Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The importance of sacks in an NFL game usually is inversely proportionate to the amount of questions from the media about the lack of them. Sacks seemingly are never more overrated than when we wonder why the Bears didn’t get any.
But that wasn’t the case when the Bears lost 23-20 to the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 17 at Soldier Field. The Bears failed to sack Matt Hasselbeck. And it definitely mattered, because pressuring him wasn’t effective, either. He completed 63 percent of his passes (25 of 40 for 242 yards) and didn’t throw an interception. It was the first time in 129 career starts that Hasselbeck had that many pass attempts with no sacks and no interceptions.
And the Bears know they can’t let that happen again Sunday when they host the Seahawks in an NFC divisional playoff game. That point was underscored by cornerback Charles Tillman when he was asked about defending 6-5 receiver Mike Williams, who had 10 receptions for 123 yards in the previous game.
‘‘It would be nice to get a sack this game on Hasselbeck,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘You can’t throw the ball if you’re on your back.’’
Failing to sack Hasselbeck or pressure him into mistakes compounded the Bears’ overall effort. It robbed them of momentum and limited the number of second-and-long and third-and-long plays that often lead to takeaways. And that, in turn, led to the Bears’ worst field-position game of the year. Their average drive start was their 18-yard line (for the season, it was their 33, an NFL best). Ten of their 13 drives started inside their 21. The Seahawks’ average drive start in that game was their 33.
Coach Lovie Smith, of all people, knows it’s going to take more than pressure this time. The Bears have to finish the job.
‘‘We did have pressure on [Hasselbeck] last time — he was able to get away,’’ Smith said. ‘‘He’s a good player. We need to sack him more. We want to create more takeaways this time around.
‘‘All those things led to them winning the game, and we hope we’ve corrected some of those things. We’ve been rushing the passer fairly well lately. We feel like we can this week.’’
With two weeks to prepare for the Bears in October, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates devised a plan that Hasselbeck executed to near-perfection. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, coming off a huge game against the Carolina Panthers, had three tackles and was shut out of impact plays for the only time this season. Linebacker Brian Urlacher had seven tackles and one pass breakup.
‘‘Just an off game,’’ Peppers said. ‘‘We didn’t play well that game. We played OK. We didn’t play up to our standards. That’s something we’re going to take a look at and try to get it fixed.’’
The Seahawks are professionals, too, said Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams, who had one tackle in the first game.
‘‘Matt Hasselbeck, I think this is 13 [years] for him,’’ Adams said. ‘‘He knows what beats our scheme. He’s played against us time in and time out, playoffs and regular season, preseason. They basically know what they’re going to get from us. I’m pretty sure he’s watched film forever on the Bears. He knows what beats us.’’
Said Hasselbeck: ‘‘That was the first game where I found the balance that Pete’s looking for in terms of being aggressive but being smart, protecting the football. We preach ball security and protecting the football so, so much, and that’s so different from the way we were in the past.’’
The extra week of preparation seemed to make a big difference. Hasselbeck had been sacked seven times in the two previous games. And he was sacked 13 times in the next two games — five times (with a lost fumble) in a victory over the Arizona Cardinals and eight times in a 33-3 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
‘‘For whatever reason, a lot of other teams were able to get sacks,’’ Adams said. ‘‘Maybe they didn’t run a 4-3 like we run it. Or ran a 3-4. I don’t know. There are a lot of different avenues you could go down. But you have to bring your A-game every week.
‘‘A lot of people think we’re going to bulldoze these guys, but they’re going to be a tough opponent. It’s the NFL, the playoffs, playing for all the marbles. Everybody’s back is against the wall. We expect them to bring their A-game.’’
In eight regular-season games after beating the Bears, Hasselbeck had a 66.8 passer rating (seven touchdowns, 11 interceptions). He was outstanding in the Seahawks’ 41-36 upset of the New Orleans Saints in a wild-card game last week — 22-for-35 for 272 yards, four touchdowns and one interception and a season-high 113.0 rating. But when the Saints turned up the pressure after Hasselbeck’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams gave the Seahawks a 31-20 lead in the third quarter, Hasselbeck was 5-for-12 for 28 yards and a 49.3 rating the rest of the way.
That’s the kind of pressure the Bears need to bring from the start.
‘‘There’s no question it starts up front with our defense,’’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. ‘‘It’s something we felt we had to make some corrections, like we do every week. We’ve had a couple of good weeks of practice, and now it’s time to go play our game.’’