Bears/Seahawks keys to the game

Chicago isn't technically out the playoffs yet. With three weeks to go, anything could happen. Step one is beating the Seahawks. We go over what the Bears need to do to pick up the victory.

OFFENSE

Matchups to watch

RT Lance Louis vs. DE Chris Clemons
Louis fell off the wagon a few weeks ago and has had a hard time finding his footing – after he had played so well the previous month. He'll once again face a very tough challenge with Clemons, whose 9.0 sacks are 11th best in the NFL. He comes from both sides of the line but predominantly from the offense's right. Louis needs to re-establish his base and balance. For him, he must overcome both a current lack of fundamentals and confidence. If he allows Clemons to collapse the pocket, Chicago's already anemic passing game won't stand a chance.

FB Tyler Clutts vs. LB David Hawthorne
If the Bears are going to move the ball consistently, it will have to be done on the ground. As such, the team will need to corral Hawthorne, who leads the team in tackles. He's not a big hitter but he's fundamentally sound and shows great field vision when tracking ball carriers. Clutts must be sure to find Hawthorne as he lead blocks into the holes. If he's able to clear out Hawthorne consistently, there could be some opportunities for big gains on the ground.

Keys


RB Marion Barber
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire

-Seattle's defense is third youngest in the NFL and is shaping into a formidable unit. The group ranks fourth in the league in opponent rush yards per attempt (3.65), fifth in opponent yards on first down (4.98), seventh in takeaways (24) and 11th against the rush (104.3). Points this weekend will be at a premium. As such, the Bears need to take advantage of any field position advantages the special teams may be able to provide.

-To do that, Marion Barber has to be a force on the ground. Outside of his two horrible errors late in the game, Barber was very productive against the Broncos last week. He rushed for 108 yards on 27 carries and chipped in two catches for 32 yards. That type of production will need to be repeated this Sunday. Feeding him the ball will eat clock and wear down Seattle's defense. It will also keep Chicago's defense, which has been vastly overworked the past three weeks, off the field and rested. If Barber can again post 140 total yards this weekend, the Bears will have a great chance of picking up a crucial victory.

-Chicago ran the ball a season-high 38 times last week. It was a sound strategy that was nearly good enough for the win. Against Seattle, coordinator Mike Martz will again need to lean heavily on the run and take pressure off Caleb Hanie. In his three starts, Hanie has completed just 51.9 percent of his passes, throwing six interceptions compared to just two touchdowns. At this point, it's obvious he's not an NFL starting quarterback. The time has come to accept that and work around his deficiencies, which basically means taking the ball out of his hands. The best way to do that is with a relentless rushing attack.

-If Martz calls a seven-step drop with Hanie on Sunday, he should be fired. The only way for this offense to work is for Martz to adapt to his quarterback, because it's obvious Hanie cannot adapt to Martz's offense. When it comes time to throw, the Bears need a steady diet of three-step drops, slants, quick outs and screens – plays that offer quick, easy completions. The days of picking up 20-yard chunks through the air are over. Scale back the play calling and make things simple for the kid.

-When running the ball, the Bears must get DT Alan Branch blocked. He is an enormous human being (6-6, 325) who eats up space on the interior. He has good agility as well and can maneuver around blocks. If Chicago hopes to run the ball consistently, Branch needs to be a priority every play.

-Earl Bennett must be involved in the passing game. He has just two catches for 10 yards in the three games with Hanie under center. He's the team's most dependable wideout. On the first series of the game, throw some easy passes his way that can hopefully establish a connection between him and Hanie that will last throughout the contest.

-Hanie needs to avoid throwing the ball in the direction of CB Brandon Browner. The rookie is a ball hawk and is second in the league in interceptions. He has speed and size, and he breaks well on the ball. One too many passes his way could swing the game in Seattle's direction.

DEFENSE

RB Marshawn Lynch vs. LB Lance Briggs
The Seahawks will run Lynch early and often. During the past six weeks, he's averaged 25 carries per game, and has gained more than 100 yards in all but one of those contests. Seattle uses a one-cut system that offers a lot of cutback lanes. Briggs, playing on the weak side, needs to clog up those backside cuts. If he and the rest of the defense can hold Lynch in check, Seattle will have a very difficult time moving the ball.

WR Doug Baldwin vs. CB D.J. Moore
Baldwin is the most dangerous receiver on Seattle's roster. He's a smaller wideout (5-10, 189) who is very fleet of foot. He works the underneath routes well and is dangerous in space. He leads the team in targets, so QB Tavaris Jackson will surely look his way often on Sunday. Baldwin does his best work out of the slot, meaning, on passing downs, he'll be lined up across from Moore, who has had an outstanding season up to this point. He'll need another solid game shadowing Baldwin and preventing him hurting the defense, especially on third downs.

Keys


RB Marshawn Lynch
Jay Drowns/Getty

-Seattle's bread and butter is running the ball. The Seahawks have rushed for 100-plus yards in six straight contests. This has been accomplished behind an offensive line that uses a zone-blocking scheme. Their most effective runs are tosses and stretch plays, where Lynch can one-cut and go. To counter this, the defensive front has to be explosive off the ball. In this way, they can knock back the offensive linemen before they can get started on their zone tracks. If the linemen are disrupted at the snap, that will give Chicago's linebackers time to scrape and take down the edge runs.

-Henry Melton will likely sit this game with a shin injury. The team will start Amobi Okoye in his place and rotate in Stephen Paea at under tackle. This means Anthony Adams, who hasn't been active since Week 11, should get plenty of reps. He needs to step up in a big way and prove he's worthy of a roster spot. Matt Toeaina has been solid all year at nose tackle, so the Bears may have no problem cutting Adams this offseason if he doesn't show improvement. Now is his chance. If he can rise up to the challenge and be stout inside, it will go a long way toward keeping Lynch in check.

-WR Mike Williams lit up the Bears' defense last year when the two teams faced in the regular season. He caught 10 passes for 123 yards. After signing a three-year, $11.2 million contract in the offseason, Williams has since disappeared. He's caught just 16 passes all year. Still, he's shown the ability to take advantage of Chicago's zone coverages. For that reason, the Bears might be better off running more man coverage and lining up Charles Tillman across from Williams. The last thing the Bears defense needs is a repeat of last year's performance.

-Jackson isn't an accurate passer and doesn't deal well with pressure. Yet he has a canon connected to his neck. Seattle will surely take some deep shots down the field on Sunday. S Chris Conte, who is in the coaches' doghouse this week after allowing a late-game interception against the Broncos, must keep the offense in front of him. Points will be hard to come by, so just one deep pass could cost Chicago the game. Conte has to be solid on the back end, or he could get replaced by Brandon Meriweather.

-Julius Peppers needs to dominate against LT Paul McQuistan, a career guard making just his second start of the season at tackle. McQuistan looked awful last week in pass protection. The Seahawks will likely give him help with double teams and chips with running backs. Yet when Peppers gets those one-on-one opportunities, he has to make McQuistan pay.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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