Defense, special teams give Bears advantage on Seahawks

A breakdown of Sunday's divisional showdown between the Seahawks and Bears:

Matt Hasselbeck showed his courage and experience in throwing four TDs during last week's dynamic wild-card win over the Saints. Hasselbeck, who's played in 10 postseason games including a Super Bowl, made great throws and ran the offense with precision. He was solid in Seattle's victory at Chicago earlier this season -- one of three games in which he didn't get sacked.

Marshawn Lynch should be employed by a lot of snow-clearing services for the way he plowed through the Saints on that magnificent 67-yard TD run last week. The Bears won't let that happen and Lynch will have to grind more. Justin Forsett and Leon Washington could play bigger roles because of their shiftiness and receiving ability.

Mike Williams went off in the first meeting, catching 10 passes for 123 yards -- but no touchdowns. Williams will have to be reckoned with again. The Seahawks must continue to get underrated tight end John Carlson involved. He had two touchdowns in the wild-card game and is a vital asset.

This maligned group allowed just one sack and helped spur 150 yards rushing over the Saints. A solid game plan plus incredible cohesion helped this front look like a formidable unit. Tackles Russell Okung and Sean Locklear will be on the spot because DE Julius Peppers is playing at such a high level.

Ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock are relentless pass rushers. They combined for 20 sacks in the regular season. Brock had the Seahawks' only sacks last week, but Seattle still applied consistent pressure. This front can be moved against the run and tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole are going to have to control their gaps.

Lofa Tatupu is expected to play after sustaining a concussion last week. He's the cog to Seattle's defense. OLB Aaron Curry has flashed but he's yet to show the dominance that was expected of him as a top-five pick. He will be tested in coverage against Forte and Olsen. David Hawthorne is a standout.

         Lofa Tatupu 

Rookie S Earl Thomas is a special player and he showed that in coverage and run support against the Saints. He is not afraid of contact and he could be used to track Forte at times. CB Marcus Trufant continues to play at a high level. The question will be if Seattle's corners can re-route Chicago's receivers. If so, that could throw Cutler off and lead to turnovers.

Punter Jon Ryan didn't get much work last week, but he could play a huge role. It's very likely he'll be instructed to keep the ball away from Devin Hester and his directional punting could be huge. Seattle's kickoff coverage also has to be disciplined because of Chicago's explosive return teams. KR/PR Leon Washington could balance the scales.

Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates devised a great, aggressive game plan against the Saints, stunning them with deep passes and defensive mismatches. Carroll was able to get his players to respond to the "Us-vs.-the-World" approach at home last week. He will have to dial things up even more for the Bears.

Just because the Seahawks pulled off a shocker against New Orleans, doesn't mean their run will end here. They are confident. If the offense opens up aggressively and puts some points up early, it could take Chicago out of what it likes to do. If Seattle can get to Cutler, like it did in the first meeting when it sacked him six times, that could affect things as well.

Jay Cutler has been much better since the midseason bye, throwing 16 touchdowns and nine picks. Seattle sacked him six times in the first meeting. Cutler needs to be effective in the passing game for Chicago to succeed. The Bears were just 1-4 when Cutler was held without a touchdown pass.

Matt Forte touched the ball just 11 times in the regular-season loss to Seattle. That should change. The Bears are far more reliant on Forte in the running and passing game now. His production and the team's emphasis on him over the final nine games is one of the reasons the Bears offense is functioning better.

It's hard to say that the receivers/tight ends are a weakness. They had 20 touchdown catches. Devin Hester and Johnny Knox's speed need to be utilized on the edges because Chicago will need to take some downfield shots. That will open things up underneath for tight end Greg Olsen and Forte, who is a big part of the passing game.

                   Johnny Knox 

Since G Roberto Garza came back from injury in Week 9, this group has jelled -- somewhat -- and not been as much of a liability. It will need to tighten things up after allowing six sacks in the season finale to Green Bay. Regardless of its improved play, this unit can be exploited. It allowed a league-worst 56 sacks.

The Bears have the NFL's second-ranked run defense because of their front four. Peppers is a great player. Hhe's just as good against the run as he is on the pass rush. LDE Israel Idonije is no slouch either. He has eight sacks and capitalizes on all the attention Peppers receives. The tackle rotation allows for the linebackers to flourish.

MLB Brian Urlacher has been steady as usual and should play a role in limiting Seattle's off-tackle running game, because of his anticipation to get to the spot before lead blockers do. OLB Lance Briggs could be the difference-maker. He missed the first meeting with Seattle because of an ankle injury. Hasselbeck already said Briggs' presence will make a difference.

                         Brian Urlacher 

This group is being reminded about Williams' big game against them in the first meeting. They will be much more cognizant this time around. CB Charles Tillman (five interceptions) has had a very good season, which means fellow CB Tim Jennings will be put on the spot. Jennings has played much better than anyone expected and could be an X-factor.

Hester has three punt returns for touchdowns and is averaging 35.6 yards per kickoff return. With field position being so critical, his presence has to weigh heavily on Seattle. If the Seahawks kick to him, he could return it, if they don't, they could shorten the field. That is why he is so valuable. The Bears' coverage teams are solid as usual.

A lot of people question why Lovie Smith played his starters in the season finale and exposed them to injury. Smith has a good pulse on his team's temperament and he knew they needed to stay dialed in before the bye. He has done a good job of keeping his team on target. He's also pieced together another dominant defense.

                               Lovie Smith 

So much depends on the play of Cutler. He can either tear it up or make costly mistakes. He's played much better over the second half of the season and getting an early lead will help him settle down. The defense could keep Hasselbeck from having the same type of game he had against the listless Saints.

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