With both teams coming off disappointing Week 1 losses, the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears will both be aiming to avoid 0-2 starts when they battle on Monday Night Football.
The Seahawks dropped a tightly-contested 27-24 season opener to the Broncos, falling just short after a controversial five-yard touchdown reception by receiver Demaryius Thomas. As for quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the Bears, they squandered a 20-point lead by surrendering 21 fourth quarter points to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, losing a 24-23 heartbreaker in head coach Matt Nagy’s debut at Lambeau Field.
In their first game without Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, and a host of other departed stars, the Seahawks retooled defense struggled to find consistency, giving up nearly 500 yards of total offense. Safeties Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald combined to pick off Broncos quarterback Case Keenum three times, but the inability to generate any pressure on Keenum allowed for him to still throw for 329 yards and three touchdowns.
Seattle also couldn’t get timely stops against the run when they needed to throughout the game, surrendering 142 combined rushing yards to rookie running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay. Squaring off against a Bears team with a talented backfield featuring the complementary tandem of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, coach Pete Carroll knows his defensive line will need a better effort this week to beat a young team trending upward in the rugged NFC North.
“Whenever we give up as many yards as we did by the end of the game on the ground, it’s not good enough for us. We don’t expect that to happen.” Carroll said.
Holding Howard and Cohen at bay will be one of Seattle’s biggest priorities playing in prime time at Soldier Field, but the Seahawks will also have to be more efficient running the football with their own backs, as Carroll views establishing the run as “absolutely paramount” to the Seahawks’ offensive success.
“It’s huge for us…” Carroll said about the impact of running the ball on Seattle's offense. “It also helps the pass game and pass protection.”
As the underlying theme of all of team’s offseason plans, the Seahawks sought to rejuvenate a rushing attack that had become one of the NFL’s worst over the past two seasons, including finishing 23rd last year. Little changed in the season opener, however, as Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny only had 14 combined carries for 59 yards as Seattle’s inability to convert on third down prevented sustained offensive drives.
Lamenting Seattle’s third down ineptitude, Carroll said the Seahawks simply didn’t run enough and added: “The reason was we didn’t convert on third down. It’s just football. Two of twelve [on third down] and that leaves you where you don’t get your next series, you don’t convert and we really missed.”
Along with the run game failing to find traction, the Seahawks chronic pass protection difficulties came to the forefront once again, as linebacker Von Miller and the Broncos sacked Wilson six times. As Carroll noted, game-planning protection schemes to help right tackle Germain Ifedi and the rest of the offensive line will be critical against a much-improved Bears defense featuring rookie linebacker Roquan Smith and “incredible ball player” Khalil Mack.
“There are things that you can do. There’s a number of ways. You can help with different players on the tackles, you can move the line [in] that direction, you can get the ball out real quick…” Carroll elaborated. “Even when you can do it, even the really good guys they find their way. It’s the challenge. We’ll be challenged again this week with Khalil [Mack].”
Minus injured star receiver Doug Baldwin, Wilson will have to lean on former Bears standout Brandon Marshall and Tyler Lockett as his top two targets, while rookie tight end Will Dissly will look to build off his historic 105-yard performance in his NFL debut. With Wilson’s security blanket sidelined, the 34-year old Marshall has turned back the clock, emerged as Wilson’s go-to receiver against the Broncos, and should be an even bigger factor moving forward.
Already developing quite the rapport with Wilson after catching three passes and a 20-yard touchdown in Week 1, Marshall joked “I just want him to sleep a little bit more. We’re working on that.”
While Wilson has been known for his tireless work ethic and preparation, the presence of Mack chasing him down off the edge may be the reason he’s having trouble getting sleep this week. Carroll gushed about the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year’s skill set and ability to function as a one-man wrecking crew against NFL offenses.
“To be as good as he is, to be the player of the year in the league, you have to have all the attributes and he has them. Speed, strength, explosion, savvy, motor – he has all that stuff.” Carroll respectfully stated. “He’s just getting in shape too, so he’s going to get better.”
After recording a sack, interception, and forced fumble in his Bears debut a week ago, it’s a scary proposition he could be even better this week against a maligned Seahawks offensive line. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will have to dial up a bunch of quick passes and scheme for extra protection to take pressure off Ifedi dealing with yet another vaunted pass rusher.
As was the case against Denver, how Seattle fares in this attempt to keep Wilson clean will be vital to the team’s chances at winning in an unfriendly road environment.
WR Tyler Lockett: Since the Seahawks could be without their top receiver Doug Baldwin for several weeks due to an MCL tear suffered in the season opener, Lockett will now become Russell Wilson’s most trusted target and needs to step up his production after receiving a three-year extension in August. Fully recovered from a compound fracture that managed to hinder him throughout the 2017 season, his elite speed has returned after a strong offseason and he took the top off of Denver’s defense with a 51-yard touchdown reception. Look for Wilson to try to connect with “Rocket” Lockett often against Chicago, as Seattle may take a few shots downfield his direction early. He also could be a major factor on special teams, as new kickoff rules have seemed to benefit returners thus far.
--WR David Moore, a second-year player out of East Central University, should become a focal point in Seattle’s passing game with Baldwin out indefinitely with a Grade 2 MCL tear. He caught six passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in exhibition play.
-- RG D.J. Fluker continues to be monitored on a day-to-day basis after sitting out last week with a hamstring injury. If he’s unable to play against the Bears, the Seahawks will roll with seasoned veteran J.R. Sweezy to fill the void for a second straight week.
--LB K.J. Wright, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago, will likely miss a second straight game. Carroll did say the Seahawks would "wait and see" on his status for Monday, but Thursday's signing of veteran LB Mychal Kendricks indicates he won't be ready to return just yet.
--LB Bobby Wagner popped up on Seattle's injury report after sitting out Thursday's practice with a new groin issue. Already likely without Wright for Week 2, losing Wagner would be a devastating blow to the Seahawks young defense.
--DE Frank Clark dislocated his elbow during the preseason and still isn’t 100 percent, as he wore a brace during last week’s game and has been battling soreness. Along with Jordan seeing increased play time, he should see his typical workload against the Bears.
--FS Earl Thomas played more snaps than the Seahawks originally planned after only practicing a few times in his return from a contract holdout, but he still sat for a couple of series. With another week of practice under his belt and altitude no longer a concern, he should be ready to play full-time for Seattle’s defense versus Chicago.
--The Seahawks only ran the ball 16 times against the Broncos, as the team wasn't able to convert third downs and extend drives throughout the game. Head coach Pete Carroll felt starting RB Chris Carson looked "really good" with limited reps, but he wasn't near as complimentary for rookie Rashaad Penny.
"Rashaad looked a little rusty to me and when I visited with him about it. I think he's only really had one good week of practice coming back and it wasn't enough." Carroll said in regard to Penny, who had eight carries for nine yards on Sunday. "He needs more work. He wasn't as responsive as he's been earlier on before he had to sit out a while."
Carroll remains encouraged the first-round pick out of San Diego State will work hard to turn things around and the Seahawks will be looking for ways to get him on the field. Seattle will continue alternating both backs against Chicago, but Carson "took the lead" after the game and should see the bulk of the snaps until Penny proves he deserves more playing time.
--According to NFL Matchup on ESPN, the Seahawks finished dead-last in the league for pressure percentage, applying heat to the opposing quarterback on only 12.5 percent of their defensive snaps in Week 1.
“We got stuck on the line of scrimmage on the play passes. That was really the part that I was really disappointed in, that we didn’t respond better to get into our pass rush mode." Carroll stated. "That just happened so that’s one phase of it and we would have liked to have gotten off on the edge a little bit better than we did so it’s stuff that we’ve got to keep working on.”
Carroll understands his team must improve rushing the quarterback to win football games, but the Seahawks will benefit from DE Dion Jordan seeing more field time this week. Jordan missed all of training camp and the preseason after undergoing knee surgery and dealing with a shin injury, but “he came out of the game really well” in Denver and will be able to play more extensive snaps against the Bears.
--Searching for receiving help with Doug Baldwin sidelined indefinitely, Carroll revealed the Seahawks coaching staff has "been talking about" using RB C.J. Prosise as a receiver. Prior to transitioning full-time to running back, he played receiver for Notre Dame for a couple of seasons and he's a natural pass catcher. In a pinch, he could line up in the slot or play on the outside if Seattle needed a few snaps from him in that capacity.
The Seahawks also promoted WR Keenan Reynolds from the practice squad, as the ex-Navy quarterback played extensive snaps in the slot during the preseason. In four preseason games, he caught four passes for 35 yards and contributed on special teams.
“We really felt like we could count on him. He was very dependable and a really bright, really smart player that did things right. Russ [Wilson] really could rely on him." Carroll said of Reynolds. "He took a lot of Doug's snaps during preseason and in practice and all that, and he showed us that he’s a guy that you can really count on."