Bears and Hawks: Questioning the blitz

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
1:00
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We're winding down our divisional round playoff coverage, and later Friday I'll post a "Final Word" on each of our NFC North games scheduled this weekend. First, however, I want to take a look at a topic that deserves a bit more of an extended discussion.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks applied plenty of pressure to Jay Cutler in Seattle's first meeting with Chicago this season.
I'm fascinated to see how the Seattle Seahawks will defend the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Will they take dramatic steps to pressure quarterback Jay Cutler, as they did in a Week 6 victory at Soldier Field? Or will they play back in coverage, as they have in their last two games, both of which have carried win-or-else implications?

There is no obvious answer here. In the teams' first meeting, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Seahawks sent at least five pass-rushers more often than they did against all but one other opponent this season (55.3 percent). They sacked Cutler six times, including five times when a defensive back was part of the blitz package.

But in consecutive victories over the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks pulled way back, sending four or fewer rushers on about 90 percent of dropbacks. Obviously, that strategy contributed to a pair of victories.

The circumstances will be a bit different on Sunday. First, the Seahawks won't be playing at Qwest Field -- which provides its own unique contribution to rattling opposing quarterbacks. Second, the Seahawks assuredly know that Cutler has been known to force the ball -- often on plays where he has plenty of time to throw.

In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, 15.5 percent of Cutler's passes this season were either intercepted or defensed this season. That figure was the highest among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts, and it tells us one of two things. Either Cutler's receivers weren't getting much separation from defenders, or he threw it into traffic at a relatively high rate.

Perhaps both explanations fit. Regardless, the Seahawks face an interesting inner-football decision. What would you do?

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