So...I'm working on my laptop (I resuscitated it but had to use the boot disk and wipe the HD) and it has this old, crappy version of Word on it. That program decided to "encounter errors" a minute ago and ate my Matchupalooza post for today. It's alright, I didn't need those three hours. It's so late in the day I don't see a good reason to reconstruct what I had written in full, so here it is, the briefest, (hopefully) pithiest Matchupalooza in the history of man.
Here are three assumptions and three facts I base this matchup off of:
- The Hawks will force the Bears into 3rd and long.
Witness: Bears rushing attack (32). Seahawks front 7 rush D (9).
- The Hawks will pressure Rex Grossman.
W: Bears pass pro (17). Seahawks pass rush (5).
- The Bears will send their tight ends deep.
The Bears have played only two games in which their tight ends have not had a reception of 20 or more yards.
- The Bears have two of the best tight ends in football.
12/9 DPAR and 12/8 DVOA, for Clark and Olsen respectively.
The Seahawks are terrible at defending against tight ends.
- Brian Russell's number one job is to prevent deep receptions.
Okay, simple enough? From that we can construct what should be a common scenario on Sunday, third, long, Bears' ball.
If Grossman passes it underneath, then we have Clark versus Jordan Babineaux. Babs has seen more action in the past couple weeks presumably in an attempt to shore up Seattle's third down defense. The results have been one part disastrous and one part irrelevant. Against the Browns, Babs blew coverage like a secondary fluffer. Against the Niners the Hawks pass rush and Alex Smith's incompetence essentially gave Babs the day off.
After drafting Olsen and partially in response to the Bears' protection woes, Clark has become that ever rarer phenotype: a tight end that plays the tight end position. Clark lines up off tackle, is frequently asked to block, chip or work as an outlet receiver underneath. Clark is a crafty old dude, no longer sensationally fast, but savvy and with good hands. Babs' main tool is the hard tackle. He forces incompletions not through tight coverage, nor does he deter passing his direction with the quickness to jump roues, but by intimidating receivers with jarring blows. Clark hasn't fumbled in three years. Plus, as mentioned, he has good hands. Last season Babs forced a fumble by Jason Witten, another player renowned for his ball protection skills. Still, this matchup belongs to the Bears.
If Grossman passes mid-deep, then we have Olsen against Deon Grant. Olsen has had a nifty season, producing more value in 7 games than Vernon Davis has in his career. Olsen is a new-breed tight end, fast, agile, frequently split wide - essentially an oversized receiver.
The best, the truly best strong safeties can do it all. From stuffing the box, to eradicating the big play, to manning up against the opposing tight end. Grant isn't much in run support, and he doesn't play much man coverage, but his skills in the deep zone are exceptional (making one wonder what exactly Brian Russell does). He tracks the ball in flight and punishes quarterbacks who toss up lazy flies. Against Olsen he must accomplish three things: get a body on him when he enters Grant's zone, not allow Olsen to use his size and physical dominance to win position on passes and break on misthrown balls potentially grabbing the interception. The Hawks paid big to get Grant and this should be a matchup he wins. I would never usually say this, but if Grant doesn't record an interception I'll be mildly disappointed.
Finally, if Grossman passes deep, then we have Bernard Berrian against Brian Russell. Now, firstly, Tru should be around, so Russell is not being asked to do much. But the Bears will desperately attempt to get Berrian away from Tru, and since the Hawks generally keep their corners on their respective sides no matter the matchup, that should include lining Berrian up on the left against Jennings, sending him in motion to the left and working him out of the slot. Eventually, Berrian will get uncovered deep.
That's when we can finally figure out if Brian Russell is doing a goddamned thing for this team. Last season Berrian whipped the Hawks' coverage to the tune of 213 yards on just 8 receptions. This season he's refined his possession skills. In fact, Berrian has quietly become one of the better young receivers in football. That doesn't show up in his DPAR, but when you are your team's only wide receiver threat, your stats suffer. Ask Lee Evans. Russell's job, presumably, is to prevent the home run, the big play, the reception of 20 or more yards that dramatically shifts a drive. Berrian ripped off 5 such receptions in the Bears/Hawks two meetings last season, including a pair that went for a score. I can't say with confidence that Russell will prevent such receptions, only that if he can mostly shut down Berrian, perhaps, perhaps, even grab a pick, I'll get off his back for the time being. However, if after providing nothing in run support, and employing a style so conservative as to be, seemingly, broken by design - if he can't prevent Berrian from getting free deep, oh, hoo-boy, Russell can expect a wrath like Alexander could only dream.