Seattle Seahawks vs. Chicago Bears
Chicago, IL, Soldier Field
Sunday, January 16, 2011 1:00 PM ET FOX
Laying the scene
This game is a matchup of two of the biggest surprise teams of this postseason. Seattle became the first ever 7-9 team to ever make the playoffs, and it was considered a major upset when they beat the heavily favored New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field last week. This week they head onto the road to face the Chicago Bears, whose offense improved quite a bit after a terrible first half of the season. The Bears' defense, which has struggled a lot since their Super Bowl appearance, made an impressive turnaround this year, sparked by the arrival of free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers. Their defense won games for them this year, and led them to the NFC North title, surprising the majority of pundits who expected the divisional crown to go to Green Bay or Minnesota. This week, one of these two teams will continue to defy expectations and reach the NFC championship game.
What Seattle has to do to win
For Seattle, coaching is going to play a major role here. The Seahawks beat the Bears at Soldier Field earlier, and coach Pete Carroll has to make sure that it doesn't go to his young team's head. This is a completely different team from the one the Seahawks beat. On the Bears' defense, Lance Briggs will be back, and he was injured during these teams' first meeting this season. Briggs' presence changes the Bears' style on defense. On offense, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was playing in his first game back from a major concussion, and will be much more dangerous this time around.
One thing the Seahawks do very well is their use of formations with stacked receivers, meaning one receiver standing directly behind another wide receiver or two. Normally these formations are used to throw a screen to the receiver who is farthest back from the line of scrimmage, and the Seahawks execute this well. Another thing they can and should do from this type of formation is letting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck pump-fake as if he's throwing to the farthest-back receiver, and then throw it to one of the receivers in front instead. Because a stacked-receiver formation is used so frequently for screens, and because the Seahawks execute screens from this formation so well, the defense will creep up and play against the screen, which will allow one of the receivers in front to get open further downfield. The Seahawks picked up an important first-down with a play like this last week, and should use it more frequently this week.
Defensively, the Seahawks need to pressure and confuse Jay Cutler, as his playoff inexperience and tendency to try and force the ball into tight windows are the Bears' biggest weakness. In order to confuse Cutler, the Seahawks would benefit greatly from using Pete Carroll's brainchild, the "elephant" defense, which I explained in last week's Seahawks-Saints preview:
"Their "elephant" defense, which is a hybrid 4-3 defensive look where one of the ends stands up and can either rush or drop back into coverage, needs to come back out and make an impact. This defensive package creates the same amount of confusion that a 3-4 does, but its gap responsibilities don't require the massive-bodied defensive linemen that it takes to run a 3-4. The Seahawks were having success with the Elephant in the beginning of the season, but when end Red Bryant suffered a season-ending injury against the Raiders in Week 8, the defensive line's play suffered."
What Chicago has to do to win
The most important thing for the Bears to do is to avoid turning the ball over. Jay Cutler has a ton of confidence in his arm, but he sometimes gets overconfident in his abilities and tries to force the ball into too small of a window. Because of Cutler's tendency to turn the ball over, as well as the offensive line's difficulties in protecting Cutler, offensive coordinator Mike Martz absolutely must run the ball and allow the Bears to rely on the run. Martz is best-known for his wide-open passing attacks, but good coaches adjust their schemes to their players, instead of the other way around. The Bears also need to utilize designed rollouts for Cutler, too. Not just because the line's bad, but also because Cutler was at his best in Denver when on the run looking to pass.
Defensively, the Bears need to be very attentive to detail, because the small details are what the Seahawks exploit best. The Bears run a Tampa-2 defense, which means that everybody needs to play disciplined in their gaps, and the safeties absolutely can't allow anyone behind them.
Warning to gamblers: I picked all four Wild Card games incorrectly last year and quit picking for the rest of the postseason, so don't bet your life savings on my predictions. With that being said, I'm going to go with the theme of picking teams with the least off-field distractions to win. The Seahawks have been written off by nearly everybody, despite their strong showing the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the Bears have the great unknown of dealing with their inconsistent quarterback's first career playoff start, while playing against an experienced playoff quarterback who is much less likely to make mistakes than Cutler is. The Seahawks have momentum on their side as well, so in the end I see them pulling off yet another shocker and advancing to the NFC Championship. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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