John Crist: Both the Bears and Seahawks have been quite disappointing this season since they were expected to be Super Bowl contenders in the NFC. Chicago has been ravaged by injuries on the defensive side of the ball and seemingly can't get consistent play from anyone on offense, but what have been the determining factors in Seattle's slow start in 2007?
Doug Farrar: The elephant in the living room has been Seattle's running game. For the second straight season, it's been virtually nonexistent. The Seahawks' offensive line can pass-block very well, but the run-blocking is pretty atrocious. Injuries to Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett have affected Matt Hasselbeck's ability to spread the ball around, though Seattle's quarterback may be having his best season. The inability of the offense to sustain drives will tire out the defense at times, and that's when inconsistency tends to bite this team. Mike Holmgren's play-calling and time management have been issues. Seattle lost to the Cardinals and Browns on field goals, but they were blown out in consecutive contests against the Steelers and Saints.
The Pittsburgh loss was particularly revealing, as it was Seattle's chance to not only avenge a Super Bowl loss – a loss I believe still haunts certain members of this organization – but to prove that they could beat one of the NFL's elite. The Seahawks are a team that will beat up the NFC West's junior league – they've outscored the 49ers and Rams 80-9, and they have another game with St. Louis to look forward to – but I don't see them as a team that can beat the league's best. There are just too many holes, and some of the positions that are filled are done so sporadically.
JC: QB Matt Hasselbeck is quietly having a pretty strong season, putting together an 89.3 passer rating after a less-than-stellar 76.0 mark a year ago. What's been the difference under center for the Seahawks, and how much of the credit does he deserve for a resurgent Seattle passing attack?
QB Matt Hasselbeck
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DF: If you ask me, Hasselbeck has been the Seahawks' strong point and saving grace all season. This was evidenced when Holmgren told the media before the 49ers game that his team would throw the ball more. They did so successfully against the 49ers, and that's a positive indicator when you can tell your opponent what you're going to do and then go out and do it.
The Matt Hasselbeck that the Bears will see is a quarterback that can go through his progressions with lightning speed, and the throw he makes is usually the right one. His deep ball is questionable, but he doesn't really need it. He'll bleed a defense dry with short-to-intermediate routes, and he's spectacular at zinging a football into tight spots in the red zone. His touchdown pass to D.J. Hackett on Monday night went right over the outstretched hands of two San Francisco defenders and right into Hackett's breadbasket.
JC: RB Shaun Alexander has been a colossal bust this season for fantasy owners all over the country and had all kinds of problems staying healthy the last two seasons. Despite the fact that he's potentially a Hall-of-Fame enshrinee one day, is he yet another example of why teams should shy away from giving contract extensions to tailbacks with high mileage?
DF: Absolutely. And the argument put forth by some that the Seahawks' front office would have been vivisected for letting Alexander walk after his 2005 NFL MVP season holds no water whatsoever – not when this team "rewarded" guard Steve Hutchinson, who helped Alexander get to that exalted plane, by lowballing him and getting poison-pilled for their trouble.
Running back is a fungible position in many ways. There's not only a very high turnover rate, but it's not necessarily a position that requires a high draft pick for success. Last Sunday, four different undrafted backs rushed for over 100 yards, and Kansas City's Priest Holmes would have made it five if his offensive line wasn't a complete joke. If you want a great running game, the line is where you need to put the money. Denver for many years, and Indianapolis in recent seasons, have proven that you can get great results out of previously undistinguished talent with the right line. Would Selvin Young or Kenton Keith survive behind Seattle's current line? Not likely.
JC: The Seahawks are tied for third in the league with 26 sacks and boast three players with at least 4.5 QB takedowns on the season. But since LB Julian Peterson is the team leader with 8.0 through nine games, does that mean most of the pressure is coming off blitz packages as opposed to consistent harassment from the front four?
LB Julian Peterson
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DF: Peterson is indeed very effective with his hand down. He can blast off the line with the burst of the best edge rushers, and his upper-body strength allows him to defeat the best fullbacks. Witness his sack against the 49ers on Monday night – he pushed fullback Moran Norris, one of the league's few remaining pure blocking fullbacks, back a few yards with one good shot.
Peterson is also effective when covering tight ends, and that's a Seattle weakness when he isn't doing it, but his sheer value as a pass rusher is undeniable. He's not getting most of those sacks as an outside linebacker. If he's coming after the quarterback, he's generally not hiding his intentions.
JC: Seattle's pass defense is a middle-of-the-road unit at best in terms of yards allowed and interceptions, but the DBs have amazingly only surrendered five touchdown passes all year long – tops in the league. Has the secondary simply made a lot of big plays in the red zone, or is there another explanation for this statistical anomaly?
DF: Seattle's secondary has been outstanding in the red zone. Against Cleveland's resurgent offense two games ago, there was one sequence at the end of the first half in which three straight passes to the end zone were deflected with perfect technique – though the second-down incompletion to Kellen Winslow may have been interference. New secondary coach Jim Mora has his charges playing very well, and cornerback Marcus Trufant in particular is having a Pro Bowl season. Against more dynamic passing offenses, the Seahawks will play bend-but-don't-break.
Against the Bears, you can probably expect to see interesting mixtures of man and zone coverages, as opposed to the constant 10-yard cornerback dropbacks and prevent zones we used to see.
Be on the lookout for Part II of Behind Enemy Lines, where John answers five questions from Doug, on Thursday.