And here are my answers to Jonathan’s, over at BearsHQ, questions.
BEARSHQ: I was at the first meeting between these two teams. Despite the fact the Chicago Bears lost, Devin Hester had his best return of the year. What was the reaction to Earl Bennett’s block on the punter? Is Hester the best returner in the league?
HB: Funny, I had totally forgotten that hit from Bennett. People hear laughed it off the way anyone does when a punter/kicker gets nailed. We’re lucky Ryan was not hurt more since he is a fantastic player for the team. Hester is probably the best punt returner in the league, but Washington is a better kick returner. Numbers support that. I kind of shrug my shoulders and say they are both great, and neither team wants the other team’s returner to get the ball if possible.
BHQ: Sell me on the notion of the 12th man…I’m not a believer in the home crowd thing, but it almost seems insulting to Seahawks fans to suggest otherwise.
HB: Fans can absolutely effect the game to a point. An ear-shattering ruckus isn’t going to make a crappy team to beat a great team. The fans at Qwest stand out for their persistence and volume. It’s not just a big boom when the offense steps to the line of scrimmage, it’s when the offense is in the huddle communicating. The best way I can explain is that I have yet to hear a single person–whether player, coach or fan–experience Qwest during a meaningful game and come away unimpressed. A number of folks have accused them of piping in noise because they don’t believe it could be that loud naturally. Come out and visit one time. I think you’ll have your answer.
BHQ: I picked your boys to win last week and have no issue with Seattle being in the playoffs. Is the bitching about it getting old?
HB: People always find something to bitch about. I’d be pissed if I was a fan of different team. Heck, I have been pissed in years the Seahawks have been in AFC West (prior to switching to the NFC West) playing fantastic teams each week while weaker divisions got fat on weak opponents. It’s part of the game. Ironically, I don’t hear anyone who is banging the drum for re-seeing based on record complaining about how the draft order changes based on division titles and playoff results. Seattle has gone from what would have been the 8th pick in the upcoming draft to 25th, as of now. If people think division winners hosting a playoff game is artificial, what about a team with a better record picking in front of a team with a worse record? That’s not to say I support changing anything. I’m just pointing out the rules are the rules, so stop looking to fix something that ain’t broke.
BHQ: How do the Seahawks win Sunday? How do the Bears do so?
HB: Both teams really need the same thing: run effectively enough to avoid too many forced, low-percentage passing situations, avoid turnovers, sound decisions from the QB, and defenses that disallow all of those things. I’ll be interested to see if the Seahawks have any success running the ball. Most people seem to forget they ran for over 110 yards in the first game, and while the Seahawks offensive line has improved, I’m not sure the Bears defensive line has. Lance Briggs will obviously be a factor, but it wasn’t like Iwuh was missing tackles (he led the team in that category). Running effectively for the Seahawks means over 3.5 yard per carry. It doesn’t have to be big chunks. Lynch getting 20 touches would be a good sign. I also expect some plays that take advantage of the Bears’ aggressiveness by hitting quick routes to slot receivers, draws, and swings to the running backs. Mike Williams has not gotten any smaller or less able to snatch the ball from the air with his massive mitts. Many people are saying the Bears will have Tillman follow him around all day, but I’ve got news for you. Tillman was the guy Williams beat all day the first game. Anytime Jennings or Moore get matched up on Williams, it’s a major advantage for Seattle. That will cause help from other parts of the Bears defense, and open up space for Stokley, Obomanu and either Carlson or Morrah to operate. If the Bears can get away with Tillman 1:1 on Williams, that’s a big win for the Bears.
For the Bears, I’d build a game plan around screens and draw plays. It’s a strength of Forte, and with the Seahawks getting the defensive ends upfield so much, they are susceptible to draws. A key thing to watch for Chicago will be whether their tackles can handle Brock and Clemons on the outside. They combined for 20 sacks, and are a major reason the team doesn’t need to take chances with the blitz as often anymore. The Bears absolutely must run the ball, and that means over 100 yards on the ground. All this talk about Briggs absence misses that the Seahawks most talented defensive tackle, Brandon Mebane, was out the first game as well. Seattle still held Forte to under two yards per carry. If you can run on Seattle, a win is almost guaranteed. Knox is a guy you want to get on Kelly Jennings whenever possible. Jennings will be the worst starter for either team and any position. He does not make plays on the ball, and Knox can win down-field against him.
Special teams will matter for both teams, but there’s not much nuance there. Both teams have great special teams. I’m not convinced they will decide the game, but it wouldn’t totally shock me if they did.
BHQ: Is it grunge or alternative (Eddie Vedder is ours my friend)?
HB: Ha! I call it good music. I play basketball with Jeff Ament quite a bit, and he’s pretty sure Eddie is a Seattlite now. Only the bad parts of his life happened in Chitown. 😀
HB: Eh, I’m not a big prediction guy when it comes to outcome and score. No matter what the result, I know the Seahawks are more than capable of beating Chicago. Don’t be surprised if you see Earl Thomas returning a Cutler pick to the house. He is on the cusp of a breakout game, and may be the fastest player I have ever seen on the field.