If you're like me, you didn't sleep very well last night. Today's game is not about validating the 2010 season. It's about beating the Chicago Bears. It's about taking one more big step towards making and winning the Super Bowl. It's about hosting the NFC Championship Game. I feel optimistic, maybe more than I should. It's a hell of a thing to feel optimistic in large part because you do not respect your opponent, and maybe that will bite me in the ass. Maybe the Bears are the better team. Maybe the Bears are about to crush the Seahawks.
All this went through my head two weeks ago leading up to Saints-Seahawks. It reverberated after the Seahawks fell behind by ten points not once but twice. It felt for a little while like not only was I about to watch the Seahawks get blown out, but that I was foolish for thinking anything else was possible. Yet here I am thinking it all over again.
Whether the Bears are beatable or not, the Seahawks must be a good team to win today. The Seahawks must be able to build on something they have shown in the past two games. They smothered and shutdown the Rams anemic offense. They exploded for 415 yards and 41 points against the Saints. In both games, Seattle was able to run the ball. In both games, Seattle flashed an adequate run defense.
We are sure to hear that the Bears are more committed to running the ball. I am still struggling to believe that. In yesterday's game thread, bdf128 mentioned that Football Outsiders stated that the Bears had run on 35% of first half attempts before the bye and 44% of first half attempts after the bye. That sounds meaningful, but consider that we're working from 414 total rushing attempts, that we are then removing the entire second half and thus likely half or more of all rushing attempts, and then splitting the season between pre-bye (seven games) and post-bye (nine games). We are left with two buckets containing about 100 rush attempts apiece. The difference between 35% and 44% could be nine attempts. It could easily be fewer, if more than half of Chicago's rushes were attempted in the second half. So let's not throw what we know about Mike Martz out the window on account of some miracle transformation. Maybe the Bears will rush the ball. Maybe a few early stuffs, or incomplete passes, or a strong Northwesterly wind inspires Martz into his whacky ways and the Bears go passing nuts.
Chicago's commitment to running the football falls into a larger argument that the Bears have transformed since their week six loss to Seattle. I believe that even less. Chicago is still as dependent on Julius Peppers as it was then, and if Russell Okung can stonewall Peppers, it will take a significant bite out of the Bears defense. The Bears still win through defense and special teams, and if the Seahawks can establish a lead like they did in week six, the Bears still have one of the worst offenses in football. That means comeback attempts can boomerang. The Bears still start two of the worst offensive tackles in the NFL, and the Seahawks specialize in edge rush. Seattle may not be a better team, and Seattle is not overall a better team, but the Bears present winnable matchups at critical positions.
Seattle needs to protect Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck needs to be able to negotiate tighter coverage after feasting on the Saints blitzes. The Seahawks must be prudent with their blitzes and not overmatch their corners. Marcus Trufant needs be a lot better against Johnny Knox than he was in week six. The Seahawks need to play from ahead and not attempt a comeback against one the league's best defenses. The run and pass need to work right away, through the first fifteen plays, and help Seattle get on the board early. The Seahawks need to do whatever it takes to push Martz towards his preferred game plan, be it stop the run early on, build an early lead, force unfavorable down and distance or just hold on and wait. And if and when Martz does unleash the pig, Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock must dominate Frank Omiyale and J'Marcus Webb, Gus and Pete and Dan must deploy creative blitz packages from Bandit, and Earl Thomas must be there to double patterns down the sidelines and defend the deep middle.
It's not as easy as being better. The Seahawks are underdogs for a reason. It is as easy as being better -- better coached, better schemed, better today -- in the matchups the Seahawks need to be better. Not everyday, but today. Not on paper, but on the playing field. Not in the Sunday edition, but in the Monday edition. The Seahawks are not a better team than the Bears, but if the Seahawks can be the better team today, this bunch of rejects, late bloomers, long shots, cast offs and has-beens will be hosting the NFC Championship Game.