By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) This was supposed to be the launching point for the Bears’ end-of-season run to dominance. A home game with the soft-as-pudding Seahawks prior to the Christmas Day game at Green Bay was supposed to tighten the Bears and get them ready for a peak performance.
One Jay Cutler thumb injury and a Matt Forte knee injury put an end to that scenario. Now the Bears are looking for a tourniquet so they can stop the bleeding. It may not be so easy against a Seattle team that has found an identity in the second half of the season and has won four of its last five games. Pete Carroll may be a bit slow when it comes to making in-game adjustments, but he has found a winning formula thanks to the running of Marshawn Lynch and the improvement from Tarvaris Jackson.
Here’s why you have to take the Seahawks’ running game seriously. Lynch has run for 100 yards or more in five of his last six games. The most impressive numbers were put on the board two weeks ago when he ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles, but it was his 109-yard effort against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10 that tells you everything you need to know about Lynch.
He carried the ball 32 times and did not have a run longer than eight yards. Instead of breaking away and making big plays, Lynch was a battering ram against what may be the nastiest and most physical defense in the league. Lynch, who goes into “Beast Mode” on game day, has impressed his teammates with his desire to initiate contact. He has given the Seahawks a sense of toughness that has raised the team’s level of play.
“Look at the way he runs on an every game basis,” said offensive tackle Russell Okung, who is out for the season after tearing his pectoral muscle after getting thrown by the Eagles’ Trent Cole in Week 13. “He gives everything he has on every play. Whether he has 100 or 20 yards a game, he’s running like somebody stole something from him. I’ve got a lot of respect for Marshawn as a runner because I know he’s going to give it his all.”
There’s no backing down when Lynch carries the ball. Obviously, a defense with Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman is capable of slowing a streaking running back. However, Lynch can get pounded by the defense on five straight plays and then come back to deliver a punishing blow on the next carry.
Lynch has run for 706 yards in the last six games and has 969 yards for the season. He’s not likely to slow down the rest of the way. The Seahawks are rolling and Lynch could be one of the hottest free agents in the league during the offseason.
He is also benefitting from the improvement shown by quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The former Viking is harnessing his talent this season, and like Lynch, he has been playing his best football over the past five weeks. Instead of firing the ball recklessly and rushing his delivery, Jackson has slowed his game down and has decided to take what the defense gives him. This was proven in the Seahawks 31-14 win over Philadelphia in Week 13 when he completed 13-of-16 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. This was not the over-caffeinated Jackson that the Bears knew from his days in Minnesota. He is clearly maturing on the field.
The combination of Lynch’s power running and Jackson’s improvement makes the Seahawks a much-improved team that is becoming respectable. While the Bears’ offense pulls its disappearing act following the losses of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, the Seahawks are finding themselves. Playing on the road used to sink this team, but the Seahawks beat the Giants on the road earlier this year and beat the Bears on the road during the regular season last year.
That’s a bad thing for a team that needs a victory to have a chance at getting the season back on course. The Bears are attempting to chase down the Falcons and the Lions for a playoff spot and a loss against the Seahawks will bury them since the Packers show no signs of slowing down and Aaron Rodgers is not about to take his foot off the gas pedal. A gift from Green Bay on Christmas night is very unlikely, even though the Bears play the Packers as well as any team in the league.
The Bears must punish Lynch early and keep on hammering him to have a chance to win this game. Lynch is one of the hungriest players in the league and if they relax at any point, he could punish them and end their playoff hopes.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.