CHICAGO – With a win today in the Windy City against the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll can match his team’s win total from last season and continue to chase faint hopes of making the playoffs for a second season in a row.
Carroll’s Seahawks play in Solider Field for the third time in a little more than a year – the same place they fell behind last January in the NFC Divisional playoffs 28-0 and ultimately lost, 35-24, to a team they had beaten three months earlier in the regular season.
But these young Seahawks – winners of four of their past five – are confident heading into their second-to-last road game of this season.
The Bears are dealing with a slew of off-the-field issues, including the arrest of former teammate Sam Hurd on drug trafficking charges and the absence of offensive playmakers quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte due to injuries.
“I don’t know if there’s anything worse than a bear with a bad tooth,” Carroll said earlier this week, when asked about playing a talented Chicago team on the road. “We know that these guys are ready for it and it’s going to be very difficult at their place. Fortunately, we feel familiar with this travel and this trip and the setting and all of that and hopefully that will allow us to get close to playing our best. We’re going to have to play really well to be in this football game with these guys.”
One reason for the Seahawks’ confidence is they are finally winning games with the blueprint that Carroll touted when he took over the team – a ball-control offense paced by a physical running game and a defense that forces turnovers and plays with an edge.
The Seahawks have rushed for over 100 yards in six consecutive games, with Marshawn Lynch rushing over 100 yards in five of six. Defensively, the Seahawks have forced 13 turnovers in the past five games.
But the game against Chicago could hinge on the Seahawks’ ability to protect quarterback Tarvaris Jackson with a makeshift offensive line. Journeyman Paul McQuistan will get his second start at left tackle, and second-year pro Lemuel Jeanpierre will get his second start at right guard.
Seattle’s line faces the daunting task of blocking perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. The North Carolina product leads the Bears with nine sacks and will pose a matchup problem for Seattle’s banged-up offensive line.
“I think he’s one of the best, I really do,” Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He’s still playing at a high level even after the years he’s been in the league. He really presents a big-time problem.
“You can turn on the tape and see him being blocked by one guy and him beating that guy. You’ll see him being blocked by two guys and you’ll see him beating both of them. Then they also move him around, so he’s on one side and then the other and then he’s inside, so they do a good job of mixing it up.”
So how do you stop Peppers?
“Number one is being able to do what we want to do and that’s run the ball,” Bevell said. “I think that takes a lot of pressure off of what we would do before where you just drop back all the time and you put a lot of pressure on the offensive line. So we need to be able to run the ball and be smart with the schemes of protections that we’re asking our offensive line to do.”
Seattle offensive tackle Breno Giacomini understands Peppers has immense talent, but he says he is ready for the challenge.
“You just have to prepare for him, man,” Giacomini said. “He’s pretty good. He’s really good. He’s much respected around the league. We just have to go out there and play our game, sit tight and just react. The big thing on him is just studying.”
SEATTLE (6-7) AT CHICAGO (7-6)
Kickoff: 10 a.m., Soldier Field
TV: Ch. 13
Radio: 1240-AM, 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: This is the 13th time the two teams have met in the regular season, with Seattle holding an 8-4 advantage. But the Bears won the last contest, a 35-24 victory in the NFC divisional playoffs in Chicago on Jan. 16. Seattle won the last regular season contest, 23-20, at Soldier Field on Oct. 17, 2010, sacking quarterback Jay Cutler six times and holding the Bears to 0-for-12 on third-down conversions.
What to watch: Guard Robert Gallery (hip), defensive end Raheem Brock (calf), linebacker David Hawthorne (knee) and cornerback Richard Sherman (knee) missed time during practice, but all are expected to play. The only player questionable for Seattle is rookie offensive tackle Jarriel King (hamstring). For Chicago, quarterback Jay Cutler (broken thumb) and running back Matt Forte (sprained knee) have been ruled out. Defensive tackle Henry Melton, who’s second on the team with seven sacks, is questionable with a shin injury. Kick returner Devin Hester is questionable after tweaking his ankle during Thursday’s practice but is expected to play. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch has scored touchdowns in his past nine games.
The pick: Seahawks, 19-16.
No. Name (position)heightweightexp
7 Tarvaris Jackson (QB)6-2225sixth
The Bears are good against the run, which means Jackson is going to have to make some throws.
17 Mike Williams (WR)6-5235fifth
Has only four catches in plast five games, but had a big game against the Bears in last season’s regular-season matchup.
29 Earl Thomas (FS)5-10202second
The Seahawks need the explosive athlete’s playmaking ability to help create some scoring chances.
57 David Hawthorne (LB)6-0246fourth
Seattle’s leading tackle will have to play a physical game against bruising runner Marion Barber.
No. Name (position)heightweightexp
12 Caleb Hanie (QB)6-2222fourth
Seattle will try to force him to break out of Chicago’s conservative offense and make some plays down the field.
23 Devin Hester (KR)5-11190sixth
One of the best returners ever to play the game, Seahawks need to make sure they don’t let him control field position.
24 Marion Barber (RB)5-1218seventh
He needs to atone for two mistakes that cost his team the game against Denver last week.
55 Lance Briggs (LB)6-1244ninth
One of the most complete linebackers in the league, and still playing well at 31 years old.
Eric D. Williams, staff writer