How to beat the Bears
By Mike mulligan email@example.com January 11, 2011 11:18PM
One of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher’s biggest strengths is his sideline-to-sideline movement. NFL insiders say the best way to nullify that is to run right at him. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Updated: April 26, 2011 4:45AM
Unless the Seattle Seahawks can figure out a way to bring Qwest Field and its 70,000-plus crowd to Chicago, their chances for a second consecutive colossal playoff upset are infinitesimal.
Sure, the Seahawks — who upset the New Orleans Saints 41-36 on Saturday — won earlier in the season at Soldier Field, but that’s going to work against them in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs Sunday. The Bears certainly will be on high alert and will take the Seahawks, who are 10-point underdogs, very seriously.
An upset is unthinkable, beyond blasphemous. Not that the Bears are unbeatable, mind you, just that they are far too rested, balanced and confident for the suddenly self-certain Seahawks to handle.
Still, word is the game will go on as scheduled. And if they play the game, then there is possibility and hope for even the most outmanned opponent.
How would the Seahawks slay a far superior team? The Sun-Times talked with some NFL insiders about the best way to attack the Bears, if only to give the home team some things to work on en route to Super Bowl destiny in suburban Dallas.
Believe it or not, a group of scouts interviewed for this story said an upset special would begin with a victory on special teams, an area that has been a seasonlong strength for the Bears and has been their defining unit since Dave Toub’s arrival as coordinator.
Stopping the Bears’ special teams means winning the field-position game. That’s not an easy thing to do, considering the Bears’ 198 offensive possessions have started, on average, at their 34-yard line, the best in the NFL.
The dilemma for the Seahawks is containing Devin Hester. There aren’t too many ways to do it. The trick is to contain him without giving up field position. Directional punting is important — not merely limiting him to the sidelines, but actually punting the ball out of bounds and eliminating returns. Another strategy is to use high-arching punts to force him to make a decision about a fair catch.
There isn’t much to do on kickoffs, especially because Toub has used players such as Danieal Manning and Rashied Davis up the field for shorter kickoffs.
If the Seahawks can control field position by beating the Bears on special teams, they will be well on their way to an upset.
Bears on defense
Any offensive game plan has to start with limiting defensive end Julius Peppers, who can be a one-man wrecking crew up front. He must be located and identified. Then comes dealing with the twists and stunts coordinator Rod Marinelli has used to increase pressure. The Bears love to get a defensive tackle upfield, then bring an end behind him to confuse protection. Offensive linemen have to be able to slide to Peppers while also communicating about interior twists.
Seahawks receiver Mike Williams caught 10 passes for 123 yards in the first game between the teams, so the Bears will be looking for him and most likely will have cornerback Charles Tillman shadow him around the field. The danger comes if Williams is moved to the slot, where his 6-5 frame would be a mismatch for 5-9 nickel back D.J. Moore.
The power running game also might be an issue for the Bears. The idea is to run right at defensive tackle Anthony Adams and try to push him into linebacker Brian Urlacher’s lap. Urlacher’s strength is his sideline-to-sideline running, and that can be countered by running right at him and trying to get a guard to engage him. The book on Urlacher is that he isn’t a point-of-attack player and that taking him out of his comfort zone can frustrate the Bears.
Bears on offense
The word to remember in understanding offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s attacking style is “formations.” He shows opponents an assortment of formations to force single coverage and create mismatches. The player to focus on isn’t quarterback Jay Cutler but running back Matt Forte, whose ability to run the ball complements how good he has been as a receiver.
Defenses try to break down the Bears’ offense by paying attention to personnel packages. The Bears have made a ton of plays in the second half of the season by going to the hot-read receiver, Earl Bennett or Davis, in the middle of the field.
Generally speaking, the Bears work outside with Hester and Johnny Knox, only occasionally working them on shallow cross routes or receiver screens to keep opponents honest.
Nine out of 10 times, the Bears will run outside when Greg Olsen is lined up as a fullback because he isn’t a lead blocker. They will run inside roughly the same amount when Brandon Manumaleuna is in the backfield.
Generally speaking, teams want to blitz when Olsen is in a two-back set and drop when Manumaleuna is in that role. The Bears’ protection problems have been across the line, so there are plenty of areas to attack. Cutler’s mobility is a problem, especially when he moves to his right. The idea is to force him left in the pocket to limit trouble downfield.