Bears offense vs. Seahawks defense
When the Bears played the Seahawks earlier this season, Jay Cutler threw the ball 39 times and the team rushed the ball just 14 times. That’s bad enough as it is, but when you take away Cutler’s two scrambles and add the six times he was sacked, the Bears’ pass-to-run ratio was actually 47-to-12. That’s awful. And Mike Martz’s play calling was awful that game, his worst game as Bears offensive coordinator, by far. It would be one thing if that was the ratio against a team that was beating them senseless by three touchdowns, such as New England. What makes the Seahawks game worse is that the Bears were never down by more than one score until early in the fourth quarter. There was no excuse to call almost a 4-to-1 pass-to-run game plan. What was also bad about that Seahawks game was that the Bears offense was 0 for 12 on third downs. It was a miracle they didn’t lose by more. That’s all in the past, fortunately. While the Bears aren’t going to be confused with the best offenses in the league, they’re far more efficient at moving the football and protecting Cutler, and Martz has become a more balanced play caller. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have gotten worse — at least statistically — at defense since that first meeting. Their No. 2-ranked run defense at the time plummeted to No. 21 at regular season’s end. Their pass defense, with a mediocre secondary, was bad all year and finished No. 27. They rank 25th with just 12 interceptions on the season and allowed 31 passing touchdowns in the regular season, third-most in the league. The one thing the Seahawks have done pretty well is pressure the quarterback as they finished 13th in the league with 37 sacks. The Seahawks are strongest at the linebacker position with David Hawthorne leading the team in the regular season in tackles and Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry joining him. Tatupu missed most of the practice time this week while recovering from a concussion, but he is expected to play Sunday. Up front, the Seahawks feature a line with ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock and tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole. Clemons led the team with 11 sacks in the regular season and Brock — who played for the Colts the past eight years — finished with nine sacks, the most in his career. The secondary, while it’s struggled, has some good players in cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Marcus Trufant as well as strong safety — and veteran leader — Lawyer Milloy. The player the Bears need to keep an eye on is rookie free safety Earl Thomas. He’s an all-around player who can patrol the secondary as well as help in the run. He led the team with five interceptions in the regular season and was third on the team in tackles. For the Bears, Earl Bennett is expected to play and that’ll help the Bears improve that third-down conversion problem they had in the first meeting. A lot is being made of Cutler’s first NFL playoff game, but I think he’s taking the right approach by treating it like any other game. Forte ought to have a much bigger role this time around than he did in the first meeting and the offensive line has been together for the second half of the season and is playing more consistently.
Bears defense vs. Seahawks offense
What did the Seattle Seahawks game and the Washington Redskins game earlier this season have in common? Aside from being embarrassing, infuriating, and depressing home losses, they were games in which Lance Briggs was not able to contribute to the defense. He missed the entire Seahawks game and only played part of the first quarter in the Redskins game with an injured ankle. I’ve heard radio stations mention, and read newspapers stating, that Briggs was unavailable in the first contest, but I think it’s been borderline lip service. I don’t think people truly understand how big a deal it was not having Briggs in the lineup against the Seahawks the first time around. This is a Pro Bowl player who is in the conversation of the best outside linebacker in the league. For as bad as the offense played against Seattle on Oct. 17, I’m confident the Bears still could have beaten the Seahawks if Briggs had played. The fact that he’s healthy now has advantage Bears written all over it and I expect Briggs to have a huge game. Another player to keep an eye on who I feel will have a huge redemption game is Julius Peppers. Similarly to how Martz had his worst game as a member of the Bears organization, I feel Peppers also had his worst game as a Bear against the Seahawks. Offensive tackle Russell Okung, the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft, more than held his own against Peppers; he shut him down. That’s not going to sit well with Peppers and the word out of Halas Hall is that Peppers is 100% focused and is on a mission this week. The Bears are one of the healthiest teams in the league and that helps this time of the year. Pisa Tinoisamoa is supposedly going to start this week and his athleticism and versatility only enhances the Bears’ league-best 4-3 linebacking corps. Tinoisamoa is often an afterthought because he plays against two Pro Bowl — and probably future Hall of Famer — linebackers. Not only should Peppers be seeking redemption, but Israel Idonije should as well. He had just two assisted tackles in the first meeting. In fact, the entire defensive line should have a chip on its collective shoulder for not registering a sack in the first contest and barely applying any pressure on Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. That definitely needs to change as Hasselbeck can find all the soft spots in zone coverage if he is given the time, as we saw last week against the defending champions. Hasselbeck completed 22 of 35 passes for 272 yards and four touchdowns against the Saints last week. He’s never won a road playoff game, though. Last week’s hero, running back Marshawn Lynch, rushed for 131 yards on 19 carries. However, 67 of those yards came on his impressive touchdown run to seal the game when the Saints missed eight tackles. The key to stopping him is to gang tackle and wrap up. The Bears didn’t register any takeaways last time the teams played, so you know that it’ll be on their minds to punch the ball loose. But they can’t go after the ball at the expense of missing a tackle. Surely, the Bears will be ready for Mike Williams this time around. The former first round bust with the Detroit Lions recorded career high receptions (10) and receiving yards (123) against the Bears on Oct. 17. Those numbers accounted for 15% of his receptions on the season and 16% of his receiving yards. Those percentages may not sound big, but consider that 6% is what one game is compared to a full 16 game season, which means against the Bears, he more than doubled what he averaged in any other game this year. That should be a slap in the face to them. The Bears are ready for this rematch and I think the Bears defense will dominate this matchup.
Down by two scores for the first time all game against the Seahawks, Devin Hester returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown to bring the Bears to within three points. Seahawks punter Jon Ryan was obliterated on the play by Earl Bennett. That’s what you get for kicking to Hester — and for having long, terrible hair. The Seahawks claim that they’ll be kicking it to Hester and trusting their coverage unit to get down the field and make a tackle. It might be a smokescreen, but then again we might see some fireworks. Danieal Manning has been handling the bulk of the kickoff return duties all season and I trust either him or Hester to give the Bears offense good starting field position. Ironically, Hester’s 89-yard punt return wasn’t the only kick returned that far on the day. Manning had a kickoff return for an 89-yard touchdown that was called back due to a questionable holding penalty on Rod Wilson. The Seahawks have a dangerous and dynamic kick returner, too, that is keeping Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub up at night. Running back Leon Washington averaged 25.6 yards per return in the regular season and also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. He probably would have been in the Pro Bowl if not for Hester. Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard need to have some good directional kicking and the coverage units have to stay in their lanes and secure the tackle. Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare converted on 83% of his field goals in the regular season and was sixth in the league with 20 touchbacks. Bears have the slight edge here.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll left USC at the right time as the university found itself in the middle of heavy allegations. Carroll, a one-time head coach of the New England Patriots, who succeeded Bill Parcells and preceded Bill Belichick, wasn’t a very good NFL head coach the first time around and isn’t that much better this time. NFL pundits and broadcasters love him because of his sideline antics — he jokes around with assistants, players, and other team personnel on the sideline, is one of the first guys to greet and hug a player that just scored, and almost always has a smile on his face. But that rah-rah stuff only works for so long before players get tired of it when they’re losing. So, I’ll recognize him as a formidable coach opposite Lovie Smith because the players are currently buying into what he’s selling, but I don’t expect it to last very long into the future. The Seahawks have not yet played this season in as inclement weather as they’ll be facing on Sunday. I’ll be interested in seeing how they adapt. Let’s be honest, though. Last week was their Super Bowl. They were the worst NFL team to make the playoffs in league history, sneaking in with a 7-9 record. They were double-digit underdogs at home and facing the reigning Super Bowl champions. And they went out and beat the snot out of the Saints in convincing fashion. What they faced in the Saints was an opponent that was more flash than dash. A team with a superior offense but a defense that couldn’t cover and couldn’t tackle. A team that was more finesse than power. What they’re going to face on Sunday is a Bears defense with three Pro Bowlers, playmakers in the secondary, and a defensive line that is licking its chops for revenge. They’re going to see an offense that is improved from the first time they saw it. Everything from the offensive line — while not very good, is no longer terrible and is now more consistent — to a better quarterback and skill position players who are more familiar with their offensive coordinator’s system. Not to mention, the Seahawks will see a Bears offense that will play within itself due to Mike Martz’s epiphany during the bye week. In short, we’re going to see a good NFL team against an average one, and unless disaster strikes, the good team will win and move on to the NFC conference championship.
Final Score: Chicago 27, Seattle 13