A Few Notes on the Bears Game

The Seahawks are currently 5-0 at home, but an abysmal 1-5 on the road.  Even worse, in three of those five losses (versus the Dolphins, Lions, and Cardinals) the Seahawks gave up a fourth quarter lead with less than six minutes to go.  As with those previous defeats, there are several mitigating factors to which I cold point1 – Wilson is clearly building up a great rapport with his receivers, the offense converted 50% of its third downs, etc. – but with so few games remaining on the schedule and a playoff spot on the line, a decent stat line or two is not going to be enough to soothe away the loss.

Thankfully, there are only two road games left to play this season, starting with this Sunday’s matchup against the Bears in Chicago.  And don’t let the Bears’ 8-3 record or intimidating defensive stats fool you, this game is very, very winnable.  I know I tend to go a bit heavy on the statistics around here, but this is one of those times when the numbers are just not telling us the whole truth about a team.

Not that I’m saying the Bears are a bad team, mind you.  On defense, starting CBs Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are playing like all-pros, LB Lance Briggs is still a beast at age 32, and as a unit they’ve been excellent at pressuring opposing quarterbacks.  On the other side of the ball, Chicago has a solid rushing attack, albeit not a spectacular one, and despite the team’s weak overall stats through the air QB Jay Cutler and his old Denver teammate WR Brandon Marshall are one of the best passing combinations in the NFL this year, and I’m saying that as someone who detests Cutler.

However, as well as Chicago has done, they’ve only looked like Super Bowl contenders when they’ve faced teams with glaring problems on one or both sides of the ball.  In the five games they’ve played against teams with winning records, the Bears have gone 2-3, losing to the Packers (7-4), Texans (10-1), and 49ers (8-2-1).  

The two wins are also questionable, seeing as how they were earned when the two teams in question were not playing their best football.  They had the good fortune of playing the Colts (7-4) at the beginning of the season before Andrew Luck and his teammates turned a 2-3 start to the season into a legitimate postseason bid, and their recent win over the Vikings (6-5) comes well after Minnesota’s hot start to the season cooled off into what is now a 2-4 midseason slump.

In short, the Bears may currently be first in the NFC North, but as emperors go this one appears to be suspiciously clothing-free.  For one, there’s a marked difference in how their run defense has performed this year before and after their week six bye – for whatever reason, they’ve gone from holding teams to 65.8 yds/att to allowing nearly double that yardage (122.83 yds/att) through their last six games.  If Marshawn Lynch and his blockers have some leftover frustration from the Miami game to get out of their system, Soldier Field appears to be a pretty good place to do it.

For another, the Bears have a pretty shallow receiving corps.  Despite playing in a run-first offense, Marshall is currently the second most targeted receiver in the league with 124 passes thrown his way.  That’s more than the rest of the players on Chicago’s roster combined (119 targets), with the single next most targeted guy being Earl Bennett at a mere 40 balls thrown his way.  Richard Sherman, take note: as Marshall goes, so goes the Bears’ passing game.  

Better yet, their offense is having trouble hanging on to the ball lately, having committed two or more turnovers in four of their last five games.  The Bears’ defense has been able to make up for the offense’s deficiencies by leading the league in takeaways (they’re currently averaging three per game), but if Wilson and his cohorts can manage to protect the ball on the road, Cutler et al may very well end up giving away the game via interceptions and fumbles.

Oh, and if you’re worried about Chicago’s return game, you shouldn’t be.  Devin Hester has been ruled out for the game with a concussion, but even if he had been able to suit up, this season he simply hasn’t been the dangerous return man he once was.  At the moment, the Bears are 22nd in yards per punt return and 30th in yards per kickoff return.

I know the Dolphins loss hurt – I’m still feeling the effects myself – but as you can see there are plenty of reasons to believe the Seahawks will win on Sunday, reasons based on something more substantial than fervent hope.  So, while the Eagles probably won’t give Tony Romo a reason to make that teary-eyed losing face of his (my wife loves it when he does that) and the 49ers will most likely cruise their way to an easy victory over the rebuilding Rams, the Seahawks may very well give us a reason to smile anyway.

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1 Don’t worry, the stats article will make a return next week regardless of the outcome of the Bears game.  Here’s hoping I’ll get to spend the whole thing talking about how the Seahawks went about crushing the life out of Chicago.