In a contest with plenty at stake as each team looks to avoid 0-2 starts, the Seattle Seahawks will face off with the Chicago Bears for the first time since the 2015 season.
The Seahawks underwent dramatic changes this offseason, but the Bears weren't far behind in terms of coaching and personnel changes. The winds of change were far more exciting in Chicago, however, as the franchise hired innovative young coach Matt Nagy as a replacement for John Fox, upgraded the receiving corps by signing free agents Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, and bolstered the defense by adding 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and drafting stud linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round.
With the Bears trending upward in a competitive NFC North under the leadership of Nagy, who holds the advantage in this important Week 2 Monday night matchup? Here's a look at the series history, matchups to watch, and a game plan for Seahawks victory.
--16th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead all-time series, 11-6. Before Seattle relocated to the NFC in 2002, the Bears and Seahawks only met seven times between 1976 and 1999, with the Seahawks winning five of those contests. Since joining the NFC West, the Seahawks have defeated the Bears in six of eight regular season games and dropped both postseason matchups, including a 27-24 loss in the NFC Divisional Round in 2007. The Seahawks have won the last three matchups between the two franchises, most recently shutting out the Bears 26-0 in 2015.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Seahawks RT Germain Ifedi vs. Bears LB Khalil Mack: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll felt Ifedi did some good things last week against the Broncos despite surrendering multiple sacks to star linebacker Von Miller. Life won’t get any easier for the embattled former first-round pick facing off against a recently-paid and highly-motivated Mack, who put together a dominant first game with the Bears. Instantly shining for his new team, the 6-foot-3, 247-pound linebacker recorded a sack, returned an interception for a touchdown, and forced a fumble versus the Packers. As the Seahawks did last week against Miller, the coaching staff will need to find ways to provide Ifedi help deploying tight ends and running backs in an attempt to slow Mack down and protect quarterback Russell Wilson.
--Seahawks FS Earl Thomas vs. Bears QB Mitch Trubisky: Returning from a six-week holdout mere days before the season opener, Thomas promptly made an impact for the Seahawks, baiting veteran QB Case Keenum into a bad interception on Denver’s second drive. Seattle immediately scored on the ensuing play with Wilson hitting TE Will Dissly for a 15-yard touchdown. Entering his first full season as a starter, Trubisky completed 23 of 35 passes against the Packers but averaged less than five yards per pass attempt. As he did a week ago, Thomas will try to use his football acumen and instincts to his advantage against the inexperienced quarterback and see if he can coax him into a turnover or two from his center field position.
--Bears RB Jordan Howard and RB Tarik Cohen vs. Seahawks front seven: Chicago has one of the best backfield duos in football, rotating the powerful Howard and electric Cohen as featured offensive weapons. Howard will receive the bulk of the carries, as he rushed 15 times for 82 yards in the season-opening loss to Green Bay. Cohen rushed five times for 25 yards as a change-of-pace back, but he's most dangerous catching the football out of the backfield. As a rookie, he caught 53 passes for 353 yards and a touchdown, but the diminutive back has far more upside in Nagy's offense. The Seahawks surrendered nearly 150 yards rushing to rookies Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman last week in Denver and the defensive line will need to play much better against a superior Bears running back group. As for the linebackers, Bobby Wagner and Shaquem Griffin better be ready for heavy doses of passes to Howard and Cohen on Monday.
Heading into another challenging road game against a game-wrecking pass rusher, the Seahawks main offensive focus against the Bears will be improving production on first and second down.
In the season opener last week in Denver, Seattle faced third-and-long situations far too frequently due to poor execution in the run game, incomplete passes by Wilson, and pass protection breakdowns that left the franchise quarterback vulnerable. As a result, the team only converted two of 12 third down opportunities and couldn’t sustain drives. Unable to move the chains, coach Pete Carroll indicated the dismal performance on third down changed “the complexion of everything about the game and the play-calling,” forcing the Seahawks to abandon the run game.
To slow down Khalil Mack and a nasty Bears pass rush, Carroll’s team will have to run the ball more effectively and limit third-and-long scenarios to avoid falling behind the sticks. Running back Chris Carson will need far more than seven carries in Chicago, as Seattle should plan on getting him at least 15 touches on Monday night with rookie Rashaad Penny receiving a handful of carries as well. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will also have to focus on avoiding situations where Ifedi ends up on an island against Mack and scheme extra blocking help on a play-by-play basis.
In the passing game, Wilson will be looking to receivers Brandon Marshall and Tyler Lockett to pick up the slack with Doug Baldwin sidelined due to an MCL injury. Baldwin has been Wilson's security blanket on third down for a long, long time and Marshall will likely assume the role of "chain mover" while he's out due to his 6-foot-4 frame and strong hands at the point of attack. Preseason sensation David Moore could be another receiver to keep a close eye on, as he has the after-the-catch ability to do damage in a quick passing game.
Despite picking off quarterback Case Keenum three times last Sunday, Seattle yielded 470 yards of offense to Denver in Week 1, struggling to stop both the run and the pass. Sloppy tackling and broken assignments contributed to these issues, including a botched coverage assignment in which Griffin failed to cover Lindsay as a receiver in the flats. Carroll stressed the importance of cleaning up these easily fixable errors during practice and film study before traveling to Chicago.
Heading into this week's game, the Bears have two great running backs possessing contrasting styles in Howard and Cohen, so Clint Hurtt’s front four will need to be stouter at the point of attack after giving up nearly five yards per carry to the Broncos and failing to stop the run when they needed to at the end of regulation. Shutting down Chicago's dynamic duo should be the first priority this week, as Seattle should force Trubisky to beat them with his arm after struggling with 171 passing yards and no touchdowns against Green Bay.
The return of Earl Thomas suddenly makes Seattle’s secondary a potential strength again, but against an upstart Bears squad, the pass rush will have to show up after going M.I.A. in the season opener for the Seahawks to have any shot of winning at Soldier Field. Last week, the defensive line struggled to create any pressure on Keenum, hurrying him only five times during the entire game and sacking him only one time. If Trubisky stays comfortable in the pocket and the combination of Frank Clark and Dion Jordan can't disrupt his rhythm, the 2017 first-round pick from North Carolina will surely carve up Seattle's secondary in similar fashion.