Both the Bears and Seahawks find themselves in a rematch of the 2006 Divisional round of the playoffs this Sunday. In week six of the regular season, Chicago lost to Seattle 23-20 but this match-up should be much different.
When the Bears first played the Seahawks, there was a complete lack of balance on offense. Martz was consistently calling pass and abandoning the run. But, it's safe to assume that the offensive game-plan this Sunday will be significantly different.
Having Lance Briggs back in lineup should greatly improve the defensive performance. Brian Iwuh did a nice job filling in for Lance in week six, but it's impossible to replace a player like Lance Briggs and the impact he has on gameday.
Keys to a Bears' Victory
Offensive balance: Since the bye week, Mike Martz has done a great job of keeping a balance on offense; whether he was told to or not. Matt Forte has done a great job against opposing defenses in the second half of the regular season; and Mike Martz must continue to commit to the run. Running effectively will open up the play-action, hopefully leading to big plays with the Bears' speedy wide receivers.
Pressure the quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck is a savvy veteran who has seen just about every defensive formation in the NFL throughout his career. In the two team's first meeting, the "Rush-men" were non-existent. The Bears' Tampa-2 defense does not work without a pass rush. Hasselbeck knows exactly where the holes are and will take advantage of them if he's given time in the pocket. If the Bears want to advance to an NFC Championship game, they must put Hasselbeck on that ground, or on the move, constantly. Mike Williams had his breakout game against the Bears due to the lack of pressure back in week six, catching 10 passes for over 120 yards.
Contain Leon Washington: The Bears' special teams coverage unit has not been as sharp as it was in previous years. That's not to say they have been bad, but they have allowed some big returns as of late. Leon Washington has three kick returns for touchdown this season, and he's one of the best in the league at it.
Protect Jay Cutler: A common thread throughout the Bears' season, no doubt. Back in week six, Jay Cutler was sacked six times. This team will only go as far as Cutler can take them, and he can't take them anywhere if he's horizontal. Since the Bye week, the Bears have had the same offensive line configuration. Back in week six, Edwin Williams was starting at right guard and Chris Williams was playing his first game at left guard. Hopefully for the Bears, the offensive line has found a way to gel.
Win the turnover battle: If the Bears don't get turnovers on defense, they will have a difficult time winning any games. And that's something they didn't do in week six either. The Bears lead the league in turnovers since 2004 when Lovie Smith arrived. The defense will need Tillman and company to strip players of the ball and create turnovers.
Get Greg Olsen involved: Greg Olsen is one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league. The problem right now is that he's not being utilized very much in the passing game. When the Bears' offense gets into the red-zone, they need to look to Greg Olsen.
Be ready for the no-huddle: The Seahawks caught the Bears off guard when they ran a hurry-up offense in the week six match-up. It kept the defense off balance and out of sync. If they let the Seahawks do it again, Hasselbeck will kill the Bears' zone coverage.
Punch them in the mouth: Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said it best: "Punch them in the mouth." The defense must make the Seahawks tight ends and receivers think twice about going across the middle. Hit them hard, early and often.
If the Bears can do even the majority of these things, they should beat the Seahawks handily. If they can't, or they don't? Let's just put it this way: It's one thing to win your division, make the playoffs, secure a bye, and lose to a good team in the Divisional round of the playoffs; especially given all the Bears have had to overcome this season, with the personnel vs. scheme conflicts. But, if they lose to the 7-9 Seahakws... at home... that's a whole different story altogether.
Not a single Bears player is listed on the injury report.
I have an internet radio show http://www.blogtalkradio.com/latenightsportstalk and we are doing a divisional round playoff preview tonight. Tune in and call up!