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NFL Preview - Chicago (1-1) at Seattle (1-1)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In their first road trip without injured Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears are not likely to have many tears shed for them by this week's opponent, the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle, plagued by the injury bug throughout its dismal 4-12 campaign of 2008, is already dealing with an infirmed list that rivals that of the Bears or anyone else in the league, for that matter.
The concerns begin on offense, where a team that has already been minus left tackle Walter Jones (knee) and center Chris Spencer (quadriceps) for the first two games had to make room for a few more bodies in the training room this week.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (ribs) is doubtful for Sunday after exiting early in last week's 23-10 loss at the 49ers, and receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh (back) and Deion Branch (hamstring) are questionable.
In addition to Jones and Spencer, both of whom are questionable, starting tackle Sean Locklear (ankle) is out for the Bears game.
The problems extend to the defensive side of the ball, where cornerback Josh Wilson (ankle) and linebacker LeRoy Hill (groin) are both out, and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring) and tackle Brandon Mebane (calf) are both questionable.
Among those on the above list, the most prominent name is that of Hasselbeck, who would be replaced by Seneca Wallace if he can't go.
Wallace, who is 5-7 as a fill-in starter for Hasselbeck during his career, was 15-of-23 for 127 yards with a touchdown and an interception in last week's loss to the 49ers.
The similarly 1-1 Bears travel to the Pacific Northwest with their own share of problems, the absence of Urlacher (wrist) chief among them, but the quarterback position is as solid as the team has experienced in many years,
Last Sunday, quarterback Jay Cutler rebounded from a four-interception meltdown against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, completing 27-of-38 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers in a 17-14 come-from-behind win over the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cutler engineered a pair of crucial fourth-quarter scoring drives, one that tied the game on a seven-yard touchdown pass to rookie wideout Johnny Knox, and the other that put kicker Robbie Gould in position for the game-winning 44-yard field goal.
The Seahawks lead their all-time regular season series with the Bears by a 7-3 count, including a 30-23 home win when the teams last met, during the 2007 regular season. In the previous matchup, Chicago handed Seattle a humiliating 37-6 defeat at Solider Field in Week 4 of the 2006 season. Chicago is 0-4 in Seattle since scoring its only win there in 1976, when the Seahawks were in their first year of existence.
The most recent matchup between the clubs came in an NFC Divisional Playoff in 2006, won by the Bears in come-from-behind fashion, 27-24 in overtime at Soldier Field.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith is 2-1 against the Seahawks in his career. Seattle's Jim Mora was 0-1 against both Smith and Chicago during his tenure with the Falcons (2004-06), dropping a 16-3 decision in the Windy City during the 2005 season.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
Cutler's chemistry with his receiving corps is still a work in progress. Three wide receivers - Knox (8 receptions, 1 TD), Devin Hester (8 receptions, 1 TD) and Earl Bennett (9 receptions) - have all had their moments through the team's first two games, though none has emerged as a bona fide No. 1 receiver at this early stage of the season. Knox had six catches for 70 yards and the game-tying score against the Steelers last week. After throwing sparingly to the tight ends in Week 1, Cutler (513 passing yards, 3 TD, 4 INT) located them more often against the Steelers, with second-year-pro Kellen Davis having the best day of his young career with five catches for 38 yards and a touchdown, and Greg Olsen (4 receptions) hauling in three balls for 41 yards. As expected, the presence of the strong-armed Cutler in the offense has meant less work for running back Matt Forte' (84 rushing yards). Forte' was limited to 13 carries for 29 yards against the Steelers last week, though he did add value with five catches for 33 yards out of the backfield. The Chicago o-line has protected Cutler reasonably well, allowing only three sacks through two games.
Given the Bears' wish to throw the football, the depleted state of the Seahawks secondary has to be of great concern to Mora. In addition to cornerbacks Wilson and Marcus Trufant, both of whom are definitely out, the status of corners Travis Fisher (hamstring) and Ken Lucas (groin) is also in question. Former first-rounder Kelly Jennings (6 tackles) figures to play a key role on Sunday no matter who else is available, and safeties Deon Grant (6 tackles) and Jordan Babineaux (13 tackles) will have to be on their respective games in support. The Seattle pass rush, which has generated seven sacks in two games, must also continue to be a strength. Ends Lawrence Jackson (6 tackles, 3 sacks) and Patrick Kerney (6 tackles, 1 sack) will spearhead to the effort to get to Cutler. The Seahawks were miserable against the run last week, surrendering 256 ground yards including two huge runs to Frank Gore. With Hill definitely out and Tatupu (5 tackles, 1 sack) potentially absent, rookie Aaron Curry (8 tackles) will become one of the de facto leaders of the linebacking corps. Up front, the team will count on Colin Cole (6 tackles) and Cory Redding (4 tackles) to provide a push at the point of attack.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
In light of their many injuries, the makeup of the Seahawks offense come Sunday afternoon is anyone's guess. Conventional wisdom says that Wallace will get his first start of the year, that Walter Jones and Spencer will be ready to return to anchor the offensive line, and that Houshmandzadeh and Branch will both play. Houshmandzadeh (10 receptions) and Nate Burleson (11 receptions, 1 TD), both of whom had four catches in last week's loss to the 49ers, have been the team's top threats on the outside thus far in 2009. Second-year tight end John Carlson (12 receptions, 2 TD), meanwhile, continues to lead the Hawks in all three receiving categories. The running game has been a bit slow to develop, a fact that the possible return of Walter Jones and Spencer should help improve. Julius Jones (128 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 2 TD) was held to 11 yards on eight carries against the Niners, and was outplayed by backup Justin Forsett (52 rushing yards, 6 receptions), who made his 11 offensive touches count for 92 yards.
The Bears calmed some panic last week by playing solid defense in their first full game without Urlacher in the fold. The run defense, widely expected to take a hit with Urlacher sidelined, limited Steelers running back Willie Parker to 47 yards on 14 carries, though it did allow backup Rashard Mendenhall to break off a 39-yard run in the game. The run-stopping effort begins with defensive tackles Tommie Harris (2 tackles) and Anthony Adams (4 tackles) up front, and extends to linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer (6 tackles) and Lance Briggs (11 tackles) behind them. Hillenmeyer was credited with four tackles after taking over Urlacher's spot in the middle, while Briggs led the Bears with eight solo tackles. The strength of the Chicago defense thus far has been a pass rush that has generated six sacks through its first two games. Alex Brown (9 tackles) had both Bears sacks of Ben Roethlisberger last Sunday, while fellow end Adewale Ogunleye (5 tackles) brought down Aaron Rodgers twice in Week 1. On the back end, cornerback Charles Tillman (7 tackles) returned to the playmaking department with the team's first interception of the year, while safeties Daniel Manning (14 tackles, 1 sack) and Kevin Payne (8 tackles) combined for 13 stops.
Cutler was a borderline fantasy starter in most leagues prior to the start of the season, but the amount of times he has put the ball in the air over the first two weeks probably make him a bit more attractive than he was originally. He is going to make his mistakes, but will accrue enough yards and big plays to contribute to your team. The nature of his targets seems to be evolving, and Bennett, Knox, Hester, and Olsen are probably best left on the bench or waiver wire this week. The Bears defense may be worth considering this week against Wallace and a depleted Seahawks offense, and kicker Robbie Gould remains a reliable play.
The Seahawks' injury situation makes opening with any player other than the tight Carlson a risky play. Julius Jones is a good flex option, but the state of Seattle's offensive line isn't going to do him any favors. If you subscribe to the theory that Cutler is mistake-prone, the Hawks defense could be a worthwhile play as well.
Anyone who watched the Bears/Steelers game knows that, rather than being a statement-making victory, the contest was one that Chicago was very fortunate to win. Any triumph over the defending champs is impressive, but opponents will not be doing the Bears as many favors as every week as did Pittsburgh. The Seahawks are not as good a team as the Steelers, but are determined not to let their season crumble under the weight of injuries as it did a year ago. Look for a few big plays out of the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, including a big fourth-quarter moment that pushes them over the top by a narrow margin.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 20, Bears 19
09/24 15:42:34 ET
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