2011 NFL Playoffs: Chicago Bears' Run Game and Each Team's Biggest Weakness

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJanuary 11, 2011

2011 NFL Playoffs: Chicago Bears' Run Game and Each Team's Biggest Weakness

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 26: Shonn Greene #23 of the New York Jets is tackled by D.J. Moore #30 and Matt Toeaina #75 of the Chicago Bears as Anthony Adams #95, Brian Urlacher #54 and Lance Briggs #55 close in at Soldier Field on December 26, 2010 in Chicago
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The 2011 NFL playoffs feature the eight best teams in the NFL.

    But none of those teams is perfect. Even the 14-2 and top-of-everyone's-power-rankings New England Patriots have their flaws.

    Still, problems that hamper teams during the regular season don't always ruin a Super Bowl season. Remember how bad we all thought the 2006 Indianapolis Colts run defense was entering the playoffs? They corrected the problems and won the Super Bowl.

    We've chosen the biggest weakness on each of the remaining playoff teams and whether or not they are capable of correcting the issue. 

Baltimore Ravens

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    PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 18:  Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Steeler defense stop quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens on a 4th and 1 play during the AFC Championship game on January 18, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pe
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Weakness: Keeping track of Troy Polamalu

    This Steelers-Ravens AFC Divisional playoff game would probably be in Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium had Joe Flacco done a better job of knowing where Troy Polamalu was when the teams last squared off in Week 12.

    Polamalu rushed off the left edge (Flacco's blindside) and sacked the quarterback, causing a fumble that led to the Steelers go-ahead score and, essentially, the AFC North title. Flacco didn't know where he was and should have audibled out of the play or redirected the protection. 

    That wasn't the first time Polamalu got the best of Flacco. Back in the 2008 AFC Championship, Polamalu sealed the Steelers' trip to Super Bowl XLIII with a late-game interception of Flacco that he returned for a touchdown.

    Many quarterbacks have been duped by Polamalu, but considering this will be the eighth time the young quarterback has faced the Steelers, Flacco needs to be ready. 

Green Bay Packers

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 09:  James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers avoids the tackle of Ernie Sims #50 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Weakness: Running the ball

    James Starks had an incredible game last week against the Eagles, setting a new Packers rookie record with 123 yards on 23 carries. 

    But he's going to have to be that good again on Saturday night for the Packers to advance. 

    The Falcons run defense is more active and faster up front than Philly's and Starks will be a larger focus of defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder than it was for Sean McDermott. 

    When these two teams met in November, Aaron Rodgers was by far the Packers leading rusher (51 yards) and this time around, they will need to do a lot better. 

    There's no reason why Starks cannot have another fantastic game, but one excellent game isn't enough to suggest he's Jim Taylor. And for a runner with so little NFL experience, hanging onto the football against a defense that forced 29 turnovers is another concern. 

Seattle Seahawks

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 08:  Marques Colston #12 of the New Orleans Saints catches the ball against Aaron Curry #59 of the Seattle Seahawks in the first half during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on January 8, 2011 in Seattle, Washington
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Weakness: Pass defense

    The Seahawks survived an incredible day of passing by Drew Brees and the Saints last week to advance to the divisional round. Brees completed a whopping 39 of 60 attempts. 

    Now part of the reason why the Saints threw the ball so much is because of their running back injuries. But the Seahawks are also very vulnerable in that area. 

    The front seven has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback (only one sack of Brees) and they finished 27th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 250 yards per game.

    The Seahawks catch a bit of a break playing the Bears (188 passing yards per game, 28th in the NFL), but Jay Cutler is more than capable of torching the Seahawks secondary. 

New York Jets

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 08:  Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer of the New York Jets gestures as he talks to quarterback Mark Sanchez #6 late in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at L
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Weakness: Mark Sanchez's consistency

    There doesn't seem to be much middle ground with the Jets when it comes to offense. Mark Sanchez can look brilliant at times and awful at other times.

    Brian Schottenheimer has put him in some tough situations with playcalling, but he's not the one throwing the ball. Sanchez has been high with many passes down the stretch, revealing some of the unpolished elements of his game that might have been why Pete Carroll thought he needed another year at USC.

    But at other times, he's looked great, like on the game-winning drive against the Colts.

    Sanchez doesn't have to be perfect for the Jets to defeat the Patriots on Sunday, but he has to be close to perfect. One turnover, especially deep in their own territory, could be the difference in the game. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  T.J. Houshmandzadeh #84 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against Bryant McFadden #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of the game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. Pittsburgh
    Larry French/Getty Images

    Weakness: Defending T.J. Houshmandzadeh

    The Steelers nearly went through the Ben Roethlisberger-less part of the 2010 season undefeated. They went 3-0 and had the Ravens beat at home in Week 4 until William Gay let T.J. Houshmandzadeh slip by him from the slot position inside the red zone for a game-winning touchdown. 

    That wasn't the only time Houshmandzadeh has burned Pittsburgh. When he was with the Bengals, he scored his only playoff touchdown against the Steelers in 2005 and twice had multi-touchdown games against them. 

    Anquan Boldin and another Steelers-killer, Derrick Mason, will be the main focus of Dick LeBeau's pass game strategy, meaning it will leave a nickel corner like Gay or Anthony Madison on Houshmandzadeh. That could be a huge problem for Pittsburgh. 

Atlanta Falcons

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    ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 28:  Kroy Biermann #71 of the Atlanta Falcons chases down Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers at Georgia Dome on November 28, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Weakness: Pressuring the quarterback

    John Abraham had another outstanding season for the Falcons in 2010. The Pro Bowl defensive end recorded 13 sacks. 

    But aside from Abraham, the pressure on opposing quarterbacks hasn't been very consistent. The Falcons finished 2010 tied for 20th in the NFL, with 31 sacks.

    Abraham had the team's only sack in the Week 12 win over Green Bay and the same was true when they lost to New Orleans in Week 16.

    Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Babineaux are capable of getting to the quarterback. But Aaron Rodgers is one of the best scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL. On the turf in the Georgia Dome, he will be able to escape the grasp.

    It will be vital that they get in his face more often than they did in Week 12 in order to disrupt his timing with his fine corps of receivers. 

Chicago Bears

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 26: Brian Urlacher #54 of the Chicago Bears brings down Shonn Greene #23 the New York Jets at Soldier Field on December 26, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Jets 38-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Weakness: Running the ball

    As good as the Bears run defense has been (tops in the NFC), their own running attack has been nearly that bad. 

    Matt Forte is extremely talented and Chester Taylor is as well. 

    But Mike Martz has a history of under-using those types of backs in the running game: see Super Bowl XXXVI.

    Forte has not carried the ball 20 times in a game since Week 11 and Taylor only has only carried the ball 47 times since that game. 

    Martz will certainly see the flaws in the Seattle secondary and want to exploit them. But dedication to the running game will mask the Bears' holes in pass protection by slowing down the Seahawks pass rush. 

New England Patriots

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 19:  Dustin Keller #81 of the New York Jets successfully completes a catch against Patrick Chung #25 of the New England Patriots at the New Meadowlands Stadium on September 19, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    Weakness: Defending the middle of the field

    The Patriots finished the season ranked 30th in the NFL in pass defense. But part of that poor season total (259 yards per game) was due to bad outings early in the season. 

    One of those outings came in Week 2 against the Jets, when Mark Sanchez threw three touchdowns and completed 21 of 30 attempts. 

    And although their young secondary has gotten much better and Devin McCourty might have been the best rookie in the AFC this year, they are still vulnerable over the middle. 

    Dustin Keller caught seven passes for 115 yards in that 28-14 win. And Todd Heap, Jacob Tamme and Antonio Gates have all caught critical touchdowns against the Pats this season. 

    Keller potentially matching up with Brandon Spikes (who will have to overcome the rustiness caused by his four-game suspension) could be a huge factor when the Jets stare down the mighty Pats. 


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