Doug Farrar: Now that the Seahawks and Bears have each displayed an ability to beat Bay Area junior college teams, they face off again for the third time in two seasons. Both teams seem to have leveled off a bit since Chicago's overtime win over Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Bears went to the Super Bowl last season, but they're 4-5 right now and might not even have a postseason to look forward to. Teams that fall off the map usually have many reasons for doing so, but what's the one thing you can say has contributed most primarily to Chicago's difficult follow-up season?
John Crist: The easy answer is injuries, but even though the Bears have been bruised and battered on the defensive side of the football, every team in the league must deal with injuries on a yearly basis. DT Tommie Harris hinted midseason after another disappointing loss at Soldier Field that certain members of the locker room may have been satisfied with last year's Super Bowl run, so perhaps an overall lack of hunger is present. A couple of offseason personnel decisions have also proven to be disastrous, most notably casting aside Thomas Jones in favor of Cedric Benson at tailback and bringing in an apparently washed-up Adam Archuleta at strong safety.
This team was supposed to be better on paper than the NFC championship squad from a year ago, but the Bears are yet another example of how much has to go right in order for an NFL franchise just to make it to Super Sunday.
DF: After quarterback Brian Griese suffered a shoulder injury in the Oakland game, Rex Grossman came in and seemed to impress coach Lovie Smith with a performance that included a long touchdown bomb to Bernard Berrian. Now that he's been announced as the starter, are you seeing a more developed Grossman, and what would the Seahawks have to look out for against him?
QB Rex Grossman
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JC: Grossman received a lot of praise for coming in and throwing the game-winning touchdown pass against Oakland last Sunday, but he was not particularly sharp before hitting Berrian with that long strike along the left sideline. He still had trouble evading pressure in the pocket, S Michael Huff dropped a sure interception, and the notorious gunslinger threw deep into double coverage on more than one occasion. Make no mistake about it, the Rex Grossman that the Seahawks will see Sunday in Seattle is the same Rex Grossman they saw both in Week 4 and in the divisional playoff game last season.
Griese had a decent amount of success with short and intermediate passes and did a good job of getting both tight ends, veteran Desmond Clark and rookie Greg Olsen, involved every week, but expect Grossman to take more chances on deeps outs and fly routes because that's his personality.
DF: One thing that the Seahawks and Bears share is rushing attacks that could charitably be called disastrous. Cedric Benson has been one of the NFL's least productive backs this season. Why can't Chicago get positive results with Benson, and how much do they miss Thomas Jones? Do they need to draft another feature back next April?
JC: While Jones was certainly a very good player his three seasons in the Windy City, Bears fans are having a case of selective memory right now at the tailback position. Jones did very little the first half of last season as the team struggled to run the football consistently, and it was only when offensive coordinator Ron Turner found the right balance between both Jones and Benson that the ground game started to have success down the stretch. Nevertheless, Benson has been a colossal disappointment on every level because he isn't fast enough to elude defenders, hasn't broken tackles with any consistency, and keeps dropping passes out of the backfield.
An aging offensive line certainly deserves its share of the blame because running lanes have been few and far between this season, but I wouldn't be shocked if GM Jerry Angelo took a peek at someone like San Diego's Michael Turner in free agency this March.
DF: When he's healthy, defensive tackle Tommie Harris is the most disruptive interior force in football. How healthy and effective has he been this season, and how has Chicago's front seven been holding up?
DT Tommie Harris
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JC: Coming back from the torn hamstring he suffered last season in Week 13 that ended his 2006, Harris started off pretty strong in training camp but then needed to take several days off because of soreness and fatigue. Concern was growing as to whether or not he'd be healthy enough to start the season on time and be the player everyone knows he can be, but he quickly put those fears to rest and is currently tied for the team lead in sacks with seven. And even though he sprained a knee in Week 3 against the Cowboys and has missed at least one day of practice each week since because the injury continues to linger, he's still nothing short of sensational and on his way to a third straight Pro Bowl.
That being said, Harris has not been much of a difference-maker defending the run and is one of the reasons why the Bears have been pushed around on the ground at times this season (see Adrian Peterson, Minnesota).
DF: Given Mike Holmgren's increased emphasis on the passing game, is Chicago's secondary up to the challenge of an efficient short-to-medium aerial attack that can move the ball very well? Is Chicago's defense more about pass pressure or pass coverage?
JC: The Midway Monsters employ a classic Cover-2 system, which is heavily dependent on getting consistent pressure from the front four so the linebackers can assist in coverage. If the likes of Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson are not getting after the quarterback on every dropback, even average passers can move the ball quite well with short and intermediate throws – Matt Hasselbeck is far from an average QB and presents a problem here. The loss of Nathan Vasher opposite Charles Tillman at cornerback has been devastating, but seventh-round rookie Trumaine McBride has emerged as the best fill-in starter and helped the secondary improve in recent weeks.
Holmgren has come out and said that he will rely on the passing game more because of his offense's inability to run the ball, and luckily for the Bears, they are much more prepared to defend that game plan than they were a month or so ago.