Good Morning from Soldier Field. It’s currently 16 degrees with partly cloudy skies. I don’t know if you can see it from the photo, but the grounds crew were raking the field earlier, removing any excess ice after removing the tarp this morning. Seattle players are starting to trickle out for pre-game warm-ups now. Matt Hasselbeck is wearing sleeves as he throws to Ruvell Martin out on the field.
Well, here’s what I think needs to happen for Seattle to come out with a victory and host Green Bay in the NFC Championship at Qwest Field next week.
Bottle up Forte: The Seahawks were great in third down situations in the first game, holding Chicago to 0 for 12 in those situations. But the only way they get to third and long is to stop Matt Forte on early downs. Seattle held the Bears to 61 rushing yards in the first game, and Brandon Mebane did not play. So having Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane together for this one will be important I believe to stopping the run game.
Win the Hester-Washington battle: Seattle obviously is aware what Devin Hester can do, with the explosive playmaker returning a punt 89 yards for a touchdown in the first game. Field position will be with the cold weather, so Seattle can’t let Hester break loose, giving Chicago’s offense a short field to get into scoring position. On the flip side, the Seahawks will need Leon Washington to make some plays in the return game to help their offense.
It’s all about the ball: Pete Carroll has preached ball security and creating turnovers since he took over in January, and his team will need some help in this area today to get a win. The Bears do a nice job of creating turnovers, with 21 interceptions and 37 forced fumbles during the regular season, so ball control for Seattle’s offense will be key.
Pressure Cutler: The Seahawks finished with six sacks against Jay Cutler in the first game by effectively using the Bandit package, which includes seven defensive backs, for the first time this season. I don’t expect they will use it as much this time because they have done a better job getting pressure with just the front four, but I do think they will blitz in critical moments to force the issue, particularly with Cutler playing in his first preseason game.
Play free: Hey, nobody expects this team to be here, let alone win this game. As I’ve been saying the past few weeks, the Seahawks are playing with house money, so they can let it all hang out. Particularly if Seattle can get a lead early, I think that puts some pressure on Chicago, particularly with the local media already looking forward to a NFC title matcup with Green Bay next week.
The running game on both sides of the ball will be critical for Seattle.
John McGrath of The News Tribune says Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs, who did not play in the first game against Seattle, will make his presence felt today.
Dave Boling of The News Tribune says the Seahawks won’t catch Chicago by surprise.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says both of these teams have changed since the Oct. 17 matchup.
Art Thiel of Sportspressnw.com takes a look at the atmosphere surrounding this game in Chicago, including a trip to the legendary Billy Goat Tavern.
Dan Pompei of The National Football Post compares the 2009 Seahawks stats to this year’s teams, and says 2009 looks like the better team on paper.
David Haugh of The Chicago Tribune says if the Bears lose to Seattle today it would be the team’s biggest failure since losing in the Super Bowl five years ago.
Mark Potash of The Chicago Sun-Times previews the game here.