Seattle enters the game with injuries threatening to sideline right guard Chris Gray and right tackle Sean Locklear. The Seahawks running game has sputtered through three games after the team lost three of its best blockers in free agency: left guard Steve Hutchinson, receiver Joe Jurevicius and underrated tight end Ryan Hannam.
The personnel department has stocked the roster with promising young offensive linemen, but continuity is the issue, not talent.
The Seahawks have responded by playing to their strengths.
Coach Mike Holmgren used the four-receiver set 24 times during a 42-30 pounding of the Giants last week. That was up from no more than six times per game in victories over Detroit and Arizona to start the season. Injuries at tight end have also contributed to the changes. Starting tight end Jerramy Stevens is out until the middle of October. His backup, Itula Mili, has looked good in practice this week after missing time with a knee injury. Veteran Will Heller also appears to be finding his rhythm, giving Holmgren additional options against the Bears.
Seattle's defense is strong and should hold up its end against promising but inexperienced Bears quarterback Rex Grossman. Offense is the key for Seattle in this game. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will have to get rid of the ball quickly to keep the Bears' formidable pass rushers off him. That could lead to a few tipped passes and possibly an interception or two if the Bears can jump routes effectively on occasion.
"They are great up front and you can tell they have a lot of leadership on that side of the ball," Hasselbeck said. "It's a tough defense, maybe one of the best we'll ever see this season."
The Seahawks will try to run the ball from spread formations. Hasselbeck is adept at getting out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage, but the Bears have the personnel to keep Seattle's run audibles in check. Hasselbeck will have to get the passing game going to have any chance at establishing anything on the ground.
Losing Alexander hurts because his presence might draw an extra defender into the box. But the reality is that Alexander was averaging less than 65 yards per game over the first three weeks. Hasselbeck and the defense have had to carry the load. That will again be the case. The Giants seemed caught off-guard when Seattle used the four-receiver set so liberally.
"I don't know if that is going to be as big of a plan as it was last week," Hasselbeck said. "Certainly the element of surprise helped us last week. There is no way the Giants could have spent the amount of time necessary preparing for that because they were most likely preparing for what we have always done.
"That's been to be a pretty balanced, multiple-formation, multiple-personnel group offense."
Mili's return to health could change the dynamic offensively. "Our tight end situation is much better this week and we do have some running backs that are definitely healthy and definitely capable and they are good at things," Hasselbeck said. "It'll be a different week than last week. What's important is how we execute."
SERIES HISTORY: Seattle leads the series, 6-2. That includes victories in 2003 and 1999, the last meeting between the teams at Soldier Field. Seattle won that game on Glenn Foley's 49-yard scoring pass to Fabien Bownes. The team is a little stronger this time with Matt Hasselbeck throwing passes to Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch.
--RB Shaun Alexander, sidelined by a broken foot, started telling friends Tuesday night that he had been miraculously healed through prayer. He showed up at team headquarters Wednesday convinced he had a chance to play against the Bears. "In fact, I jumped all over him actually for not wearing his (walking) boot," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Then he explained to me, then he started to jump around. I said, 'Let's just take this kind of slowly and do the right thing.' "
Additional tests showed Alexander's foot still had a crack in the fourth metatarsal.
--The Seahawks will spend part of next summer in China for an exhibition game against the Patriots. "I absolutely love it," Holmgren said. "To expose your players to other cultures, I think that's a healthy, good thing for your team. I really do."
Seattle and New England are scheduled to play Aug. 2 at Qwest Field before heading to Beijing for an Aug. 8 game in Olympic Stadium. Holmgren has experience in international games. He made a request to team president Tim Ruskell while the plans were being made. "They can't have us play that game, fly home and then play another," Holmgren said. "That's dangerous. It's my understanding they're going to give us time, which is the way it should be.
"If we're going to go over there, let's fly over there, let's bring our wives, let's stay over there. Play the game, practice and everything, but let's enjoy the experience. And I think they're doing that."
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The number of times Matt Hasselbeck has finished a start without being sacked. The Seahawks are 8-1 in those games, including their 42-30 victory over the Giants last week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the biggest thing is everyone is just on him. Sometimes he needs to shut his mouth, too. It's not all the media's fault, either, but at times like this right now, I just think it's best for him to just back off from him and let him perform and let him play because that is really what he wants to do." -- Seahawks LB Julian Peterson on former San Francisco teammate Terrell Owens.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Seattle will probably make a roster move at the end of the week to shore up its depth at running back. The move became necessary when RB Shaun Alexander suffered a foot injury that could sideline him for a few weeks. Seattle will wait until Friday or Saturday before signing RB Marquis Weeks from the practice squad or possibly signing a street free agent.
It's unclear who the team might release, or if an injured player might be a candidate for injured reserve.
--RB Shaun Alexander is feeling much better, but he'll miss the game Sunday with a cracked fourth metatarsal in his left foot. "From yesterday to today, I feel amazing," Alexander said Wednesday afternoon. "We did a lot of treatment and did a lot of praying; I'm amazed. (But) there is still a little crack in there. Unless I heal as quickly tomorrow as I did from yesterday to today, there's a good chance I'm not going to play."
--RB Maurice Morris will start Sunday against the Bears because RB Shaun Alexander is out with a foot injury. Morris lacks the size to be a power runner. He's a good receiver out of the backfield and a pretty competent blocker in pass protection, but he isn't big enough to hold up against the bigger linebackers.
--RG Chris Gray missed practice Wednesday. He is questionable with a sprained knee. Coach Mike Holmgren said he expects Gray to play against the Bears on Sunday night. Gray has started 109 consecutive games for Seattle, a franchise record.
--RT Sean Locklear missed practice Wednesday. He is questionable with a sprained knee. Coach Mike Holmgren said he expects Locklear to play against the Bears on Sunday night.
--FS Ken Hamlin missed practice Wednesday. He is probable with a sore shoulder. The team expects Hamlin to practice later in the week and start against the Bears.
GAME PLAN: Seattle's defense must continue to force turnovers. Bears QB Rex Grossman has made plays, but he takes chances too. The Seahawks forced Eli Manning, another young passer, into three first-half interceptions last week. Seattle needs more of the same to put the Bears' stout defense at a field-position deficit. The Seahawks aren't playing well enough offensively to go the length of the field against the Bears with any consistency.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Seahawks RT Sean Locklear vs. Bears LDE Adewale Ogunleye. This is a very tough matchup for Seattle. Locklear is ailing with a knee injury that has kept him out of practice. Seattle will probably have to help him with a tight end or back in pass protection.
--Seahawks RB Maurice Morris vs. Bears MLB Brian Urlacher. Morris figures to be on the field in one-back sets quite a bit of the time. He'll have to hit the hole quickly, which is his strength. The yards are going to be tough to find. Urlacher will make things tough on Shaun Alexander's replacement.
INJURY IMPACT: The injuries on the offensive line are most concerning for Seattle. RG Chris Gray (knee) will probably be OK. He's a 36-year-old veteran who knows his body well. RT Sean Locklear (knee) is less experienced at this stuff. Alexander's absence is probably overrated. Seattle's ground game hasn't been strong so far and that wasn't going to change against the Bears. Morris might even be better against this type of opponent because he's a guy who hits the hole quickly. Either way, the ground game is probably in trouble.
The Bears overcame a good amount of adversity on enemy turf against the Vikings last weekend, and they could find out as early as Sunday night at 7:15 how much carryover effect they'll reap from that character-building comeback.
At home, before a national audience, the Bears finally get a chance to play the defending NFC champion Seahawks, who they had hoped to meet during the last postseason, before the 29-21 loss to Panthers eliminated them from the playoffs.
"We definitely think there is carryover," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of last week's 19-16 victory. "It's one thing to think you can do the job and that you can overcome it. But you have to go through it and get that accomplished. So that was a big hurdle (Sunday). To overcome some of those bad things that happen on the road and in a hostile environment says a lot about your football team." The Bears generated next to nothing in the running game and gift-wrapped 7 of the Vikings' points when one of Rex Grossman's two interceptions was returned seven yards for a touchdown. Grossman responded with the first fourth-quarter touchdown pass of his career after Tommie Harris forced a fumble -- with the Vikings trying to run out the clock -- that Wale Ogunleye recovered with 3:25 left.
"We learned that we can overcome some (of the) adversity that you go through," Smith said. "You look at the latter part of the game, they had the ball, and they needed to make one play. We had to make a play, get the ball back, and a lot of other things had to fall in place for us.
"'Wale' recovering the fumble and just giving the offense a chance, you could feel something special was about to happen."
Like the Bears, the Seahawks are also 3-0, and they are coming off their best game of the season, a rout of the Giants, which they won 42-30 but led 42-3 in the fourth quarter. They will, however, be without running back Shaun Alexander, the league MVP last season. Alexander suffered a non-displaced fracture of a non-weight-bearing bone in his left foot against the Giants and is not expected to play.
Last season, Alexander rushed for 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns. But he has just 187 yards and an average of 2.9 yards per carry this season. His career average is 4.5 yards per rush. He has gained fewer than 100 yards in each of Seattle's three games this season, his first such streak in two years. Just as beating the Vikings in Minnesota represented another level of difficulty for the Bears following their victories over the Packers and Lions, the Seahawks present another step up in class.
"For us to take another step, we have to be able to beat the best," Smith said. "They're playing very well. They dominated the Giants. It's just another chance for us to see exactly what we have in front of a national audience, in front of our home crowd. We wanted to be 3-0 in this position against Seattle. We had a good idea they might be 3-0 right now, so we look forward to the opportunity. We think we match up well with them, and we're anxious to see Sunday."
After beating the Vikings, linebacker Brian Urlacher was asked if he thought the Bears were starting to get noticed outside the NFC North.
"Don't care," Urlacher said. "We know what we are."
"What are you?" he was asked.
"Three-and-oh," he replied.
That's 3-0 with some carryover.
SERIES HISTORY: Ninth meeting. Seahawks lead 6-2 but they've met just once since 2000, a 24-17 Seahawks victory in Seattle in 2003.
--Contrary to published reports, the Bears are not upset with running back Cedric Benson; and the fourth overall draft pick from 2005 wasn't sulking after Sunday's game when he didn't get on the field.
"I know I wasn't pouting, come on, that's not me," Benson said. "You really think I was sitting on the sideline whining about not playing after a win like that? No. I was very excited about the win. I was excited to be a part of a team like that, having a quarterback like that." Benson was one of the first to congratulate quarterback Rex Grossman on his game-winning TD pass with 1:53 left, but after the game he walked off the field without showing much emotion, which is understandable for a player who didn't get to contribute to the victory.
"Naturally you wanted to be a part of it," Benson said. "Dang, yeah, it sucks that I didn't get to play. But hey, we won. I'm able to get up every morning and come into this building every day and work hard every day knowing that the sail is going to turn. I know it will, and I'm just going to be patient on that and let it work itself out and make great things happen when it does turn."
Neither Benson nor starter Thomas Jones has had much success this season. Benson is averaging 2.8 yards per carry, while Jones is at 3.0 with 181 yards on 60 carries.
Benson carried 11 times in the season opener, when the Bears rushed 36 times, and he got 10 of the team's 34 carries the following week. Jones carried 21 times in each of the first two weeks. But the Bears had only 21 running plays Sunday, and 3 of them were kneel-downs by quarterback Rex Grossman. The dearth of running plays was the only reason Benson didn't play according to coach Lovie Smith.
"There is some inaccurate information coming out of here about Cedric Benson," Smith said. "I just would like our fans to know that Cedric Benson practiced very well last week. He's doing everything that we've asked him to do. He's a big part of what we're going to do around here. I couldn't be more pleased with how he's handling playing behind a good player in Thomas Jones. Hopefully this week we'll get him some more playing time. He had another excellent practice (Wednesday)."
--Bears cornerback Ricky Manning on Wednesday discussed publicly his version of the events that led to him being accused of felony assault in a Denny's restaurant April 24. Manning pleaded no contest on Tuesday and was sentenced to three years' probation, ordered to attend a year of anger management counseling and to complete 100 hours of community service with a municipality or public agency or nationally recognized philanthropic organization not associated with the Bears.
Manning, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Tyler Ebell -- all former UCLA football players -- were accused of attacking the man near the UCLA campus, kicking and punching him in the face until he lost consciousness. That's not the story Manning told.
"I said, 'What are you doing on this (laptop) computer?' " Manning said he asked the victim. "He responded to me aggressively. He told me to go (blank) myself. I didn't understand why he did that. I came to find out later, the guys that he got into it with were messing with him when he was on the computer before I got there.
"So I got in the guy's face and told him, 'Don't talk to me like that,' and I did push him in the face. The (restaurant manager) came over there and said, 'Do you want me to call the police?' I said, 'No I'm just going to leave.' I left it at that. I walked away from the situation. Maybe I shouldn't have responded to it at all."
The three former teammates left the restaurant in an SUV but were pulled over by police when their vehicle was spotted from a helicopter. The assault charge against Jones-Drew was dismissed in June because of insufficient evidence. Ebell's felony assault charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, and he was freed on bail.
Manning claims his plea wasn't an admission of guilt but a way of avoiding potentially bigger problems. He was already on probation for a similar misdemeanor offense in 2002, also near the UCLA campus.
"If I don't plead to this, I have to go to trial during the season," he said. "It would be a lot more money, and then I would have to put it in the hands of a jury. I've been through this before. There's a ton of things that can happen with a jury. They can say that I conspired with those other guys and because of my involvement this guy got beat up. I just can't risk that. I would rather put it all in my hands, be on probation, keep my nose clean and not get in any trouble."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo called the incident "embarrassing" and said he was "disappointed" with Manning's involvement. "It is embarrassing that I have to go through this," Manning said. "I feel embarrassed. I feel embarrassed for the team. I feel embarrassed for the guys upstairs also. I was accused of something. It's still kind of a little unfair because I'm still being punished like I did do it."
The concern now is that the NFL could still come down on Manning with a suspension, despite his plea. "We all know the rules, and the rules say the NFL will handle those types of situations," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We would like to say that if there is punishment, let's do it at this point. If something comes up from there, we're prepared to go on without him."
--Poor time management cost the Bears a chance for a 41-yard FG attempt at the end of the first half as time expired after Muhsin Muhammad's 23-yard reception. The play began with 17 seconds left, but the Bears couldn't stop the clock. They had spent their first timeout when John Tait, who had suffered an elbow injury, was slow getting on the field for Gould's 41-yard field goal in the first quarter. Less than 90 seconds later they used timeout No. 2 on an unsuccessful challenge of an official's ruling on the field. The third and final timeout was used earlier on the final possession.
"There are a lot of things I would like to do differently," Coach Lovie Smith said. "I didn't like the way we handled the end of the first half (and) some of the decisions I made with that. We got the win, but there are a lot of things I need to improve on and (so does) our football team."
--The Bears have yet to average more than 3.0 yards per rushing attempt in any game this season and are averaging 2.7 yards for the season, a precipitous drop from last season's 4.3-yard average. But quarterback Rex Grossman is averaging 276 passing yards per game, a huge improvement over 2005's 125 per. "As a defense, you can commit to stopping one thing, and teams have committed to stopping our run, and they've done a pretty good job of it," coach Lovie Smith said. "But we're 3-0 with them doing that."
BY THE NUMBERS: QB Rex Grossman has thrown for more than 260 yards in each of his three starts this season, although he hadn't done it once in his first three seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have total confidence in what he can do out there. He plays like a warrior out there, a really courageous guy. When he's under pressure, you can tell how relaxed he is out there. He doesn't panic." -- WR Muhsin Muhammad on QB Rex Grossman
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Muhsin Muhammad had game bests of 9 catches and 118 receiving yards last week, and after three games he leads the Bears with 19 catches for 279 yards, which is on pace for 101 catches and 1,488 yards. But Muhammad isn't the only receiving threat in the Bears' offense. He hasn't caught a touchdown pass yet, while wide receiver Bernard Berrian (12 catches, 208 yards) and tight end John Gilmore have 2 apiece. Tight end Desmond Clark (12 catches, 193 yards) and wide receiver Rashied Davis (5 catches, 87 yards) each have 1 TD.
"I think it does a lot for the confidence of the guys on the offense, the other receivers, the running backs, the tight ends," Muhammad said. "Everybody knows that the ball can come to them on any given occasion, and that makes you play harder."
Berrian had 6 catches for 70 yards against the Vikings, and Davis caught the game-winning 24-yard TD. "Eventually there's going to be some games where they may not be able to get the ball to me the way they want to," Muhammad said. "Just like today, I could be the decoy, and Rashied could make the big touchdown, or Bernard. It really makes it hard to defense me when you're balanced, and that's what we're trying to accomplish."
According to coach Lovie Smith, it worked on Davis' first NFL touchdown, which gave the Bears a 19-16 victory. "I think they were definitely thinking about the ball going to elsewhere," Smith said. "Moose had about 120 yards, but that's why you need a third receiver to step up at this point."
--TE Desmond Clark (foot, questionable) did not practice Wednesday and is not expected to play Sunday, although the Bears have not yet ruled him out.
--TE John Gilmore, the backup and normally a blocker in the run game, could play a bigger role Sunday if starter Desmond Clark (foot) is out. Gilmore has just two catches for eight yards this season, but both catches are for touchdowns.
--TE Gabe Reid missed the first two games of the season with a back injury and has not caught a pass yet, but he could be a popular target Sunday if starter Desmond Clark (foot) is out. Reid is viewed as a much better receiver than the other backup TE John Gilmore.
--RS/CB Devin Hester has moved ahead of veteran Dante Wesley as the No. 4 cornerback on the depth chart and could see his most significant playing time of the season this week against the Seahawks' four-WR sets.
--RB Cedric Benson is expected to get 8-12 carries this week after getting blanked last week when the Bears never really established a ground game.
GAME PLAN: The Bears aren't worried about establishing the run game anymore if opponents continue to overplay it by stuffing eight men in the box. Despite a shaky outing last week, QB Rex Grossman has proven three weeks in a row that he can lead the team to victory without a strong ground game, and coaches and teammates are confident that Grossman can take advantage of any situation that invites him to throw the ball.
Defensively, the Bears are preparing for the Seahawks four-WR sets, which are partly dictated by injuries to two of their best weapons, RB Shaun Alexander and TE Jerramy Stevens, neither of whom are expected to play. The Bears consider their secondary depth to be much improved, and they think they match up well, even with the Seahawks' excellent WR depth.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: In passing situations, Bears DTs Tommie Harris, who leads the team with three sacks, and Tank Johnson, who replaces starter Ian Scott in nickel, vs. Seahawks OGs Chris Spencer and Chris Gray. The Bears could have even more of an advantage if Gray (questionable, knee) can't play.
--Bears DRE Alex Brown vs. Seahawks OLT Walter Jones, one of the best linemen of his generation. Brown has just one sack this season, but he is among the best on the team at drawing holding calls and hurrying quarterbacks, even when he doesn't get the sack. Brown is also more stout against the run than most 260-pounders.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Mark Bradley, TE Desmond Clark and S Chris Harris were all listed as questionable Wednesday. But Harris practiced and appears to have by far the best chance of playing Sunday night. Clark doesn't seem likely to play.