NFL Preview - Seattle (6-7) at Chicago (7-6)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - One of the high moments of the Chicago Bears' 2010 season
came in a playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks this past January. The reigning
NFC champions find themselves at their lowest point of this year's campaign,
however, with a rematch between the two teams on the horizon.
The spiraling Bears try to end a potentially-crushing three-game losing streak
when they host the surging Seahawks Sunday at Solider Field, while also
attempting to remain a viable candidate in the conference Wild Card race.
Chicago had been cruising towards a second consecutive playoff berth after
ripping off five straight victories, many of which came in impressive fashion,
during a hot midseason stretch. But quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a
broken right thumb in the team's 31-20 triumph over San Diego in Week 11, and
the Bears have gone into an ill-timed tailspin as a result.
Setbacks to Oakland and Kansas City marred by three-interception outings by
replacement signal-caller Caleb Hanie began Chicago's downturn, but the Bears
appeared primed for a bounce-back in last week's matchup at Denver. The club
held a 10-point lead with just over two minutes to go, but the ever-resilient
Broncos rallied to send the contest into overtime before claiming an improbable
13-10 win on Matt Prater's 51-yard field goal in the extra session.
Two costly late miscues by running back Marion Barber, filling in for an
injured Matt Forte, contributed to Chicago's latest defeat. The veteran backup
curiously ran out of bounds with the Bears seeking to drain the clock in the
waning stages of regulation, enabling Prater enough time to successfully make a
game-tying field goal, then fumbled in Denver territory during overtime with
his team in position to try a deciding kick.
The three losses have placed Chicago 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta and one back of
Detroit for the NFC's two Wild Card spots with three remaining in the regular
"We're on the outside looking in," Bears head coach Lovie Smith stated. "You
lose three games in a row this time of the year, you're normally not in a great
position. But we are in position still, and that's what we have to keep in
"We've got to get a win. The Seattle game was an important game no matter what
happened [in Denver]. But of course it's [now] just more of a situation where
we have to get a win."
Seattle, on the other hand, enters Sunday's clash riding some serious momentum
after registering its fourth win in five weeks with Monday's 30-13 manhandling
of hapless St. Louis. The 2010 NFC West title-holders are still a long shot to
advance to the postseason, however, trailing the Falcons by 2 1/2 games and the
Lions by two in the current standings.
"Early in the season, we had a hard time playing four consistent quarters,"
Seahawks rookie wide receiver Doug Baldwin remarked. "Now we're finding a way
to do it consistently for four quarters, and it's showing up."
Excellent production from Marshawn Lynch has certainly played a big part in
Seattle's second-half turnaround. The hard-nosed running back bullied the Rams
for 115 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries to eclipse the century mark for the
fifth time in six weeks, and he's amassed a league-high 706 rushing yards and
seven scores over that span.
Lynch mustered a mere two yards on four attempts in the Seahawks' 35-24 loss to
the Bears at Soldier Field in this past winter's NFC Divisional Playoffs, a
game in which Cutler threw for 274 yards and hit on two long touchdown passes.
Seattle was able to come through with a 23-20 decision when the teams squared
off in Chicago during the 2010 regular season, however, behind a defense that
sacked Cutler six times.
The Seahawks' above-mentioned win in Week 6 of last season gave them an 8-4
advantage in non-playoff meetings with the Bears and was the team's first
positive outcome in Chicago since 1999. Seattle was routed by a 37-6 count in a
2006 visit to Soldier Field and also dropped a 25-19 verdict to the Bears as
the home team in a 2009 bout.
Chicago has prevailed in each of the two postseason encounters between the
teams, posting a 27-24 home overtime win in the 2006 NFC Divisional Playoffs in
addition to last January's victory.
Smith has gone 4-2 against Seattle during his eight-year tenure in Chicago,
while Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll owns a 2-2 mark versus the Bears and is
1-1 in head-to-head tests with Smith. Carroll lost to Chicago while in charge
of the New York Jets in 1994 and guided New England past the Bears in 1997 when
then at the helm of the Patriots.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Carroll has rode Lynch (969 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 10 total TD) hard
over the course of the season's second half, but the workhorse back has been no
worse for the wear. Monday's matchup marked the sixth straight game he's been
given at least 22 carries as the clear centerpiece of the Seattle offense, and
responded with another prolific effort in addition to extending his touchdown
streak to nine consecutive contests, tying a franchise record set by former
league MVP Shaun Alexander. Lynch's consistent production has also helped out
quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (2479 passing yards, 11 TD, 12 INT), who composed
a passer rating of over 95 for a second week in a row after throwing for 224
yards and a score while hitting on 21-of-32 attempts against the Rams. The
offseason addition also hasn't been intercepted in two straight outings while
continuing to maintain a rapport with Baldwin (45 receptions, 3 TD), who's
taken over as the team's No. 1 receiver with free-agent pickup Sidney Rice out
for the season and finished with 93 yards and a touchdown on seven catches last
week. Big target Mike Williams (16 receptions, 1 TD) had 123 yards on 10 grabs
in the Seahawks' regular-season besting of the Bears last year, but the former
first-round pick has been more of an afterthought this year as second-year pro
Golden Tate (23 receptions, 3 TD) has earned himself a bigger role. While a
front line that's without three opening-week starters due to injuries has done
well in creating holes for Lynch, it's 41 sacks allowed in 2011 is among the
highest total in the league.
Lynch figures to face a sterner challenge this week from an experienced Chicago
defense that's held opponents to a scant 80.5 rushing yards per game over its
last eight assignments and did well in limiting the Broncos' ground-based
arsenal to 124 yards a week ago. Linebackers Brian Urlacher (83 tackles, 3 INT)
and Lance Briggs (93 tackles, 1 INT) combined for 20 tackles to lead the charge
and form one of the most renowned duos in the game, having been to 13 Pro Bowls
between them, while havoc-wreaking end Julius Peppers (33 tackles, 9 sacks) is
making a strong case for all-star honors after recording his seventh sack in an
eight-game span in last Sunday's loss. He's the headliner of a deep assemblage
of linemen that accounted for five sacks of the Broncos' Tim Tebow in Week 14,
with rookie tackle Stephen Paea getting to the young quarterback twice and
interior partner Henry Melton (19 tackles, 7 sacks) netting a sack for a third
straight tilt. A secondary anchored by physical cornerback Charles Tillman (86
tackles, 2 INT, 11 PD) will give up some yards, as the Bears rank just 28th in
pass defense (256.5 ypg), but the team has garnered a respectable 17
interceptions on the year and is adept at keeping big plays to a minimum.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
Though Chicago's injury-plagued offense managed a subpar 245 total yards
against the Broncos, there were some positives from last week's performance.
The Bears piled up 159 rushing yards in defeat, with both Barber (389 rushing
yards, 6 TD) and reserve back Kahlil Bell (97 rushing yards, 5 receptions)
effective subbing for the valuable Forte, who's set to miss a second straight
game with a knee sprain, while Hanie (502 passing yards, 2 TD, 6 INT) did not
commit a turnover after being picked off a troubling six times in his first two
go-arounds as an NFL starter. The marginally-talented backup only threw 19
passes as the team went run-heavy, however, and nearly half of his 12
completions were dump-offs to Bell. He was still sacked on four occasions by
Denver one week after being dropped to the turf seven times in a startling home
loss to Kansas City, and isn't as quick in releasing the ball or decision-
making as the rocket-armed Cutler. If Hanie gets sufficient time to survey the
field, he does have a dangerous deep threat to work with in wide receiver
Johnny Knox (36 receptions, 2 TD). The third-year speedster is averaging nearly
20 yards per catch and toasted Seattle for 120 yards on five receptions when
these teams met in last year's regular season. For the season the Bears rank
ninth in rushing offense (122.5 ypg), but they've averaged 143.1 yards per game
via the ground since Week 4.
Hanie will be trying to make headway against a Seattle defense that's been
pretty solid containing the run and has made great strides against the pass
during the team's upswing. Enemy backs are averaging a modest 3.7 yards per
carry against a sturdy front seven led by tackles Brandon Mebane (44 tackles)
and Alan Branch (25 tackles, 1 sack) and the linebacker trio of David Hawthorne
(88 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) in the middle and Leroy Hill (76 tackles, 3 sacks)
and rookie K.J. Wright (48 tackles, 2 sacks) on the outside, while former CFL
standout Brandon Browner (46 tackles, 5 INT, 19 PD) has logged four
interceptions in the last three weeks playing alongside promising rookie
Richard Sherman (43 tackles, 2 INT, 12 PD) at cornerback. Their sound coverage
skills have enabled the Seahawks to yield under 200 net yards through the air
three times over the past four games despite the team lacking any difference-
making pass rushers other than veteran end Chris Clemons (37 tackles, 9 sacks).
Coordinator Gus Bradley blitzed Cutler profusely in Seattle's win over the
Bears last season, and expect the lightly-tested Hanie to receive the same
treatment come Sunday.
KEYS TO THE GAME
It's no secret that both of these teams will be intent on running the football
extensively in this game, with Lynch emerging as Seattle's meal ticket on
offense and the Bears still saddled with a backup quarterback who's struggled
to generate a downfield presence. Whichever one is more efficient at moving the
chains via the ground game should have a decided edge here, though it's
entirely possible that neither gains much of an advantage considering the run-
stopping efforts of the two defenses.
The Bears called runs on nearly 60 percent of their offensive plays last week,
but better balance would be in order to get the team out of its present funk on
that side of the ball. For that to occur, however, Hanie is going to have to
prove he can make some plays with his arm and avoid the damaging turnovers and
sacks that have put Chicago in undesirable positions. With three starts now
under his belt, it's time for the training wheels to come off.
The Hester factor. Chicago possesses the NFL's premier return man in three-time
Pro Bowler Devin Hester, a player who can change both field position and the
momentum of a game in the blink of an eye. The proven game-breaker, who took a
punt back 89 yards for a score when these clubs opposed one another in last
year's regular season, is averaging a league-best 18.5 yards in that category
and has three return touchdowns in 2011, and he'll be facing a Seattle team
that's allowed a pair of scores on punts in its 13 games.
With neither of these participants fielding explosive offenses and the Bears
especially struggling to put up points in Hanie's starts, expect a tightly-
played contest that will likely hinge on a few key plays. Chicago's going to
need to be both resilient and creative to overcome the injuries to Cutler and
Forte, but fortunately has a pair of players capable of making a sizeable
impact in the incomparable Hester and ultra-clutch kicker Robbie Gould, who's
6-for-6 on field goal attempts of 50 yards or beyond this year. Add in a rugged
defense that's continued to perform at a high level during the losing streak
and is more than capable of preventing Lynch of putting together another
massive outburst, and Chicago seems to have the ingredients necessary to
getting back on the winning track as long as it's not littered with breakdowns
and mistakes. Other than a home upset of Baltimore last month, Seattle's strong
run hasn't exactly come against the stiffest of competition, and a matchup on
the road against a desperate and determined opponent could prove to be a more
difficult challenge for Carroll's group to navigate.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 16, Seahawks 10
12/16 10:05:23 ET
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