By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) Both the Bears and Seahawks are seeking their first win of the 2015 season. They share a loss to a common opponent (the Packers) but otherwise have arrived at their winless records in different manners. The Bears dropped two games at home, while the Seahawks lost two on the road.
On Sunday, the Bears will travel to raucous CenturyLink Field for the Seahawks’ home opener (3:25 p.m., CBS).
Here are a few storylines to focus on during Sunday’s action.
What to watch for when the Bears have the ball
Commitment to the run
Through two games, the Bears lead the league with a 4.9 yards per carry average, and their average of 149 yards per game ranks fifth. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has attacked defenses with a variety of running schemes — outside zone, read-option and one-back power.
Last week, Gase dedicated an entire series to rookie Jeremy Langford to keep Matt Forte fresh, which is a wise plan that should be replicated each week. The Bears’ best chance to stay in games remains playing keep away with the run game, to protect their quarterback and vulnerable defense.
Given that the Bears will likely be without quarterback Jay Cutler, it’s imperative that they establish and commit to the running game against a Seahawks defense that’s giving up 100 yards per game on the ground.
Seattle’s defense has missed a lot of open-field tackles, leading to extra yardage on plays, so Chicago’s running backs must finish their runs.
When Cutler was replaced by Jimmy Clausen against Arizona, Chicago’s game plan shrunk significantly. The Bears resorted to safe, horizontal throws that invited Cardinals defenders closer to the line and suffocated throwing lanes.
With a full week to prepare, Gase must devise a package of throws that will test the Seahawks’ intermediate zones, which St. Louis had success in during its Week 1 win over Seattle. A way to get throws into this area will be off of play-action.
Clausen has never been an anticipatory thrower. He has a tendency to stare down his target. If Gase can move the pocket off of play-action and cut Clausen’s reads down, the Bears may be able to work the middle of the field on seam and curl routes against the Seahawks’ Cover-1 and Cover-3 schemes.
What to watch for when the Seahawks have the ball
Make no mistake about it, Russell Wilson is the centerpiece of both the Seahawks’ passing and rushing attack. Seattle has finished in the top four in rushing every season since he became the full-time starter in 2012. He has nearly 2,000 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns over that span.
This season, the Seahawks rank 11th in rushing but have yet to get fully on track. Their new offensive line has played a part in it, as that affects the overall timing. Furthermore, the nature of the games they’ve played in has limited their rushing attempts (they rank 14th in the league with 57).
Marshawn Lynch is one of the league’s most physical and punishing running backs, but he also runs with excellent vision. He’s a patient runner who scans the setup of his blockers before pressing the hole or hitting a cutback lane. But Wilson is the player who can break off explosive runs as teams start to cheat inside to slow down Lynch on gives and inside-zone plays.
Last week against the Packers, Wilson kept the ball more on read-option plays and averaged nearly eight yards per carry.
Granted, it’s a new defensive coaching staff in Chicago now led by Vic Fangio, who faced Wilson twice a year for the past three years, but over the past two seasons, the Bears have struggled to defend the read-option and split-zone plays.
It will be critical for the Bears’ edge players to box their rush lanes on passing plays, as well as play assignment football against the Seahawks’ read-option package.
Re-establishing the line of scrimmage
The Seahawks gave up center Max Unger to acquire Jimmy Graham from New Orleans, which had a negative chain reaction along the offensive line. Through two weeks, the Seahawks have struggled to both get movement on the opposing defensive line in the run game and keep clean pockets for Wilson in the passing game.
Other than left tackle Russell Okung, this is a talent-poor group. In particular, right tackle Garry Gilliam has been a liability in both run blocking and pass protection.
Last week, Bears left outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was active and consistently got the best of the Cardinals’ offensive line while rushing from a variety of techniques and alignments. While he didn’t register a sack, he came close and moved Carson Palmer off his spot on a few throws.
Wilson poses an entirely different challenge in terms of his mobility, but McPhee’s ability to win on the offense’s right could force the Seahawks to keep in tight ends and running backs to help out.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @djdurkin.