John Crist of BearReport.com and Bear Report Magazine and Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest continue their Behind Enemy Lines playoff preview for a breakdown of Sunday’s NFC division-round matchup between the Bears and Seahawks at Soldier Field.
John Crist: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll ended up making the right decision under center, as Matt Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes in the upset of the Saints. Was there any doubt Hasselbeck would get the call, or did Carroll give some consideration to Charlie Whitehurst?
Doug Farrar: Not against the Saints, no. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates put together a great game plan for Whitehurst against the Rams in the season finale. It played to Whitehursts increased mobility and limited ability to read defenses. St. Louis has an aggressive but simpler series of defensive schemes, so it worked. Against Gregg Williams multiple defensive fronts, I believe that Whitehurst would have had it handed to him. This was absolutely a Hasselbeck game from that perspective. He may not be what he was from 2005-07, but hes as good as anyone in the league at dissecting defensive intentions pre-snap, and thats what we saw in the wild-card upset.
Interestingly enough, Hasselbeck had his two best games of the season against the defending Super Bowl champs another reason that starting Hasselbeck was a no-brainer.
JC: Needless to say, the Marshawn Lynch touchdown run is the highlight of the year in Seattle and one of the most memorable plays in franchise history. Still, wh
y did he fail to rush for 100 yards in any one game this season after being acquired from the Bills in that trade?
DF: Before Lynch finally went into beast mode, as he calls it, against the Saints, the Seahawks had finished the year as one of two teams without a 100-yard rusher in the regular season the Dolphins were the other.
Lynch is a power back who needs a few yards to really get momentum, and it helps if that first gap is blocked open. He saw that in his Seahawks debut against the Bears in Week 6 when he ran for a touchdown, but Seattles offensive line hasnt exactly been a bastion of continuity this year. Things are starting to round into shape recently, though. Its a patchwork line that will need help in the offseason via the draft and free agency.
JC: Mike Williams made the Chicago secondary look awful in Week 6, setting then-career highs with 10 catches for 123 yards. He’s had a great season and made Carroll look smart again, but just how much skepticism was his signing greeted with when it happened in April?
DF: Even Carroll was skeptical, and he had Williams at USC. The guy basically ate himself out of the NFL and was gone for two years. I dont think anyone really took it seriously at first. The thought was that if he could add some punch as an ancillary receiver for the vet minimum, why not? But Williams came back in great shape and with a real desire to succeed. I remember talking with him early in the season when he was named a starter, and you could tell how much it meant to him.
Hes been a real asset to this team great attitude, constant effort, and he provides the kind of tall and flexible target that Hasselbeck has never really had before. The Seahawks recently signed him to an incentive-laden contract extension, and I think its been the equivalent of found money for the franchise. They basically bumped into a first-round pick that finally wanted to play like it.
JC: The Seahawks got some terrific individual performances on defense this season, specifically end Chris Clemons and rookie safety Earl Thomas, but their overall numbers against both the run and the pass are shaky. Is Lofa Tatupu done? Is Aaron Curry a never-will-be?
DF: There have been issues, no doubt. Carroll brought his Leo concept from USC basically, its a way to engineer different types of pass rush with hybrid fronts. But when defensive end Red Bryant went down for the year midseason, Seattles defense plummeted against the run. Against the pass was also a problem. Thomas has already drawn comparisons from opposing coaches to an embryonic Ed Reed, but the Seattle secondary has had coverage issues and gave up far too many big plays. Since going to more traditional fronts over the last two weeks, with Clemons and Raheem Brock at the end positions and Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane inside, theyve managed to fix that for the most part.
I dont know that Tatupus done — he’s still a good functional player — but hes not quite what he was. My impression is that he bulked up a couple years ago and lost the short-area speed that made him special early on. I remember seeing him cover Randy Moss downfield in his early years and getting away with it. Hes still the quarterback of the defense and hes still a good player, but his on-field acumen is probably his primary value right now. As far as Curry, I dont know if the Seahawks have figured out how to use him, and Im less sure that Curry has brought the kind of instincts to the strong-side position youd expect from a fourth-overall draft pick. Im still on the fence about whether hes a bust. Hes been in two very different defenses in his first two seasons, but he needs to step it up quickly. Ideally, I see him thriving as either a defined pass-rushing end or inside linebacker in more of a 3-4 defensive concept. Since the Seahawks dont usually run a 3-4 base, someones going to have to figure something out.
JC: This game could very well come down to special teams, especially with two of the premier return men in the game on display: Chicago’s Devin Hester and Seattle’s Leon Washington. Do the Seahawks have a special-teams ace, and how have the coverage units been?
DF: Linebacker Matt McCoy leads the team with 19 special-teams tackles, and the coverage units were tremendous against the Saints in the wild-card round this was one of the underrated points to the teams victory. New Orleans started drives on average from its own 26-yard line, with the Seahawks starting from their own 40 on average. That included Seattle’s opening kickoff, which went out of bounds and gave the Saints a start at the 40. Carroll talked extensively about Hester at his Wednesday press conference. The Seahawks are hyper-aware of what he can do to a game. Just as certainly, though, the expectations in the Emerald City revolve around Washington being able to break a return.
I think the special teams provide a great matchup in this game. According to Football Outsiders metrics, the Bears had the best regular-season special-teams efficiency, while Seattle was third. I see this as a very close game, and special teams could very well decide it.