Pats prepping for the ‘ridiculous’ Devin Hester and the fastest offense in the NFL
|12.09.10 at 9:55 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Watch the above video and one minute, 15 seconds in, you’ll hear the famous words of Bears broadcaster Jeff Joniak – now immortalized on the NFL Films promo on the NFL Network – as he describes the first of two touchdown returns by Devin Hester against the Denver Broncos in Week 12 of 2007 season.
That was the season after the Bears rode the ridiculous speed of Hester and their overwhelming defense to a Super Bowl XLI appearance against the Indianapolis Colts. That was the Super Bowl that began with Hester returning the opening kick-off for a touchdown. Hester hasn’t had a kick-off return for a TD since only because the Bears now use him primarily in their passing game and as a punt returner. He has taken two of those to the house this season.
In Week 6 against Seattle, Hester returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown – his second TD on a punt return this season and 13th kick return TD in his career, tying Brian Mitchell for most in NFL history. Mitchell needed 223 games. Hester is playing in his 73rd NFL game this Sunday. Those don’t even include his legendary 108-yard return against the Giants at the Meadowlands in 2006 and the 92-yarder opening Super Bowl XLI.
These 2010 Bears, winners of five straight and owners of a 9-3 mark, are even more dangerous. They certainly have more speed than ever. Just ask the Patriots and their defensive backs.
Corners Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington and safeties Jarrad Page, Patrick Chung and James Sanders will have their hands full – and their feet running – trying to keep up with Johnny Knox and Matt Forte. Knox and Forte have joined Hester as weapons for their new strong-armed quarterback Jay Cutler.
“Of course, Knox and Hester are home run hitters,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “Those guys can strike from anywhere in a hurry. They’ve got a lot of things that are a problem.”
Don’t forget Danieal Manning, who took over kick return duties when Hester became a wide receiver.
“Obviously they’ve got a strong return game with Hester and Manning,” Belichick said. “Those guys can score from anywhere; [they’re] extremely dangerous ‘ really a problem in the return game.”
“They’re extremely fast, explosive big-play guys so we have to contain those guys,” Sanders said.
Belichick has been relying more and more on his big-play secondary, going with nickel, ‘Big Nickel’ and dime (6 DB sets) to produce big turnover numbers over a four-game winning streak. He’ll certainly be relying on them this week and safety Jarrad Page knows it.
“With Knox and Hester, they’re two of the fastest guys in the league and then Forte has shown his speed with plays over 60 yards, over 50 yards, he’s got a few of them,” Page said. “We definitely see that on film and took notice of it.”
But it’s not just the receivers. Cutler – banished to Chicago by Josh McDaniels before the 2009 season – has shown his mobility time and time again. Sometimes, he’s paid a price as Ndamukong Suh drilled him from behind last week and took a $15,000 fine for a hit to the back of the head as Cutler was scrambling.
“He’s a very athletic guy,” Sanders added. “There’s times on film where he’s running away from DBs so we’re going to have to keep him in the pocket and limit his scramble plays. And when he does get out of the pocket, we’re going to have to cover these receivers because they do a good job of uncovering and getting open down the field.”
While Hester garners all the attention in highlight videos, Belichick couldn’t help but show Forte’s 89-yard run after a simple screen pass against the Lions last weekend. It was the third play of at least 60 yards this season for the all-everything running back.
“A guy catches a ball, he takes a five-yard play and turns it into 30 or 40 [yards], and that’s tough for a defense,” Belichick said. “When you’re playing defense, you want to try and keep things in front of you, keep things contained and those guys that can take those kinds of plays and break out of them and break into big plays are tough.
“Forte is a great example. In the Lions game, there’s a minute to go in the half, they’re on their own 10-yard line, threw a screen pass. I’m sure they weren’t expecting to score. I’m sure they were just expecting to get a first down and it was 90 yards for a touchdown. Those are the kinds of plays that break a defense in half when you can’t tackle. Hester, Knox, they’re very dangerous with the ball in their hand. Cutler, that guy outruns most defensive backs. You see backs get the angle on him, [but] they can’t get him; he’s too fast.”