Chicago Bears: Five Key Questions For Sunday Vs Seattle
Sitting in first place, the 4-1 Chicago Bears play host to the 2-2 Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field in week six of the NFL schedule.
While the Bears are coming off of a 23-6 victory over Carolina, Seattle is coming off a bye. Their last game was a stinker against St. Louis, so they are in desperate need of a win.
But a win won't be easy, for the Bears have Jay Cutler returning from a concussion to lead an offense that finally found its running game last Sunday. Meanwhile, their defense has been impressive.
The Seahawks have a new coach in Pete Carroll who has a rah-rah approach that fires up the team, but he lacks the offensive firepower and has a defense that is very inconsistent, though they have been stingy in preventing the opposition form putting up points.
So let's take a look at the five key questions facing the Bears in a matchup that could well lead the Bears to an improbable 5-1 record into a showdown with the Redskins.
Can The Bears Newfound Running Game Continue to Shine?
The Bears finally broke out a running game that had been dormant all season in their win over Carolina last Sunday. The normally pass happy Mike Martz had a game plan that featured the run, in large part because Jay Cutler missed the game with a concussion.
While Todd Collins, starting in Jay Cutler's place, was brutal, Matt Forte rushed for 166 yards. The total gain on the ground, 218 yards, was the most for a Bears team in 20 yards. But can it continue against the Seahawks?
Based on performance to date, logic says no. Seattle is dominant against the run, spearheaded by big tackles Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane. The push up front opens holes for linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry to track down ball carriers in coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme.
Seattle ranks second in allowing rushing yardage on the season. Prior to last week's explosion, the Bears had been one of the worst teams in football running the ball and have a suspect offensive line, a combination which doesn't exactly guarantee success for the Bears running game on Sunday.
Pair all that with a coordinator who doesn't like to run the ball and it's easy to see why the Bears will be passing a lot as long as they can protect Cutler and he is feeling okay following the head injury.
How Will Jay Cutler Perform This Week?
With Cutler coming off of a concussion and the first missed start of his career, it is natural to wonder how he will bounce back this week.
Will Cutler have some rust, or perhaps more importantly, flashbacks of almost getting killed against the Giants? Will the offensive line protect him better and can he get rid of the ball quicker?
It seems that one of the reasons he held on to the ball so long was that he was already suffering some concussive symptoms and unable to see the open man. Plus, the Martz offense needs time to allow receivers to run their routes, so historically his QBs have gotten sacked a lot.
When you combine all that with an offensive line that has not played well, it is easy to see what can happen.
But against a Seattle defense that has not been able to stop the pass, this is probably the best time for Cutler to come back. Of course, given the Seahawks' ability to stop the run, the pass will be just as key this week for the Bears as the run was last week.
It's easy to forget due to the awful performance against the Giants, but Cutler was having a pretty good season with Martz prior to the game. His 102.2 passer rating ranks fifth in the NFL.
Against the Rams, the Seahawks gave up 349 yards of offense despite St. Louis having an injured running back and a rookie quarterback. But there are some signs of life, as rookie safety Earl Thomas has had an interception in each of his last two games. But unless the defensive backs play better as a whole, Cutler will have a big day.
How Will Seattle's Offense Perform Against The Bears D?
Just as the Seahawks are tough against the run, so are the Bears. Chicago is rated third in run defense and fifth in points surrendered, so it will be no picnic for Seattle's offense on Sunday.
Seattle traded for former Bills running back Marshawn Lynch and sent wide receiver and former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch to New England during its break, so it will be a different offense that faces the Bears.
Seattle averages only 79.5 yards on the ground and 3.6 per carry this season, but can Lynch save the day? Last year, he saw his workload shrink and was used even less this year after two solid seasons in the league, so it's safe to say he's no sure bet against a Bears defense that stuffs the run.
Their O-line could be bolstered by rookie tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Sean Locklear, both being healthier this week following ankle and knee problems. But if they can't run, they will have to depend on QB Matt Hasselbeck, who has not been good this season.
Meanwhile, defensive end Julius Peppers has been as good as advertised, and linemate Israel Idonije had a monster game last Sunday against Carolina with three sacks. Linebacker Brian Urlacher's health is another major reason the defense has improved over last season.
The only downer for the Bears D is the questionable status of linebacker Lance Briggs, who has an ankle sprain. If he can't go, Brian Iwuh will start in his place.
Unless the Seahawks can run the ball, leaving the game in the hands of Hasselbeck won't scare the Bears.
How Will The Bears Offensive Line Perform This Week?
Chris Williams returns from injury and will line up in his third different position on the line this Sunday, playing left guard. How that will work out is anybody's guess. Regular left guard Roberto Garza is out for Sunday.
The Bears are still searching for a consistent starting five on the line. In Sunday's win at Carolina, the Bears had Frank Omiyale at left tackle, Olin Kreutz at center, Edwin Williams at right guard and J'Marcus Webb playing right tackle.
They will be tested by a pass rush that netted four sacks in their last game against the Rams, two by defensive end Chris Clemons. However, given the Seahawks inability to stop the pass, Cutler should be able to find open receivers and hopefully avoid the rush by getting rid of the ball faster.
One thing is certain, and that is that the help provided by the backs and tight ends has to be solid. Free agent pickup Brandon Manumaleuna has been a bust so far and he needs to step up his blocking.
Who Will Win The Punt and Kickoff Return Game?
This game features four top-10 returners on punts and kickoffs, with Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington ranking No. 1 in the NFL, with a 40.4-yard average.
Meanwhile, the Bears' Danieal Manning sits at 10th, averaging 29.8 yards per return.
The former Irish standout Tate and Hester have combined to return five punts for 20 yards or more.
Corey Graham needs to be on his game this week, as he has been all season. Bottom line, whoever wins this matchup may well win the game.
Prediction: Bears 31, Seahawks 17
Jay Cutler should have a field day against a team that hasn't been able to defend the pass, while Hasselbeck will have a tough go of it against the Bears defense. Not because the Bears are great against the pass (they're not), but because he is a very mediocre QB.
As long as Cutler remains upright and healthy the Bears should win this game easily. But if they are forced to run the ball, that will be tough sledding against a Seahawks defense that is second in the league vs. the run.
Again, the special teams may play a crucial role in the outcome of this game. As long as the coverage unit stops Tate and Washington, this one could be a rout.