Joniak: Keys To The Game
Offense: Win on 3rd down
This is what the Bears didn’t do in the October meeting with the Seahawks. They were blanked on 12 third down attempts and entering the game Jay Cutler was the 28th rated 3rd down quarterback. Things changed on third down for the Bears in the final nine games for several reasons. First, Earl Bennett emerged as a reliable third down target. Second, Cutler led the NFL by completing 85% of his third down passes for first downs. Third, Cutler picked up 116 yards, which ranked 7th best on third down in the NFL on 14 carries, 8 of which resulted in first downs. Out of the backfield, Matt Forte’ and Chester Taylor struggled on third down, rushing a combined 25 times for 17 yards rushing and 7 first downs.
Defense: Prevent the vertical strikes
In the first meeting, the Bears gave up nothing deep on the Seahawks. The longest completion was 24-yards, but Mike Williams hauled in 10 of Matt Hasselbecks’ 25 completions. He was pressured, but not sacked, and didn’t turn the ball over. He threw 17 interceptions in the regular season, one against the Saints. Thirteen of his picks came on deep vertical routes. So in addition to playing coverage deep to short, the Bears have to attack the ball and take it away. Hasselbeck lures defenders with a bevy of pump fakes. On deep balls, defined as anything 21 yards or more in the air, Hasselbeck was 8th in the NFL with 60 attempts, and 10th in yards with 750, however his quarterback rating was just 60.4. He was better in the last half of the season than he was in the first half.
Special Teams: Match the intensity
Outstanding special teams play in the post-season is often a difference maker. This game matches the 4th and 5th ranked special teams units in the NFL during the regular season. The Bears return game both punt and kickoff is without peer, while the Seahawks were 4th in special teams takeaways and first in blocked kicks, including three field goals and a punt. Both teams enjoyed outstanding starting field position ranking 2nd and 3rd respectively. Both have star return men in Devin Hester who return three punts for touchdowns and Leon Washington of the Seahawks who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Here’s the biggest thing to watch out for early in the game. A tone setting hit. In the October meeting, bad blood brewed when Earl Bennett gave a clean blindside block on Seattle punter Jon Ryan that launched him into the middle of next week, helping free Hester for a touchdown. The Seahawks will be out to protect their own and the Bears have to be ready for the emotional chippiness.
Intangibles: Make time zone work for you
It’s a Noon start, which means Seattle’s body clock will be on Pacific time or 10 am. The Bears have to use that to their advantage and strike quickly. Jump on them. The Seahawks have not been a good road team, losing six of eight and getting outscored by 96 points. They flew out Friday, just as they did in October when they beat the Bears, but overall the Seahawks in recent years are 5-and-15 in road games starting at Noon. Seattle was tied for 10th in the NFL scoring 31 points on first possessions, the Bears were t25th scoring only twenty and only two rushing touchdowns and no passing touchdowns. The Bears were better in the second half scoring 30 points including three touchdowns, while the Seahawks scored another 31 points. Defensively, the Seahawks were 30th in the NFL giving up 45 first possession points including six touchdowns. The Bears defense allowed only nine points and joined the Packers and the Ravens in not allowing a second half first possession touchdown.