Answering Bears-Seahawks Questions from Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago

Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago sent over some Bears-related Seahawks questions. I always like to give the Field Gulls readers the jump on this stuff, so here's the skinny before its posted there.

1. Do Seahawks fans believe the team can still win if Matt Hasselbeck doesn't play?

Of course. Seneca Wallace may never be a starting quarterback, but he is a very good backup. Mike Holmgren attempted to mold Wallace into a pocket passer, and though he's not, the training has done him good. He is more comfortable in the pocket and has developed some ability to read the defense. Wallace does not excel at that, and he has nagging tendencies to drop too deep during his backpedal, stare down receivers and make bad decisions. Knapp has shown a greater willingness to adapt scheme to talent. Wallace is more mobile and has a better deep pass than Hasselbeck. Knapp will work in more designed roll outs and play-action bombs. He even ran a read-option with Seneca in the preseason. Wallace isn't a long term answer, but Knapp should be able to squeeze enough out of him to win one game.

1a. What has been the general reaction to the news that Seneca Wallace will probably get the start?

Most of us were happy to hear Matt Hasselbeck was even an option after being taken from the stadium to the hospital. Many fans want Hasselbeck to start if at all possible. There's always that pocket of fans aligned with the backup quarterback, and predictably they think Wallace will Wally Pipp Hasselbeck. Overall, we want Hasselbeck as healthy as possible, but the best man to play this Sunday.

2. For Bears fans who haven't been out to Qwest Field, what is the best way to describe the atmosphere out there?
2a. Is it really as loud as everyone says it is?

It's very loud and it factors. The twelfth man forces false starts, time-outs taken and delay of game penalties. Qwest is more raucous than Seattle. The people there are true football fans: Rowdy, partisan and passionate. I would describe it as a good football atmosphere that defies laid back image of the Northwest. To put it another way, wear your Bears colors and expect to catch flack.

3. With the absence of the Sonics, are the Seahawks the most popular team in the city? Were they always?

I think Seattle is still more of a baseball town. The Sonics had a loyal following, but the general fan base withered with the team. The Seahawks success has attracted new fans and their run in 2005 certainly got Blue in the blood of some, but we're still about five years from that impact being fully realized. I, like a lot of Seattle fans, grew up when the Mariners had Junior, Gar, the Big Unit, ARod, Bone, and during the Refuse to Lose campaign, and that solidifies you with a team. The kids that grew up with Walt, Hutch, Alexander, Hasselbeck, Jur, Strong, Tatupu, Hill and Brownie are not old enough to be very influential. Next decade, if they can get back on track, I think Seattle becomes a Seahawks town. Right now, I would call it a Mariners, Huskies and Seahawks town, roughly in that order.

4. What should Bears fans fear most about the Seahawks?

The passing game. Deion Branch is set to return this week, and that makes Seattle a very deep passing offense even without a superstar receiver. Seattle was able to create something similar in 2007, when it had Branch, Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and D.J. Hackett. Hackett wasn't a star by any stretch, but Seattle created favorable matchups by spreading the field and targeting the weakest defensive back. Hackett caught nine receptions for 136 yards and schooled Pierson Prioleau. The Seahawks are much more talented and deep this season, replacing Marcus Pollard with young world beater John Carlson, Engram with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Hackett with burner Deon Butler. Housh regularly plays out of the slot and that creates mismatches. When teams adjust by putting their top corner in as a nickelback or by double covering Houshmandzadeh, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp doesn't hesitate to challenge deep on the outside. Chicago is sketchy in the secondary and their safeties are especially inexperienced, so if I were a Bears fan, I would fear the Seahawks ability to spread the field and create mismatches with their wide receivers.

4a. From what you've seen so far, what has been the Seahawks biggest weakness this season?

Staying healthy? Apart from that, the Seahawks have been sloppy. The changes made by Jim Mora and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are not radical, but confusion has caused coverage break downs and blown assignments. Likewise, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is still nominally running a West Coast offense, but it's notably different from Holmgren's. Shotgun is a regular quarterback alignment. The run game has been emphasized, and concomitantly, play action. That run game is built off a zone blocking scheme that stretches defenses and attempts to create cutback lanes. Seattle has struggled breaking open holes and stopping backside pursuit. The pass game and particularly, the play-action game is more geared to deep passes, and Hasselbeck has struggled to make his deep throws. His arm was never strong, and it has weakened with age. He puts too much loft under the ball and rarely takes advantage of single-cover on the outside.

5. After what Frank Gore did, are the fans even more worried about Matt Forte? Or do they think Jim Mora has everything under control?

I haven't heard or read any specific dread regarding Forte, but fans are understandably a bit worried about the Seahawks rush defense. Losing Lofa Tatupu hurt, but he could return and his backup, David Hawthorne, is reasonably skilled. The greater concern is the status of Brandon Mebane. Mebane injured his calf during practice last week. He missed the first game of his career due to injury last Sunday. Mebane is the rare defensive tackle that can withstand, even overpower a double team. He is also a good pass rusher. Seattle signed Colin Cole to play over tackle in Bradley's Tampa 2 inspired system, but Cole is toast against double teams. Red Bryant is a big, powerful--country strong--tackle with loads of upside, but he vacates assignments. He's not yet dependable. Gore broke both of his long runs up the middle, and San Francisco was bullying the Mebane-less Seahawks interior all game. If Mebane is back, I expect the Seahawks rush defense to be competent or better.

5a. Do fans in the Pacific Northwest like Mora or do they miss Holmgren more?

Hard to say. Fans are loyal and Holmgren brought this team to the Super Bowl. Mora is still feeling his way out, and he carries a certain guilt by association with Michael Vick. It's too early to know for sure, of course. If Seattle begins to win again, the fans will love whoever is responsible for it, be it Mora or Bill Cowher. After week one, everyone was excited for the more modern and creative play-calling and what looked like a young and dominant defense. Now, there's indecision.

6. What is your prediction for Sunday's game?

I got out of the prediction game. Football is a contrapasso built to make the confident look foolish and the foolish look brilliant. If Seattle can get an early lead, I think it has enough pass rush fire power to stifle the Bears offense. If the Seahawks line, with or without Walter Jones, can't withstand the Bears pass rush, I think Seattle bleeds turnovers and the Bears win a laugher.
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