And Bears, Oh My …
Like the Seahawks, the Bears are off to a 3-0 start as well and looking to silence potential doubters. For a Seahawks team who has Miami in its sights, they must face a team who has dreams of re-making the Super Bowl Shuffle. In the race for home field advantage, this game looms as a potentially big one for both clubs as the season unfolds.
Seahawks “O” vs. Bears “D”
What a Hassel!! …
Most NFL offenses are like .22 caliber rifles and whose quarterbacks awkwardly wield them in taking hopeful potshots at their targets. As every hunter knows, a .22 will accomplish little against a bear but enrage them. That picture is an apt description of this Chicago Bears defense as well; a unit which has surrendered only one touchdown thus far. As anyone familiar with the NFL knows though, the Seahawks offense is a far cry from a mere pop gun.
Last week quarterback Matt Hasselbeck finally unleashed this high powered rifle with deadly precision, completing 73% of his passes and hanging 5 touchdowns against the Giants defense. Matt Hasselbeck is currently completing 67.8% of his passes, the best percentage of his career, ranking him 4th best in the NFL currently. In reviewing the game last week, the argument can be made that only 1 of the interceptions he threw last week was legitimate and legitimately his fault. If just those 2 interceptions were eliminated from his statistics, Hasselbeck’s QB rating would jump from its current standing of 88.1 to 97.4, meaning that his sniper rifle would be right on target with the 98.2 rating he finished the 2005 season with.
High Octane vs. High Intensity …
Sunday, Hasselbeck and crew enter the Chicago Bears den hoping to hang yet another trophy on their wall. That will be far from an easy task however against a hostile crowd and arguably the most balanced defense in the NFL. The Bears run an aggressive Tampa two defense that has yet to surrender a passing touchdown this season. Against a linebacking corps that possesses the wings of Mercury and a group that swarms ball carriers quicker than a school of piranhas, Hasselbeck will need to have his receivers dead center in the crosshairs and display Martin Riggs-like marksmanship in the passing game.
The melee along the lines promises to resemble the trench warfare of World War I, when opposing forces would often fight it out hand to hand with sharpened spades. The Seahawks Offensive line will need to bring theirs on Sunday, as the Bears rank second in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris leads the team with 3 sacks and completely manhandled former Hawks guard Steve Hutchinson last week. Even with a more athletic and ever improving Chris Spencer at left guard, look for Harris to draw double teams. Spencer’s performance against him will be crucial in order for the Hawks to avoid a repeat of the kind of disruption Shaun Rogers provided.
Right tackle Sean Locklear draws the assignment of left defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who led the Bears last year in sacks with 10. The ability of the Bears front 4 to create pressure allows them to routinely drop their speedy linebackers into coverage. Brian Urlacher (122 tackles, 6.0 sacks in 2005) and Lance Briggs (107 tackles in 2005) can absolutely fly, which allows the Bears to operate without a dime package in their arsenal.
Don’t look for the Seahawks to launch a lot of mortar shells deep down the field, as the Bears secondary simply has too much speed. While the 4 wide receiver set was extremely effective against the Giants, a constant diet of it against this Bears defense would be more tempting than an unguarded picnic basket for their pass rushers. Look for far more variance in packages. Seahawks receivers will need to don their Kevlar, as they project to take a lot of punishment across the middle in this game. Cornerback Charles Tillman (96 tackles and 16 passes defensed in 2005) leads an extremely aggressive group that will look to dig their claws into the Hawks receivers this week.
The Bears ranked #1 in the NFL last season in fewest passing touchdowns allowed with 10 and tied for 2nd in interceptions with 24. This season the Bears look to have picked up where they left off, as they are ranked 2nd in fewest 3rd down conversions allowed. As Steve Smith proved last year in the playoffs however (12 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns), the Bears secondary can be beaten. The injection of a speedy Deion Branch could be just the added nitrous oxide the Hawks offense needs. That said, the silver bullet in the chamber this week is the return of Itula Mili. Look for Mili to play a big role, both in pass protection and in the short to intermediate passing game, which surely will dominate the majority of the offensive plays for the Hawks this week.
Some People Call Me Maurice …
The Lord chose not to answer Shaun Alexander’s prayers this week, instead calling on Maurice Morris to face this Goliath of a defense. The Bears front 7 will look to drive Morris (the proverbial David) like a nail into the Soldier Field turf, looking to shut down the run and forcing the Hawks to beat them with short to intermediate passes across the middle. Mo Morris brings much more to an offense than a mere sling however, being a much better blocker and pass receiver than Alexander. Morris averaged 4.1 yards/carry last season and played well in pinch hit role against a very good and physical Redskin front 7 in the playoffs last season in poor conditions. In a game that promises to be a brawl, Morris’s superior blocking and receiving ability could loom large. Look for the Seahawks to utilize Morris along with Strong as outlets out of the backfield and to set up the run with the pass.
Bears “O” vs. Seahawks “D”
Make Way For the King? …
Rex Grossman earned NFC offensive player of the month of September for leading his team to a 3-0 start. Grossman boasts a current quarterback rating of 100.9, ranking him 5th in the NFL and is completing 65.6% of his throws (8th best.) That said, this young regent has yet to establish total dominance, as he struggled somewhat against a Vikings defense that blitzed him relentlessly. Under pressure Grossman’s completion percentage fell to 56.1% and he threw a pair of interceptions.
Offensive Coordinator Ron Turner has Grossman running a lot of seven-step drops and play action in order to draw opposing safeties in, rolling out the red carpet for their passing attack. Thus far, Turner’s strategy has worked, as the Bears rank 3rd in the NFL in completions of 20 or more yards with 14.
Into the Teeth …
While not as stacked as the Seahawks high powered attack is, the Bears passing offense does have some teeth. As a strong muscled receiver, Muhsin Muhammad sent many an opposing cornerback praying during his days with the Panthers and is among the league leaders in receptions with 19. I’d look for the Hawks to employ a coverage scheme similar to the one they used against Steve Smith last year on Muhammad. This week the Bears may miss an important fang this week, as tight end Desmond Clark (who is tied for 2nd on the team in receptions with Bernard Berrian) is a game time decision due to a foot injury. If Clark is unable to go, the Bears offense could find themselves in the talons of a very underrated and hungry Hawks defense. Up until a late 4th quarter touchdown last week, the Seahawks had surrendered only 1 touchdown. Even with that defensive nap though, the Hawks still find themselves ranked 9th in fewest points allowed (15.3). Jordan Babineaux has not practiced this week due to a concussion and is listed as doubtful for Sunday. For a team getting thin at safety, his absence could lead to opposing receivers escaping the clutches of the Hawks secondary downfield.
Like the Vikings, the Seahawks defensive front 7 must continue to descend on their prey with relentless fury. Consistently pressuring Grossman has proven no easy task so far though. Overall, the Bears Offensive Line has done an excellent job of keeping Grossman on his throne this season (only 2 sacks allowed.) That said, the defenses they’ve faced thus far ranked in the lower 1/3 of teams in sacks last year. The addition of Julian Peterson to a team that last season led the NFL in sacks and ranked 2nd in red zone defense means that points will be endangered.
All Lanes Closed …
Head coach Lovie Smith believes in the old Ground Chuck philosophy of pounding opposing defenses with the running game. Thus far though, the Bears running attack has had a flat tire. Bears tailback Thomas Jones is averaging just 3.0 yards/carry on the young season, has yet to break the 65 yard mark, or to find the end zone or in any of his first 3 games. In addition to Peterson, the resurrections of Kelly Herndon and Ken Hamlin have led to the Hawks ranking among the stingiest run defenses through the first 3 games. Entering this game the Seahawks have not surrendered a rushing touchdown and find themselves ranked 2nd best in yards/game allowed (58.7), among the league leaders in fumbles created with 7, and have held two of the game’s elite runners in Edgerrin James and Tiki Barber scoreless and under 65 yards on the ground. The Bears will have to sharpen their claws or it will be the Hawks who will be doing the mauling.
Soldier Field is an appropriate name for the battleground on which these elite armies will face one another Sunday. Hawks players will almost certainly need a M*A*S*H* unit and some R&R after this game and they’ll get that next week. While most experts out there are picking “da Bears” … I see this game differently. Last week this Seahawks defense picked clean the carcass of a Giants offense that is far superior to the one that they’ll see tonight. While a crazed crowd and an adrenaline fueled Bears team will cause problems early … it’s the Seahawks who will swoop away with this one.
Seahawks 17 Bears 10
Todd Webb writes for Seahawks.NET whenever he can be torn away from his beloved Seattle Mariners. Feel free to send any comments, questions or "I, Claudius" episodes on DVD to firstname.lastname@example.org.