Seahawks vs. Bears: Keys to the Game for Seattle
It's been a very long week in Seattle and quite frankly what happens over the next few days could possibly make or break the Seahawks chances of going to the postseason.
Following the Seahawks disappointing loss in Miami, things went from bad to worse as the team's two starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner found themselves on the defensive against the NFL after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug.
Sadly we've found ourselves spending more time this week discussing and learning about Adderall, than football.
Understand I'm not looking to dismiss what could be a very serious situation for the Seahawks. In fact, I'd prefer that the whole matter is resolved in an appropriate and fair manner as quickly as possible so we can all move on with our lives for better or for worse.
Until then the Seahawks find themselves in limbo while preparing to face arguably one of the best team's in all of football. The Chicago Bears currently lead the NFC Central with a record of 8-3 and like the Seahawks are tough to beat at home this season having only lost to the Houston Texans.
Meanwhile even before all of the drama that unfolded this past weekend, the Seahawks were a team with a fairly disappointing record on the road this season with only one win to show for their efforts. The Miami game looked to be the perfect opportunity for the 'Hawks to rebound while coming off their bye week and following two consecutive wins at home to improve their record to 6-4.
Hopes were high going into Sunday's game and were all but crushed by the time it was over.
This weekend's matchup will be a true test of both the 'Hawks mental and physical strength in a game that is a must win. It seems like we've been saying that for weeks, but falling to 6-6 all but necessitates a perfect finish for the team to make the playoffs.
Can they salvage the season with a win against the Bears on the road?
I have my doubts, but if they plan on putting up a fight, here are a few key points the 'Hawks will need to focus on in Chicago this Sunday.
Snap Out of It
Before the 'Hawks can begin to focus on football, they need to forget just about everything from the past week to 10 days.
This is where Pete Carroll, as a motivator of men, really needs to earn his paycheck.
Until now it has been an entertaining ride with the highs and lows expected of a team rebuilding from scratch since Carroll came on board, but what happened last Sunday in Miami looked and felt like a serious step backwards.
Can Carroll cut through all the drama and nonsense, both inside and outside the locker room, and get the Seahawks to focus?
We can only hope, as either coach Carroll gets this team to step up or he puts himself in position to step down.
That may sound harsh at this point and a bit premature, but this is probably the most important game in all of Carroll's time in Seattle. It's not so much that the 'Hawks must win, it's whether they can deliver a performance that instills a sense of hope at a time when it appears that the entire house of cards could fall down in a horrendous mess.
Cut Back on the Penalties
Speaking of horrendous mess, by my count there were nine penalties in Miami last Sunday, but the official count was 10 if you include Earl Thomas's brush with Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Either way, that's way too much laundry being tossed around, and against one of the NFL's best teams on their home turf, the 'Hawks need to avoid giving away any free plays or yards on both sides of the ball.
Penalties have haunted this team through the season, but there is little to no margin for error here.
The Defense Responds
What happened to this crew?
By the fourth quarter the defense looked gassed, and as a result made Ryan Tannehill look like the unholy combination of Hall of Famer Bob Griese given his ability to both run and throw the football with whimsical ease.
Between the blown coverage assignments that left receiving options wide open, poor tackling, inability to generate turnovers and the aforementioned penalties, this group looked nothing like the top-shelf unit we saw earlier this season.
To consider this group elite anymore is laughable, regardless of whether Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are exonerated or not, based on what we saw in Miami during the second half.
Against the Bears, the 'Hawks face a stiff test, but at this point they're running out of excuses and need to help set the tone in what should be a slugfest.
Against the Vikings last week, the Bears suffered several key injuries along their offensive line with guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer both going down with knee problems, yet the line still managed to pull together and help protect quarterback Jay Cutler.
Cutler is an interesting character who I'm not even sure Chicago fans like, but at the end of the day he is effective.
If the 'Hawks can pressure him into making mistakes, it could help them immensely, especially if they can get him to throw interceptions.
A few sacks could help too, but I'm beginning to wonder whether the defensive front is capable of getting any consistent penetration in pass-rushing situations. Meanwhile, if the 'Hawks do manage to turn up the heat, Cutler may opt to target his options like Brandon Marshall underneath to keep the ball moving and avoid ending up on his back.
Big games will be needed all around, but especially from the linebacking corp in order to keep Cutler honest, and ensure that running back Michael Bush doesn't have a big day potentially filling in for a banged up Matt Forte.
Keep an eye on Bobby Wagner to see if he can deliver.
Avoid Devin Hester
For anyone who saw Leon Washington's 98-yard touchdown return against the Dolphins, just understand that Devin Hester is pretty dangerous too.
Well, only if he actually plays.
As of now he's probably going to be out on Sunday while still suffering from a concussion.
It's a minor point, but the 'Hawks can't afford to give up any easy points on special teams to a team with a decent, albeit banged up offense and a defense that leads the league in forcing turnovers.
Activate Beast Mode
Last Sunday in Miami, Marshawn Lynch was beaten down the entire game.
It was an ugly performance thanks largely to the Dolphins' run defense as he was held to 46 yards on 19 carries to average 2.4 yards per carry.
Against the Bears he will need to rebound with a performance that will erase the memory of his trip to Miami.
Pro Football Weekly's Dan Arkush also sees this matchup being key by stating:
If the Bears have as much success against Lynch as they did against Peterson last Sunday in their 28-10 victory over Minnesota, their chances of coming away with a victory would appear to be heightened. Peterson ran for 108 yards on 18 carries, but he was limited to a mere 7-25 rushing in the first half and lost a costly fumble. The Bears allowed 114 yards rushing altogether, the lowest total it has surrendered in five games.
Right now 100-plus yards sounds great compared to last week, but in order to win on Sunday, Lynch will need to chew up both yardage and the clock to keep the 'Hawks in the game.
A touchdown or two wouldn't hurt either.
Russell Wilson Carries the Burden
It's strange to think that as Russell Wilson has steadily improved, the Seahawks as a team have in many ways conversely declined.
Even if you throw away last weekend's game, the 'Hawks have been dealing with some nagging problems that simply haven't been solved with penalties, play-calling, the offensive line, depth at wide receiver and the defense in various spots, are just a few that come to mind.
Some weeks it's one issue, the next another, but last week it was all of the above and a few other loose ends to boot.
Yet Russell Wilson to his credit just did what he needed to do, that is until the very end.
Just when it seemed like Wilson would get the 'Hawks in field-goal range after reaching the Miami 40-yard line, everything fell apart and went in reverse.
I'm still not sure what happened, but before long Jon Ryan was out on the field punting the ball back to the Dolphins to set up their triumphant march to victory.
Against the Bears, Russell Wilson just needs to keep doing what he has been doing. He needs to ignore all of the nonsense, and throw the team on his shoulders with Marshawn Lynch holding on to the ball, keep the chains moving, and offer enough variety to keep them guessing.
Simple as that, no pressure whatsoever.
Except the fact that this is it. Wilson and the Seahawks' march to the playoffs has been an up and down roller coaster to this point, but Sunday will require everyone to pull together in order to win.
In many ways it's not fair to ask so much of Wilson at this point, yet at the same time he has been given this responsibility and now is the time to deliver.
Can he do it?
I think to a certain degree he can, as he has managed to play to the level of his competition throughout the season. The Bears will pose many challenges, but I'm oddly confident that he will hold his own against them.
The bigger concern is whether he will be forced to do it alone. If Lynch is contained and the defense falters early, this game could turn ugly in a hurry. However, if the 'Hawks can knuckle down and roll up their sleeves for a long fight on Sunday, it could the be a really good game.
Do the 'Hawks have a chance to win?
Sure, but they're a long ways from home, and in many ways may still be lost after all that has transpired this past week.
It wouldn't be shocking if they simply wilted against the Bears, but if they intend to make the post season this will need to be the first step back on the road to respectability.