A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Get Matt Forte 20-25 touches
In their Oct. 17 23-20 loss to the Seahawks, Matt Forte touched the ball just 11 times. He had eight carries for 11 yards and three receptions for 40 yards. Forte is one of the Bears’ most versatile and productive offensive weapons but he does the team no good when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. The game against the Seahawks in Week 6 was when Mike Martz was still trying to force the passing game too much. After the bye week two weeks later, the Bears began to run the ball more often and Forte finished with a good season with 237 rushing attempts for 1,069 yards (4.5 average) as well as 51 receptions for 547 yards and nine total touchdowns. The biggest reasons the Bears had a successful second half of the season were because Forte was implemented more into the game plan and as a result, they kept Jay Cutler under control and limited turnovers. If Forte can get his hands on the ball 20-25 times (somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 rushes and three-five receptions), that should mean that the Bears have had success moving the ball against the Seahawks.
2. Gang tackle and wrap up
Even before Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s incredible 67-yard touchdown run that supposedly caused an earthquake in Seattle as the team cemented it’s wild card victory, Lynch has been known as a tough runner who is difficult to bring down. The Saints missed eight tackles on that touchdown run and paid dearly. The Seahawks were an abysmal 31st overall in rushing yards in the regular season, but most of that can be attributed to their offensive line. Lynch will pound the ball between the tackles and it’ll be imperative that the Bears’ No. 2-ranked run defense swarms to the ball and wraps him up. If the Bears use poor technique and give up extra yardage, it could be a long afternoon on the lakefront.
3. Don’t let Matt Hasselbeck get comfortable in the pocket
Matt Hasselbeck is a savvy, 12-year veteran who picked apart the Saints defense for 272 yards and four touchdowns on 22 of 35 passing in the wild card round. He has quite a bit of playoff experience and if the Bears don’t bring pressure on him and they allow him too much time to set up in the pocket, he’ll find all the soft spots in their zone defense. He’s bound to get his yardage this weekend because that’s what the cover 2 defense allows, but the Bears need to clamp down on their own end of the field and prevent the touchdown passes. I feel like Julius Peppers will have a redemption game and pressure Hasselbeck quite a bit after he was shut down in the first meeting between these teams.
4. Play disciplined special teams and don’t give up good field position
Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington is one of the most dangerous returners in the NFL. He had a terrific season returning 57 kickoffs for an average of 25.6 yards per return and scored three touchdowns. The fact that he did not make the Pro Bowl was because of one Devin Hester. Robbie Gould needs high, deep kickoffs and the Bears coverage teams have to be top notch. The Bears can’t afford to give the Seahawks a short field on which to work. They need to make the Seahawks earn every inch on offense. On the other side of the equation, it’s not likely the Seahawks will kick away from Hester, although they tried that approach in the first meeting and then punter Jon Ryan made a mistake and Hester made them pay with an 89-yard touchdown. Ryan also was punished on the return by Earl Bennett on a vicious, blind-side block. The Bears got to the Super Bowl four years ago with great special teams (among other things) and they’ll need their third phase to get them there again.