Five things to watch: Bears-Seahawks
1. How Jay Cutler handles pressure
Jay Cutler’s not a ticking time bomb. His head won’t explode upon first contact. But it’ll be interesting to see how Cutler returns from the nine-sack beating and concussion administered by the Giants. Cutler and Bears coach Lovie Smith both say the quarterback won’t change his style moving forward. But that could change once the pressure mounts. With Cutler having missed a week of live action, it won’t be a surprise to see the quarterback’s timing and reaction somewhat off early on in the contest. It’s also worth watching whether Cutler continues to live up to the criticism that he holds onto the ball too long.
2. Chris Williams’ impact on the ground game
With Williams set to take over at left guard in place of injured starter Roberto Garza, the expectation is the Bears will improve on inside runs. Whether Williams lives up to that bears watching -- considering he began the season as the starter at left tackle, which is the highest-paid position along the offensive line. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said Williams is a better run-blocker than pass-protector at this point in his career. We’ll see whether that’s the case Sunday against the Seahawks. Coming out of college, scouts said the tackle lacked aggression, and the agility to consistently make it to the second level as a run-blocker. Concentration lapses were also an issue for Williams coming out of college, and those woes could surface against the Seahawks with him playing a new position.
3. Mike Martz’s play calling
Coming off a 218-yard rushing performance in a victory over the Panthers, the Bears proved adept at grinding it out on the ground. But Seattle enters the contest with the second-worst pass defense in the league, allowing an average of 302 yards. Knowing that, it’s almost a given Martz will call for a Bears aerial strike. But there’s question as to whether that’s the best course of action with Cutler coming off a concussion. Martz bucked his own pass-first philosophy with Cutler out of the lineup last week, and the move paid dividends. It’ll be interesting to see whether Martz can resist the temptation to exploit Seattle’s struggling pass defense in favor of his quarterback’s long-term health.
Four top-10 returners on punts and kickoffs clash in this outing, and Smith says the matchup “should be a treat for the fans.” Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington ranks No. 1 in the NFL, with a 40.4-yard average and Danieal Manning sits at 10th averaging 29.8 yards per return. On punt returns, Devin Hester and Seattle’s Golden Tate currently rank No. 1 and 2, and the duo has returned a combined five punts for 20 yards or more. The winner of this third-phase matchup could determine the outcome of the game. So the coverage units of both teams should play huge roles. Corey Graham, the Bears’ leading tackler on special teams (11 special-teams stops) needs to have a big game.
5. Whether Israel Idonije can duplicate last week’s performance
Coming off the best game of his career -- a three-sack outing at Carolina last week -- Idonije needs to replicate that production against Seattle, and he should get plenty of opportunities to do so with the Seahawks expected to devote much of their pass-blocking schemes toward neutralizing Julius Peppers. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said he didn’t do anything special to coax more production last week out of Idonije other than to say, “Get there.” Marinelli added, “If you’ve got a single [blocker], you have to [win]. That’s part of our responsibility in this defense.” Idonije proved efficient last week at handling said responsibility, but how he fares this week could foreshadow what the team can expect in the future.