Giants to play a game of keep-away

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The Giants enter Sunday night’s tilt against the Chicago
Bears with more than a few major concerns.

Although a 1-2 mark isn’t a death-knell to a season, New York is entering a
stretch of games that include the Bears, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys in
three of the next four weeks. It’s conceivable to foresee the Giants losing all
three, which would about end any playoff hopes.

Head coach Tom Coughlin said there’s no panic yet but there
is major concern over the way all three phases have let him down on separate
occasions this season. Of all the units, he admits, special teams has been the
biggest disappointment. When longtime punter Jeff Feagles retired at the end of
last season, no one predicted that the kicking game would be in such shambles.
But here we are in Week Three and the kicking team, return team, and coverage
team have all lagged.

New York’s
rookie punter Matt Dodge has been inconsistent at best. Dodge, who sports a 33
yard net on his punts, has the unenviable task of trying to slow down all-world
return man Devin Hester. The erratic punter can boom a kick 64 yards – his
longest – on one possession and then shank one 21 yards as he did earlier this
season. Such a hit-or-miss possibility scares Coughlin.

“Kick it out of bounds,” Coughlin said with a nervous smile
when asked how the Giants can combat Hester’s brilliance.

Hester, a former Pro Bowl returner, burned the Green Bay
Packers in Chicago’s
Monday night win with a 62-yard punt return and has a history of destroying the
Giants’ coverage teams. He returned a then-record tying 108-yard touchdown off
a missed field goal in 2006 and Coughlin certainly remembers.

Coughlin said he’s so worried about his coverage team that
he hinted he may employ more defensive starters to combat the Bears’ strong suit.
New York is
allowing 24 yards per kick return and 12.4 per punt – both near the bottom of NFL
rankings. Their return game is no better. Darius Reynaud, who was specifically
brought over from the Minnesota Vikings in a trade to replace injured return
specialist Domenik Hixon, has been shaky. Reynaud is averaging a pedestrian
17.7 yards per kick return and an anemic 5.5 yards on punts.

Coughlin, however, insists it’s not all Reynaud’s
fault.

“We’re not very productive right now in the kicking game,”
Coughlin said. “But it’s not just him [Reynaud].”

Bears special teams coach Dave Toub has nothing but praise
for his return team, specifically Hester, who finally broke his return schneid.
Toub says when Hester makes a big return it ignites all the Bears’ units.

“It picks us up when he returns one and it’s a big spark,”
said Toub, who noted that Hester hadn’t returned a punt to the house in 64
tries and a kickoff in 38. “It just seems right when Devin’s scoring
touchdowns.”

Toub said Hester was certainly trying too hard to break one,
since his last was in the 2007 regular season finale, but now thinks this may
be the start of another stretch where Hester single-handedly wins games.

“All athletes do,” he said of Hester pressing. “It’s hard
not to when you’ve done something before and you want to do it again. You try
to force it to happen again. Sometimes you have to be patient. It seems like
we’re back in the right mode now.”

If Hester has in fact gotten his groove back, it could mean
bad news for the sieve-like Big Blue coverage unit.


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