What We Learned: Seahawks vs. Bears
RB Matt Forte (Andy Lyons/Getty)
RB Matt Forte (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Publisher
Posted Jan 18, 2011


The Chicago Bears are in the NFC title game thanks to a big W over Seattle. What did we learn about the Bears from the Seahawks game that can be applied to Green Bay? Start with these five observations.

1. There is no more simple formula than "run = win"
The Bears have won 12 football games this season, including the 35-24 triumph over the Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs just this past Sunday, and in those games running back Matt Forte is averaging 17.3 carries. Conversely, Chicago has lost five times this year, and Forte was only given 10.8 rushing attempts in those contests. Simply speaking, when coordinator Mike Martz keeps the offense balanced and on schedule, and consequently takes some of the pressure off Jay Cutler's right arm, the Monsters of the Midway are dangerous enough with their passing attack to make periodic big plays down the field – defense and special teams take care of the rest. Running it a season-high 45 times against Seattle, Martz can live with 3.9 yards per attempt when he's got control of the ball for 37 of the 60 minutes.

It's easier to run on the Packers than it is to throw, as Green Bay finished the regular season ranked 18th in rush defense but fifth in pass defense, so Martz needs to make sure he's feeding Forte enough even if the Bears are down a score.

2. Getting an early lead is the key against Green Bay
The box score may have read 35-24, but the Seahawks dug themselves a 28-0 hole and only made the final score respectable with some garbage-time fireworks authored by Matt Hasselbeck and Co. against a Chicago defense that was already licking its chops for the NFC Championship Game. Bears coach Lovie Smith's version of the Cover 2 operates at maximum efficiency playing with a lead, as the front four can pin their ears back in pass-rush mode and the back seven can eliminate any sort of deep throw – even the best QBs get impatient, force the issue and subject themselves to turnovers. The running game is all but eliminated, play-calling becomes predictable and nickel-and-dime drives are time-consuming for the enemy offense.

Yes, the Packers run a pass-heavy scheme and can score as quickly as anyone with that quartet of receivers they feature, but they're nothing short of unstoppable when leading all game long and have a cover-to-cover playbook at their disposal. Just ask top-seeded Atlanta.

3. A primary receiver may actually hurt this offense
Everyone keeps waiting for the Bears to develop a legitimate No. 1 receiver, like each of their division rivals – Calvin Johnson in Detroit, Greg Jennings in Green Bay and Sidney Rice in Minnesota – has done in recent years, to take their passing game to the next level, but Marty Booker is still the last Midway Monster wideout to crack 1,000 yards, and he did it all the way back in 2002. While Johnny Knox looked like he was going to break that dubious streak and entered the season finale with 960 yards, he was shut out entirely by these same Packers and came up short of achieving a goal he admitted afterward that he had indeed set for himself. However, just when opponents started to forget about tight end Greg Olsen because his numbers were way down in 2010, he put up 113 yards on just three catches in the Seattle game, including a 58-yard scoring strike on the opening series to set the tone.


WR Johnny Knox
Scott Boehm/Getty

Remember, way back in the glory days of Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis, secondaries argued on a weekly basis whether it was most important to key on Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce or even Marshall Faulk out of the backfield.

4. Starks isn't going to be a big factor Sunday at Soldier
Packers running back James Starks has been a rather unexpected success story recently, as the sixth-round pick out of Buffalo got only 29 carries total during the regular season, but he has become Green Bay's primary ball carrier in the postseason and really responded with 48 carries for 189 yards in wins over the Eagles and Falcons. That being said, Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks is a former first-round choice and came to Soldier Field on the heels of a 131-yard rushing effort in an upset of the Saints, including a ridiculous 67-yard touchdown run that made every highlight reel from coast to coast. But there was no "beast mode" for Lynch against the Bears: four carries for two yards.

Only Pittsburgh has a better rush defense than Chicago, and with Julius Peppers a better run defender than most fans realize and the tackle rotation playing exceptionally well against Seattle, Starks is likely in for some tough sledding Sunday.

5. Cutler vs. Rodgers is probably going to decide it
In the divisional round last weekend, Cutler outplayed Hasselbeck, Aaron Rodgers outplayed Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger outplayed Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez outplayed Tom Brady. Consequently, the Bears beat the Seahawks, the Packers beat the Falcons, the Steelers beat the Ravens and the Jets beat the Patriots. Do all the analysis you want, but, chances are, when the clock is all zeroes in the fourth quarter, whichever team's quarterback plays better probably wins the game.

This is why Bears general manager Jerry Angelo sent two first rounders and change to Denver to acquire Cutler two Aprils ago – a trip to Super Bowl XLV would make the much-ballyhooed deal a bargain in retrospect.


John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.



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