NFL

Special interests; Keep your eyes on the return games if you want to see today's 'showdown'

FOX Sports Mark Potash, The Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Sun Times
Share This Story

   
 

Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers will be the focus -- as they should be -- when the Bears play the Seahawks today at Soldier Field.

We'll all be watching with breathless anticipation to see how Cutler responds to each big hit after missing the game last Sunday at Carolina with a concussion: Will he get up? Will he stay in the game? Will he know what day it is?

And Peppers already is more fun to watch on every down than any Bears defender since Brian Urlacher was in his prime in 2004-06.

But if there's a ''showdown'' in this game between the 4-1 Bears and the 2-2 Seahawks, it's on special teams, where Dave Toub's Bears will face the most lethal kick-return game in the NFL this season. Leon Washington vs. Josh Bullocks. Golden Tate vs. Corey Graham. Danieal Manning vs. Matt McCoy. Devin Hester vs. Devin Hester.

The biggest challenge might be on kickoffs, especially if special-teamer Brian Iwuh is called upon to replace injured starter Lance Briggs at weak-side linebacker.

WASHINGTON BEST IN NFL

Washington, acquired by the Seahawks from the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick, is averaging 40.4 yards per kickoff return, which leads the NFL. He had kickoff returns of 101 and 99 yards for touchdowns against the Chargers.

And it's not like they're flukes, either. Washington is averaging 25.5 yards per return on his other eight returns.

The Bears, on the other hand, haven't allowed a touchdown on a deep kickoff in Toub's seven seasons as special-teams coordinator. The last one was a 96-yard return by the Lions' Reggie Swinton in 2003.

(The Lions' Casey Fitzsimmons returned a Bears kickoff 41 yards for a touchdown in 2007, but that came on a desperation onside kick in the final minute of a 37-27 loss.)

Bears punt coverage could be interesting, too. Seahawks rookie Golden Tate, the former Notre Dame receiver, is second in the NFL in punt returns (18.0 average, minimum eight), including a 63-yarder. The Bears already have been victimized by a rookie on punt returns -- the Cowboys' Dez Bryant took one back 62 yards for a score in Week 2.

But most of all, I'm looking to see how well-prepared Toub's units are for such an obvious challenge. By most accounts, Toub is a head coach-in-the-making. He learned under John Harbaugh, the current Ravens head coach who was Toub's boss as special-teams coordinator with the Eagles.

And I'm not going to argue with the notion that Toub is the best coach on the Bears right now. His units are not flawless, but they seem to have fewer problems that affect the Bears as a team.

YOU CAN'T HAVE ENOUGH ACES

Toub and assistant Chris Tabor seem to adapt and adjust to adversity better, for one thing. Every time he loses an ''ace,'' such as Pro Bowler Brendon Ayanbadejo, another one appears. Tim Shaw wasn't even signed until Week 2 last season and ended up setting a team record with 30 special-teams tackles.

Shaw was a candidate for the Pro Bowl this season, but not here. The Bears cut him in favor of Iwuh, a better fit as a linebacker for the Bears' defense. No matter. Graham has stepped up with 11 special-teams tackles, and he's on pace to break Shaw's mark with 35.

''He puts good schemes together and lets us play off each other and lets us kind of feel the game and use our instincts,'' said Iwuh, who played special teams for four seasons at Jacksonville before coming to the Bears. ''He's very detailed in what we do, and everyone has to do their job.

''He just gets everybody to play hard.''

When Hester lost his kick-return mojo when the Bears made him a full-time receiver, Manning, Knox and Earl Bennett have returned kicks for touchdowns.

And Toub seems to make the most of what he's got. Garrett Wolfe is a 5-7, 185-pound running back lacking breakaway speed that the Bears can't seem to find any use for on offense. But he's a key special-teamer, and not as a returner, but as a coverage guy. Wolfe led the team with 21 special-teams tackles in 2008. And he's second to Graham this season with seven.

And players seem to respond to Toub -- another good sign. When asked about his 62-yard kickoff return against the Panthers after the game last Sunday, Manning said he read his blocks and quickly added, ''Coach Tabor and coach Toub scheming up a great return. It all goes hand in hand.''

So while watching Cutler and Peppers today, you might want to keep an eye on special teams. It might provide an insight into how well-coached the Bears really are.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

Can Matt Forte back up his career-best rushing game last week (22 carries, 166 yards, 2 TDs) with another productive effort? With Jay Cutler expected to start, the bigger question is whether he'll even get the chance. Forte and Chester Taylor combined for 40 carries with Cutler out last Sunday -- nearly as many as they had in the previous three games (43). Bears rushed for 218 yards at Carolina, most in a game since 1990. The Panthers were 19th in the NFL against the run. The Seahawks are No. 2 (73 yards/game, 2.7 yards/

carry). They shut down Frank Gore (17-38). Offensive-line jumble could pay off if the Bears put the right guys in the right place.

KEY MATCHUP

Bears RT J'Marcus Webb vs Seahawks DE Chris Clemons

Webb was good enough by Bears standards in his first start. The 6-7, 328-pound rookie fits the mold of previous overlooked small-school players (West Texas A&M) the Bears have had success with. Clemons isn't the most dangerous DE Webb will see, but he had two sacks against the Rams.

IN THE AIR

The Bears insist they will not alter the game plan to account for the fact that Cutler is playing two weeks after suffering a concussion -- which is fine as long as they can keep Cutler on his feet. Cutler has been shaky since opening the season with big games against the Lions (372 yards, 108.3) and Cowboys (277 yards, 136.7). The Seahawks are 31st in the NFL in pass defense (301 yards per game). Kyle Orton threw for 307 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs (117.2 rating) against them. Philip Rivers threw for 455 yards against them. Even rookie Sam Bradford burned them for 289 yards. Seahawks also present opportunities for RBs to get involved in the passing game.

WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

The Seahawks are hoping Marshawn Lynch -- acquired in a trade with the Bills on Oct. 5 -- can provide a boost for their 29th-ranked run game (80 ypg). But Brian Urlacher wasn't fazed. ''Not a big deal,'' he said. ''It's the same running game. There's a different guy back there getting the ball. That's about it.'' The Bears' fourth-ranked run defense (79 ypg) isn't invulnerable -- DeAngelo Williams had a 23-yard gain and Jonathan Stewart a 24-yarder early last week, but Bears held Panthers to 21 yards on 20 carries after that. LB Brian Iwuh, who might start for Lance Briggs (ankle) is a disciplined gap defender who makes the plays he can make.

KEY MATCHUP

Bears DE Julius Peppers vs Seahawks LT Russell Okung

Even without a sack, Peppers was a destructive force against the Panthers with a batted pass, a pick, 6 tackles and 4 QB pressures. He has a chance for another big day against Okung, the sixth pick of the April draft who played in his first NFL game vs. the Rams on Oct. 3.

IN THE AIR

Without the run game he had in the Mike Holmgren/Shaun Alexander/Steve Hutchinson era, veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck is at a point where the more he's asked to do, the less effective he is. A big key is keeping him out of favorable conditions -- good field position, working with a lead, etc. Hasselbeck is completing 61.1 percent of his passes, but he's 29th in passer rating (70.7) with 4 TDs and 6 INTs. TE John Carlson leads the Seahawks in receiving (14-160, 1 TD), but with Deion Branch traded to New England, rookie Golden Tate and ex-Lion Mike Williams are his most dangerous weapons. RB Justin Forsett bears watching on third downs.

X-FACTOR

Since his days on mediocre teams at Vanderbilt, Cutler has been used to getting pounded. But his ability to take a hit will be the focus more today than ever in his first game since suffering a concussion against the Giants on Oct. 3, when he was sacked nine times in the first half. Cutler is not expected to hold anything back, which means he'll probably leave himself vulnerable to more big hits. If he doesn't last, look for Caleb Hanie to get the call as the No. 2.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The battle lines are drawn between Bears' solid coverage teams and Seahawks' explosive return teams. Leon Washington not only had KO returns of 101 and 99 yards against Chargers, he's averaging 25.5 yards on his other eight returns in 2010. Golden Tate, the rookie from Notre Dame, went 63 yards with his first NFL punt return. He also has returns for 31, 19 and 13 yards. Bears counter with Danieal Manning and Devin Hester, who had big returns against Panthers.

OFFENSE

Rush Pass Total

Bears 98.6 182.2 280.8

NFL rank 23rd 24th 27th

Rush Pass Total

Seahawks 79.5 197.8 277.2

NFL rank 29th 23rd 28th

DEFENSE

Rush Pass Total

Bears 78.6 216.6 295.2

NFL rank 3rd 17th 6th

Rush Pass Total

Seahawks 72.8 302.0 374.8

NFL rank 2nd 31st 26th

turnovers

take give +/-

Bears 14 12 +2

NFL rank 1st 27th 9th

take give +/-

Seahawks 8 9 -1

NFL rank T-15th T-16th T-16th

THE BEARS

Record: 4-1 Coach: Lovie Smith

Offensive starters

No. Player Pos. Inj.

6 Jay Cutler QB

13 Johnny Knox WR

22 Matt Forte RB

23 Devin Hester WR

57 Olin Kreutz C

60 Lance Louis RG

68 Frank Omiyale LT

78 Kevin Shaffer RT

82 Greg Olsen TE

88 Desmond Clark TE

defensive starters

33 Charles Tillman RCB P

35 Zackary Bowman LCB

38 Danieal Manning SS

46 Chris Harris FS

54 Brian Urlacher MLB

55 Lance Briggs WLB Q

59 Pisa Tinoisamoa SLB

71 Israel Idonije LDE

74 Chris Williams T

75 Matt Toeaina DT

90 Julius Peppers RDE

95 Anthony Adams NT

Special teams/reserves

4 Brad Maynard P

9 Robbie Gould K

10 Todd Collins QB

12 Caleb Hanie QB

19 Devin Aromashodu WR

20 Craig Steltz S

21 Corey Graham CB

25 Garrett Wolfe RB

26 Tim Jennings CB

27 Major Wright S OUT

29 Chester Taylor RB

30 D.J. Moore CB

31 Joshua Moore CB

32 Kahlil Bell RB

36 Josh Bullocks S

52 Brian Iwuh LB

53 Nick Roach LB

58 Rod Wilson LB

62 Johan Asiata G

63 Roberto Garza LG OUT

65 Patrick Mannelly LS

69 Henry Melton DE

73 J'Marcus Webb T

80 Earl Bennett WR

81 Rashied Davis WR

86 Brandon Manumaleuna TE

87 Kellen Davis TE

91 Tommie Harris DT

94 Charles Grant DE

98 Corey Wootton DE

99 Marcus Harrison DT

THE SEAHAWKS

Record: 2-2 Coach: Pete Carroll

Offensive starters

No. Player Pos. Inj.

8 Matt Hasselbeck QB

11 Deon Butler WR

17 Mike Williams WR

20 Justin Forsett RB

26 Michael Robinson FB

50 Ben Hamilton G

65 Chris Spencer C

75 Sean Locklear T

76 Russell Okung T

77 Stacy Andrews G

89 John Carlson TE

defensive starters

21 Kelly Jennings CB

23 Marcus Trufant CB P

29 Earl Thomas FS

36 Lawyer Milloy S

51 Lofa Tatupu LB

57 David Hawthorne LB

59 Aaron Curry LB

79 Red Bryant DT

90 Colin Cole DT

91 Chris Clemons DE

92 Brandon Mebane DT Q

Special teams/reserves

6 Charlie Whitehurst QB

9 Jon Ryan P

10 Olindo Mare K

15 Brandon Stokley WR

24 Marshawn Lynch RB

27 Jordan Babineaux SS

28 Walter Thurmond DB

30 Nate Ness DB

31 Kam Chancellor DB

33 Leon Washington RB

34 Roy Lewis CB

39 Kennard Cox DB

49 Clint Gresham LS

52 Matt McCoy LB

54 Will Herring LB

58 Dexter Davis DE P

64 Mike Gibson G

67 Allen Barbre T/G

68 Breno Giacomini T

69 Chester Pitts T Q

78 Tyler Polumbus T

81 Golden Tate WR

85 Anthony McCoy TE

86 Chris Baker TE

87 Benjamin Obomanu WR

88 Cameron Morrah TE

93 Craig Terrill DT

94 Junior Siavii DT

95 Kentwan Balmer DE

97 E.J. Wilson DE

98 Raheem Brock DE

Players on injury report in bold: P (probable), Q (questionable), D (doubtful)

LEADERS

Passing C-A Yds. TD-INT

Cutler 68-102 912 6-3

Rushing Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Forte 72 300 4.2 2

Ch. Taylor 37 109 2.9 0

Receiving Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Forte 18 231 12.8 3

G. Olsen 15 179 11.9 2

E. Bennett 13 80 6.2 0

Passing C-A Yds. TD-INT

Hasselbeck 77-126 814 4-6

Rushing Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Forsett 51 215 4.2 0

Hasselbeck 9 33 3.7 2

Receiving Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Carlson 14 160 11.4 1

Mi. Williams 11 138 12.5 0

Forsett 9 66 7.3 0

THE PICKS

Rick Morrissey

30-17

Season: 2-3

Rick Telander

20-19

Season: 4-1

Sean Jensen

30-13

Season: 4-1

Neil Hayes

24-13

Season: 4-1

Mike Mulligan

24-17

Season: 2-3

Mark Potash

31-14

Season: 2-3

OTHER TV GAMES

COWBOYS AT VIKINGS

3:15 p.m., Fox-32 - Vikes by 1?

Brett Favre's focus usually is better when he's facing adversity. It's his inaccurate arm that doesn't seem to be cooperating. Home field is huge in a must-win game for both teams.

Mark Potash's pick: Vikings 27-23.

COLTS AT REDSKINS

7:20 p.m., Ch. 5 - Colts by 3

Colts rallied with 10 fourth-quarter points for all-important cover against Chiefs. Peyton Manning won't go two consecutive weeks without a touchdown pass.

Potash's pick: Colts 24-14.

TITANS AT JAGUARS

7:30 Monday, ESPN - Titans by 3

Jaguars have lost by 25 points twice (Chargers, Eagles) and have been outscored 137-107 despite 3-2 record. Titans' tough schedule should pay off here.

Potash's pick: Titans 19-13.

JETS AT BRONCOS

3:05 p.m., Ch. 2 - Jets by 3

In the four weeks since losing in Week 1, the Jets have shown they're tough. Following the lead of their brash coach, the Jets have a mental toughness that has to be respected. So a road game on a short week after a marquee game is a task they can handle. Potash's pick: Jets 30-17.

Tagged: Bears, Cowboys, Lions, Titans, Colts, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Chargers, Olin Kreutz, Brian Urlacher, Ben Hamilton, Peyton Manning, Brandon Manumaleuna, Matt Hasselbeck, Brandon Stokley, Mike Williams, Chester Pitts, Chris Baker, Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor, Lance Briggs, Marcus Trufant, Chris Clemons, Tommie Harris, Chris Spencer, Josh Bullocks, Matt McCoy, Mike Williams, Rod Wilson, Chris Harris, Rashied Davis, Jay Cutler, DeAngelo Williams, Danieal Manning, Devin Hester, Tim Jennings, Devin Aromashodu, Leon Washington, Jon Ryan, Brian Iwuh, Will Herring, Tim Shaw, Corey Graham, Matt Toeaina, Brandon Mebane, Garrett Wolfe, Allen Barbre, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Williams, John Carlson, Matt Forte, Justin Forsett, Red Bryant, Kellen Davis, Mike Gibson, Earl Bennett, Marcus Harrison, Caleb Hanie, Lance Louis, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Corey Wootton, Dexter Davis, Anthony McCoy, J'Marcus Webb, Sam Bradford, Russell Okung

Related Stories

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by


NFL Videos

Best Person in Sports: Keenan Lewis Posted: Jul 15, 2014
Saints CB Keenan Lewis hosts a back-to-school event, giving children medical ser...

NFL Roundtable: New York Jets Posted: Jul 14, 2014
They're a team with plenty to prove and a roster of players primed to get it don...

NFL Roundtable: Detroit Lions Posted: Jul 11, 2014
A team with so many weapons, is this the season that the Lions put together and ...