By Dan Durkin-
A weekly glimpse at the Bears’ upcoming opponent, this week: Seattle.
(CBS) Seattle’s raucous home crowd is known as the 12th man, while in Chicago, home fans are known as the 4th phase. Seeing that divine favor wasn’t on the Bears side in Denver, they’ll need all the help they can get on and off Soldier Field this Sunday in a must-win game against the Seahawks. While the outcome of the game is uncertain, it is certain that Sunday will be the last time Bears fans see their beloved play a home game until next September. Let’s take a look at the Seahawks’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as some key match-ups in a do-or-die game for two NFC playoff hopefuls.
The last time these two teams did battle was in the divisional playoffs this past January, a game the Bears won 35-24. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler turned in a sparkling performance in his playoff debut, accounting for four touchdowns, two via the air and two by ground. For three quarters, the Bears defense dominated, neutralizing Seattle’s best weapon – running back Marshawn Lynch – limiting Seattle to three points, only to give up 21 in the final quarter. Seattle has undergone a bit of a face-lift since that game.
The most noticeable difference for the Seahawks is at quarterback. Out is veteran Matt Hasselbeck, in is Minnesota Vikings castoff Tarvaris Jackson. It was a package deal of sorts, as Seattle’s new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was also imported from Minnesota. The Jackson acquisition was puzzling from the get-go, as the urgency of the signing illustrated he was a targeted free agent for Seattle.
Certainly, Seattle expected more from Jackson this season, who has more interceptions than touchdowns, but that’s what you get when you give a back-up quarterback a starting gig. Odd quarterback moves in Seattle aren’t unique to Jackson, as their acquisition of current back-up Charlie Whitehurst was even more inexplicable. Seattle traded second and third-round draft picks to San Diego for a guy who at the time of the trade had completed as many NFL passes as you or I.
Seattle’s offense runs through Lynch, who has been simply dominant since Week 9, averaging 117 yards and a touchdown per game. Lynch’s abilities open up opportunities in the play-action game, which is the only area Jackson has had success throwing the ball this year. If kept in the pocket, Jackson will struggle as he is inaccurate and the Seattle offensive line is porous in pass protection.
The Seahawks offensive line gives up a sack every 11 drop backs, and now find themselves lining up with four new starters. Replacing emerging star left tackle Russel Okung with right guard Paul McQuistan (don’t do a Google image search of this guy unless you want recurring nightmares) is a huge step backwards for an already suspect group. This is a weakness that the Bears defensive front seven should exploit on Sunday. Look for the Bears to deploy their game plan from the divisional playoff game, where they will load the box to limit Lynch and force Jackson to beat them.
When Doug Baldwin is your team’s leading receiver, you have issues on the edge of the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks made a splash this off-season signing yet another Viking, this time wide receiver Sidney Rice to a 5-year $41M contract with $18.5M guaranteed. Given Rice’s injury history, this deal raised some eyebrows across the league. Rice suffered a labrum injury in his shoulder during training camp, then dealt with nagging knee injuries, and now two concussions have landed him on season-ending injured reserve. Golden Tate has touchdowns in two of his last three games, but as a whole, this is one of the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL that the Bears should dominate.
Defensively, the Seahawks have been stingy all season long – in particular against the run – allowing only two 100+ yard rushers through 13 games. The Seahawks secondary needs to be recognized for their performance this season. After losing cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond for the year, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman stepped right in and elevated the level of play of the entire group.
Second-year free safety Earl Thomas has played like a first round selection, and counterpart Kam Chancellor is a thumper at strong safety who provides stout in-the-box run support. The Seahawks play a lot of press coverage, which requires physical corners with length, and at 6’3” Browner can physically match-up with any receiver in the league. Seeing that the Bears don’t have physically imposing wide receivers, look for the Seahawks to play a lot of Cover-3, pressing receivers at the line and dropping Chancellor into the box to challenge Caleb Hanie to beat them vertically.
Along the front seven, the Seahawks are anchored by defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Clemons will be a big test to Bears offensive tackles, as he’s not only a threat to get to the quarterback, he’s also solid against the run. Look for the Bears to keep in a tight end this weekend to counter Clemons and give Hanie more time to scan the field, something he’s really struggled to do through three starts.
Once again, the Bears will face a team with a very strong punter, this week it is Seattle’s Jon Ryan. Bears fans may remember Ryan getting de-cleated last season by Earl Bennett on Devin Hester’s record-tying ninth punt return for a touchdown, if you don’t remember, it’s worth a visit to YouTube. The Bears only offensive touchdown last week was sparked by a Hester return, so winning the field position battle is necessary to score points on Sunday.
The Bears ended Seattle’s season last year on a snowy day in January, so, do the Seahawks have vengeance on their mind? Both of these teams are mathematically alive in the NFC playoff hunt, but the loser of Sunday’s game will most likely be eliminated from the mix. Seeing how challenged both of these teams are offensively, this will be yet another slow-paced, run-heavy, gut-wrenching game that will come down to which quarterback is able to make two or three plays in the passing game.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.