "When you're facing adversity and things aren't going right, you really want a challenge. Sometimes, it takes that for you to come together and gel as a unit."

After going two seasons without taking a punt back to the end zone, the explosive Hester broke a 62-yard TD return to give Chicago a 14-10 lead in its 20-17 victory over Green Bay Monday night. And Blackburn noted that Hester, who returned three punts for 93 yards in that game was a step from breaking another.

"You don't see a punter catch him very often," Blackburn said. "That was lucky it wasn't two [TD returns against Green Bay]."

Hester's blazing speed is a major factor in his punt return success, but it's his cutback ability that really sets him apart. As Blackburn noted, Hester is willing to lose ground during a return, and that has the effect of getting the coverage unit moving side-to-side with him instead of maintaining their lanes coming downfield.

"He trusts his speed, and once he sees you cross over, he's really good at reading and cutting back off of it," Blackburn said. "Even if he's in a tight space, he's got the ability to get skinny. He looks for people to cross over and hit it vertically. He keys off what the coverage team is going to do."

As a result, one of the keys to stopping Hester is for the late arriving members of the coverage team to be prepared to cut off Hester's escape routes. "It's important for the guys at the second level to be able to read if the first wave is getting him to cut back," Blackburn said. "They need to be following right behind them, and if they see the first wave has been out-leveraged, they've got to get outside and bring him back [inside]."

One way to prevent a big Hester return is to kick away from him, but Giants rookie punter Matt Dodge has been struggling to get off good kicks that go straight. Asking him to try directional kicks that go out of bounds or pin Hester on the sideline might make matters worse.

"It is what it is," Blackburn said of Dodge's problems. "We've got to cover, period, point blank, no matter what it is. If we decide to change it up and go directional, and he's unable to do it, we've got to be there to cover his back. We've got to be there for him. That's it."

The Bears' special teams unit consists of more than Hester. In fact, their special teams basically put on a clinic against Green Bay. Punter Brad Maynard averaged 48.5 yards on his two punts with a net of 43.5 yards, the Packers averaged 30.3 yards on three kickoff returns, and placekicker Robbie Gould made two short field goals, although he also missed one from 49 yards.

"It's not just Devin Hester," Blackburn said. Our return team has been challenged, punt return has been challenged and, obviously, our coverage teams need to get better. We even missed field goals [two against Tennessee]. Shoot, let's call a spade a spade. We haven't played well on special teams, and we've got to start this week."
 

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