Chicago Bears (4-5) at Seattle Seahawks (5-4)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson
SERIES: 11th meeting. Seahawks lead 6-4, but Bears have won the past two meetings, both of which were last season at Soldier Field. The Bears destroyed the Seahawks 37-6 in Week 4 of the regular season, but barely squeaked by 27-24 in a divisional-round playoff game on Jan. 14, 2007.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bears coach Lovie Smith is hoping QB Rex Grossman can re-light the spark he found in relief last Sunday. Grossman's strength is his accuracy going downfield, but he must avoid the poor decision making that landed him on the bench in Week 4. Smith also might turn more to RB Adrian Peterson, who is a better blocker and receiver than scuffling starter Cedric Benson (3.0 yards per carry). ... With the running game going nowhere quickly, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has gone to a pass-heavy attack, and threw on 10 of the first 11 plays last Monday. And now WR Deion Branch is expected back. It will be interesting to see the approach if RB Shaun Alexander is able to play because backup Maurice Morris runs harder and is a superior pass blocker.
KEY INJURIES: Bears: QB Brian Griese (shoulder) said he can play if needed; CB Nathan Vasher (groin) looks likely to miss his seventh game. Seahawks: Alexander (ankle, knee) will try to practice Friday before determining his status.
FAST FACTS: Bears WR Bernard Berrian had eight catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings last season. ... Holmgren is 14-4 (.778) in his career vs. Chicago.
--CB Nate Vasher (groin) appears extremely doubtful for Sunday, although he was able to have limited participation in Thursday's practice. If he doesn't play, it will be the seventh straight game Vasher has missed.
--DT Tommie Harris (knee) missed practice for a second straight day but is expected to play on Sunday. He has frequently missed practice but played in every game.
--CB Ricky Manning Jr., normally a regular in the Bears' nickel package, is expected to play more than last week when he was hardly on the field, even in passing situations against the Raiders. With the Seahawks utilizing more wide receivers, Manning makes more sense than SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer, who stayed on the field most of last week's game.
--QB Brian Griese, who started the previous six games but was sidelined last week, was limited in Thursday's practice because of the sprained left shoulder. He could be dropped to No. 3 this week.
--QB Kyle Orton, who hasn't taken a snap since starting 15 games as a rookie in 2005 because of injuries and the poor play of others, could be moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart this week.
--RB Shaun Alexander did not practice on Thursday, though he is expected to practice on Friday to see if he has recovered enough from his sprained left knee to play Sunday.
--LB Leroy Hill did not practice on Thursday, though he is expected to practice on Friday to see if he has recovered enough from his hamstring injury to play Sunday.
--OT Walter Jones (shoulder) did not practice Thursday, though he will play on Sunday.
--DT Rocky Bernard did not practice Thursday, though he will play Sunday.
--LB Will Herring did not practice Thursday and likely is out on Sunday.
--WR Deion Branch practiced on Thursday and should return from his sprained left foot on Sunday.
--TE Marcus Pollard practiced on Thursday and should get more playing time Sunday. He had two catches in limited reps last Sunday against San Francisco.
--S C.J. Wallace did not practice Thursday because of a bruised knee and is questionable for Sunday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz says it's no great mystery why the Bears are last in the NFL in average gain per run and third from the bottom in rushing yards. A glance at the videotape is all it takes.
"We're getting our (butts) kicked," Kreutz said. "Week after week we're not running the ball well. That's about what's happening. We're just not very good at running the ball right now."
Former Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop was fond of saying, "It takes a village to run the football." If so, the Bears have a lot of natives who aren't getting the job done, from running back Cedric Benson to every member of the offensive line.
"The way to improve it is for everybody to work on it," Kreutz said. "But we've been saying that for a long time now. So what do we have to do? If we knew, we would have done it. We're working hard at it. It's not showing in games right now. So we're pretty bad at running the ball, and we recognize that. We're embarrassed by it, and we're trying hard to get it fixed."
As bad as the Bears have been in averaging 78.8 rushing yards per game, Kreutz said he has seen it worse in his 10 years.
"We've had some bad offenses around here," he said. "This isn't the worst it's been, but this is pretty bad."
In 2002, Anthony Thomas led the Bears with just 721 rushing yards while averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Benson's on pace for 963 yards but has averaged only 3.0 yards per attempt. Benson was asked if a switch at running back to backup Adrian Peterson was possible following the change at quarterback from Brian Griese to Rex Grossman.
"If that's something they feel like they should do, I'm sure they're going to do it," Benson said. "It's not really my area to worry (about)."
Benson has enough to worry about trying to collaborate with his offensive line and figure out why the Bears are the only NFL team without a 20-yard run this season. His longest gain this year is 16 yards. "We're all part of that unit," Benson said. "The run game's not going to work with just one guy. It's going to take all of us, and we've been over different things and stuff that we feel could help improve it. The bottom line is we've just got to get better."
An occasional big play would help in that regard. Benson had a career-high 28 carries last week, but his longest gain was nine yards. "The biggest thing is we're not getting big plays," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "If you're going to average 4.5, five yards a carry, you've got to get some big plays. Any team that averages that in the running game, they don't get that much every run. You get two yards, one, five, four and then you get 30. That's what we're not getting."
Benson has heard the criticism just about every week since he posted his only 100-yard rushing game of the season in Game Two against the Chiefs. He had 101 yards on 24 carries for a 4.2-yard average nine weeks ago, the only game all season in which he's averaged more than 3.8 per carry. Rather than dwelling on past failures, he's trying to look to the future, which he is convinced will bring better production.
"It's only difficult and frustrating when you think about it more than you should," Benson said. "It's going to come; it's going to crack. I don't know how to explain it or what better way to put it. All I can do is show you."
Bears fans are waiting.
One of the most important things the Seattle Seahawks must do against the Chicago Bears this week is protect quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Hasselbeck becomes more susceptible to injury because if the Seahawks are going to pass more, and be so open about it, teams can devise ways to get to him, particularly since he is not the most mobile quarterback in the league by any stretch.
One of the major strengths of the Bears' defense this season is their ability to put pressure on the quarterback. They have 29 sacks, second in the NFL behind only the New York Giants. Tommie Harris and Adewale Ogunleye have seven sacks apiece, tied for 11th in the league.
The greatest strength of Seattle's offensive line -- which has had its struggles with communication this season -- is its ability to protect Hasselbeck reasonably well, allowing only 17 sacks.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren likely will devise a game plan that allows Hasselbeck to throw to his receivers on short routes rather than forcing him to sit in the pocket and wait for receivers to get open. Hasselbeck is helped in that regard by the expected return of flanker Deion Branch, a quick receiver adept at getting open on slants who worked hard with Hasselbeck during the offseason to improve their timing.
Holmgren also has installed some screen passes that take advantage of running back Maurice Morris and fullback Leonard Weaver, which lessens the risk of injury to Hasselbeck, who sports an 89.3 passer rating, the second-highest of his career.