Bears offense vs. Seahawks defense
Jay Cutler will return to action this week after sitting out last game due to lingering effects from the concussion he suffered against the Giants two weeks ago. That should immediately open up the passing game from what we saw last week when Todd Collins had a disastrous outing. What also will help is the return of Chris Williams, who has been moved inside to left guard to replace Roberto Garza, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this week. Some are skeptical whether the move will work based on Frank Omiyale’s poor performance at guard last year after being moved inside from tackle, but at this point it makes sense to at least try. The difference between Williams and Omiyale is that Omiyale is a more natural fit at tackle whereas many scouts felt Williams would make a better NFL guard than tackle. We’ll see how that goes, but a more healthy and young Williams is an upgrade over a hobbled Garza. Last week, out of necessity, the Bears got the run game going and they stuck with it even when it started to stall in the middle of the game. Against the Seahawks, however, they’re probably not going to attempt to run the ball too much against Seattle’s No. 2 run defense. And why bother trying? The Seahawks have the second-worst pass defense in the league and Cutler should be able to pick apart the secondary with the help of a good game plan by Mike Martz. The past two weeks the Bears receivers have not been involved in the game plan much due to the beating Cutler took in the Giants game and the focus on the run game against Carolina. I expect Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Greg Olsen to have more active roles this week. Matt Forte will be included in the passing game as well.
Bears defense vs. Seahawks offense
The Bears defense has inched its way up the rankings to No. 17 overall in pass defense, and following another solid outing against a good Panthers running attack, they’re back up to the third-best run defense in the NFL. Of course, the pass defense is always going to be deceivingly low because the rankings are based on yards and Lovie Smith’s defense will always give up large chunks of yards throughout a game. The two key stats to keep an eye on are rushing yards and points scored, and the Bears have the No. 6 defense in points allowed. Seattle, meanwhile, has scored the fifth-fewest points in the league through the first five weeks of the season, which means if the Bears can put a few touchdowns on the board, they’ll be in good shape. Twenty points seems to be the barometer for success. The Seahawks are woefully bad at running the football which is why they acquired running back Marshawn Lynch from the Bills last week. Lynch is a physical runner and the Bears no doubt will be hurting from the loss of Lance Briggs — if indeed Briggs does not play due to his ankle injury. Much like on the first drive of the Panthers game, you may see the Seahawks have some early success running the football as the Bears defense gets its feet wet. Over the course of the game, though, unless there is a big broken play, I don’t expect much success on the ground from Seattle. If Martz’s offense scores quickly and gets out to a comfortable lead, the Seahawks are going to have to throw to play catchup and they haven’t been very good in the passing game, either. Matt Hasselbeck is No. 22 in the league in passing yards and has thrown just four touchdowns to six interceptions. He also has a 70.7 quarterback rating, ranking him No. 29 in the league. Hasselbeck’s top targets are tight end John Carlson and former USC standout/Detroit Lions-Oakland Raiders-Tennessee Titans bust, Mike Williams. If Briggs does not play, I think it’ll help the Seahawks keep the game close as they should be able to move the ball more effectively, but the edge rests with the Bears defense.
This is one of the few weeks where I can say the Bears are not clearly better than their counterpart on special teams. In fact, Seattle appears to have the edge. It’s most prevalent in the return game where former Jets running back Leon Washington leads the NFL with an average of 40.4 yards per return. He’s returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. In punt returns, rookie wide receiver Golden Tate is No. 4 in the league — among those returners with at least 4 attempts — with an average of 18 yards per punt return. The Bears’ coverage teams haven’t been all that great this season, as evident by the punt return touchdown they allowed against Dallas. I still believe Danieal Manning is the best kick returner in the league, though, and Hester is one of the best punt returners of all time, so the Bears keep this one close. Seattle kicker Olindo Mare has converted all four of his field goal attempts this year whereas Robbie Gould has made 10 of 11. Seattle punter Jon Ryan has a better net average than Brad Maynard. Maynard, of course, has the directional punting advantage as he is No. 2 in the league with 12 punts downed inside the 20. It’s my belief that the Seahawks have the slight edge overall in this department.
The Bears continue to be one of the least heralded teams in the league despite their 4-1 record. Most of this has to do with them not passing the “eye test,” whatever that’s worth. Frankly, I’d rather root for a team that looks bad winning than one that looks good losing. In the NFL, there are no multiple-game series like in the NBA, MLB, and NHL. All it takes is one win over one opponent at a time and as long as the Bears’ defense continues to play like it is — and as long as Cutler doesn’t get knocked out of any more games — the Bears have as good a shot as any to win a championship in this parity-driven league. This week against the Seahawks, they get Cutler back and that will clearly help them run a more balanced offense, or at least give the illusion of that if they’re not able to run the ball. We’ll get a firsthand look at the Jeremy Bates-led Seahawks offense. Bates, of course, was Cutler’s preferred choice for Bears offensive coordinator because the two worked together in Denver, but Bates ultimately spurned the Bears and joined Pete Carroll in Seattle. The Seahawks just don’t appear to have enough pieces on offense for Bates to excel, though. Having a home game this week after two straight road games will be a breath of fresh air, and with or without Briggs in the lineup, I think the Bears take care of business and advance to 5-1.
Final Score: Chicago 23, Seattle 17