Divisional Preview: Seattle Seahawks vs Chicago Bears
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics WriterJanuary 13, 2007
This Sunday, the third game of the Divisional Playoffs will feature Shaun Alexander and the Seattle Seahawks taking on Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears. These two teams met way back in Week 4 at Chicago, a game that the Bears won convincingly. The Seahawks did not have Alexander available in that game, and they are anticipating a much closer game this time around. The Bears were the No. 1 seed in the NFC this season, but you wouldn't know it based on the enormous issue they are facing offensively involving quarterback Rex Grossman. Grossman's performance over the second half of the season is inexcusable, but will Lovie Smith have the guts to pull the string and insert backup quarterback Brian Griese if things get rough? Smith's probably hoping that it won't come to that point if his defense plays to the best of their abilities.
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Matt Hasselbeck: 18 of 36 for 240 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 0 sacks.
Note: Last week, Matt Hasselbeck had the same type of game he's had most of the season: fairly consistent, and then fairly inconsistent. Fortunately for the Seahawks, Hasselbeck was on target twice when connecting with tight end Jerramy Stevens twice in the end zone. Hasselbeck will have a much tougher challenge ahead of him this week, because the Bears defense will put the heat on him often. When Hasselbeck played the Bears earlier this season, he was intercepted twice in a 37-6 blowout. With that said, the Bears secondary really did struggle in their last couple of games, something Seattle should try to test early on.
Rex Grossman: 262 of 480 for 3193 yards, 23 touchdowns, 30 interceptions, 21 sacks.
Note: Of all the teams in the playoffs, the Bears are the team that have the worst quarterback situation, despite being the first seed in the NFC. Rex Grossman began the season so well, that he was even drawing some early "MVP" talks around the league. That quickly ended as the season moved on, as he became a liability for the Bears. Just when it seemed like he may turn things around to close out the season, he was embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, having two passes returned for touchdowns. If Grossman blows it early against the Seahawks, Brian Griese should see action.
Note: The Seahawks clearly aren't as effective at running the ball as they were last year, primarily due to changes with the offensive line. Things won't come any easier against the Bears on the ground than they did last week, but the important thing remains in the fact that they continue giving Shaun Alexander his touches. Many teams in the NFL would abandoned the run if their running back only averaged about three yards a carry, but the Seahawks will make sure that defenses know that they will maintain a balance throughout a game.
Note: The Bears running backs can't do everything; they'll need Grossman to at least be somewhat effective in the passing game. If Grossman is successful on some of his short routes, enough so that the defense will not key in on the run as much, then Thomas Jones should keep pace with his season average. However, like their quarterback situation, the Bears will need to make a decision when it comes to how they play backup running back Cedric Benson. Benson has mostly played in backup duty this season, but it could be very useful if the Bears find a proper way to incorporate him into their gameplan early.
Note: The Seahawks are hurting at receiver, and they were fortunate that some of their other guys were able to step things up last week. Darrell Jackson basically didn't play throughout the entire game, and talented young receiver D.J. Hackett was forced to leave the game as well. Both men are questionable for this week's game against the Bears. Bobby Engram and Jerramy Stevens made several big catches down the field for Hasselbeck last week, and those are the guys he'll be looking for this week as well. He'd like to look for Deion Branch, especially considering his postseason experience, but he'll have to prove he can stop dropping the football first.
Note: The Bears have an average group of receivers, but their production was hurt later in the season by the ineffectiveness of Grossman. With how long it has been since they've had their quarterback playing at his best, you'd have to wonder if they've even lost some of their "feel" for getting open for the big plays down the field. Bernard Berrian was on an absolute tear to start the year, while Muhammad was the veteran making more of the possession catches. If Grossman needs to find a guy to get the football to in this game, he should take some pointers from Hasselbeck and throw it to the tight end, Desmond Clark.
Note: Seattle's defense gave up 20 points last week, but they did a very good job at cracking down on Tony Romo in the passing game, considering the people they were missing in the secondary. It was also a case of all of the little things that Seattle's defenders did on certain plays, particularly the field-goal botched drive by Dallas. First, Seattle barely stopped Jason Witten of a first down, and then Romo was shoe string-tackled from behind by Babineaux. Seattle may be able to afford to jump some routes on Grossman early based on the way he's played.
Note: Everyone is anticipating that the Bears will have to win this game on defense, something they've relied on all season long. Led by Brian Urlacher, the Bears are trying to get back to the Super Bowl doing what they do best. One of their biggest lifts this season came from rookie defensive end Mark Anderson, who recorded 12 sacks on the season. Ricky Manning Jr. isn't a starter, but he picked off Hasselbeck twice in their meeting earlier this season, something to keep in mind.
Nate Burleson: 22.2 yards per kick return, 4.3 yards per punt return. Josh Brown: 2-of-2 in field goals, with a long of 30 yards.
Note: For most of the season, Nate Burleson has done a fine job on returns. The real story with them is Josh Brown though, who was perfect again last week. If Dallas had made the field goal near the end of the game, Mike Holmgren would have had a ton of confidence in getting the ball into field goal range for Brown to attempt a game winner, even if it was from beyond 50 yards.
Devin Hester: 26.4 yards per kick return, 2 touchdowns. 12.8 yards per punt return, 3 touchdowns. Robbie Gould: 32-of-36 in field goals, with a long of 49 yards.
Note: He calmed down a little near the end of the season, but rookie returner Devin Hester was another one of the reasons that the Bears were the first seed in the NFC. Don't forget about Gould either, who his best season in his young career.
Matt Hasselbeck has the postseason experience, something that immediately gives him an edge over Rex Grossman in this game. The Seahawks were embarrassed when they faced Chicago back in Week 4, but that is something I don't expect this time around. Hasselbeck and the Seahawks have actually had the benefit of knowing what the Bears have had to bring to the table, and can gameplan accordingly. In the passing game, getting the ball to Bobby Engram will be the biggest priority in order to stretch the defense out and give Hasselbeck a little more time to step into his throws.
Oh, and one more little tidbit about the last time the Seahawks played the Bears: they were without Shaun Alexander. Granted, I am anticipating another low-average day for Alexander, but simply having him on the field will create some better short yardage situations for Seattle, as well as some more effectiveness off of playaction. Maintaining a balance will be the key for Seattle if they want any chance of keeping the Bears' defense off guard.
Heading into the game, the Seahawks need to be the defense that tries to set the tempo early. Everyone knows that all of the pressure in the world will be on Rex Grossman, and the defenders will do anything they can to try and force pressure on him early, even if it means taking a chance in allowing man-to-man coverage deep down the field. The Seahawks' linebackers have played well enough to put a halt on the running game this season, so the defense knows that Grossman will have the game in his hands.
The Bears would love nothing more than for Grossman to have a rebound type of performance, just as he has done many times this season. The story is actually similar to the debacle of the Giants' end of the season in a way. The Giants were so bad to close out the season, but with the talent they had, they had to stick with what they had and ended up playing a competitive game in the playoffs. Likewise, Grossman played so bad to close out the season, but they felt they had to stick with him and let things roll on as they did. The playoffs are a whole new season, and a chance for Grossman to get back on track.
Thomas Jones and the Bears' running game will play a big role in this game. All Grossman needs to do is keep Seattle's secondary off balance just a little bit, and the lanes for Jones will increase throughout the game. Jones and backup Cedric Benson have been effective running the ball this season, and if the Bears can find a way to successfully get both of them involved in the game throughout the first half, it'll take some of the pressure off of Grossman.
With how things have played out this season, we're probably bound for another one of those games where Grossman lights it up and the Bears' defense has trouble stopping people. With two weeks off and time to prepare for the Seahawks' mistake-riddled offense, I expect Chicago's defense to be extremely difficult to beat. If the Bears' defense gives up a lot of points, it'll be more attributed to an outstanding gameplan by the Seahawks than a letdown by Chicago.
NFC Divisional Prediction
Winner - Chicago Bears
Between all of my playoff predictions this weekend, I am most concerned about this pick. Just like I did last week, I was almost inclined to pick the Seahawks to win because I still believe they are underrated. Seattle's offense has made too many costly mistakes on offense this season though, and that is not what you want to do against a team like the Bears. The Bears won't be able to play it safe all game long with Grossman in "hope" that he won't make a mistake. They will need to let him air it out and play his game with confidence. If he fails, an early hook for Brian Griese should still allow the Bears to win with a solid defensive effort. Final Score: Bears 23, Seahawks 20.