Friday, September 29, 2006

The Little Things Count

The Bears and Seahawks go into their Sunday night showdown pretty evenly matched. The Bears have played better so far this year, dominating two out of three opponents, while the Seahawks have won without consistently outclassing their opposition. But three weeks only mean so much, and my expectations were much higher for the Seahawks before the season started than they were for the Bears. I'm not quite willing to name the Bears the NFC favorite yet.

Offensively, Seattle has been an average team so far this year. Their outburst against the Giants is offset by their struggles against the Lions. They've been better passing than running. Still, Matt Hasselbeck only ranks 18th in the league in PAR (Football Outsiders' overall performance metric). That slots in with names like Brad Johnson and JP Losman. Darrell Jackson has been a stud for him so far, however, and he's gotten good play from ex-Bear Bobby Engram too. The running game has struggled. Former MVP Shaun Alexander ranks 38th among NFL running backs in PAR. And, he won't even be playing Sunday night. By FO's metrics, the Seattle line ranks 25th in run blocking and 22nd in pass protection.

Seattle has made their mark this year on defense. They're seventh in the league, and would be higher but for the 2nd half of the Giants game. (You can only discount garbage time scoring so much). Their pass defense has been good; their run defense has been outstanding. They're 5th in the league in stopping the run near the line of scrimmage, and they haven't given up the homerun either. The only red-flag, and it can largely be written off to small sample size, is that the Seahawks have yet to make a single stop in a short yardage situation (3rd or 4th down and two or fewer yards to go, or any play within two yards of the goal line).

I've spent ample time on the Bears already this week, but a couple of points of comparison: (1) the Bears' defense has been just as dominant as Seattle's, and (2) the Bears' offense has been consistently better than Seattle's. While that defensive dominance comes as no surprise, it may take another week or two of offensive consistency before I fully commit to the Bears' offense.

So why do I think the Bears will win this game, when I still think the Seahawks are a slightly better team? Well, it is in Chicago. Homefield advantage hasn't meant much so far this year, but it is an advantage, hence the name, and it is one small thing that will tilt this battle in the Bears' favor. Perhaps the most important difference is on special teams. The Bears have the best special teams units in football -- from kick and punt coverage, to place kicking, to explosive return units. The Seahawks don't. They have poor place kicking and average punt and kick units, both in coverage and on the return. And, this is nothing new. They were poor last year too, so don't expect it to change suddenly. That's a lot of hidden yards for the Bears there. Also, the Seahawks have relied on their passing game this year, and figure to continue to do so without Alexander. But the Bears' D-line has been applying some of the best pressure in the league, and the team has been sound against the pass overall. Finally, there is the matter of Alexander. The argument goes that the Seahawks weren't running the ball well with Alexander, so it's no loss to not have him out there. But last year, when the Seahawks were running the ball well, Mo Morris wasn't as effective as Alexander on a per play basis. So, what little chance Seattle had to run the ball against the Bears is likely lost. It's hard to win as a one dimensional team, on the road, against a great defense.

So, I'm going with the Bears, close, in what to me is a bit of an upset. And, then maybe, I'll begin to believe that the Bears deserve the status of favorites in the NFC, unless of course, the Eagles really crush the Packers on Monday. Speaking of Monday. Monday is Yom Kippur, so I'll be back Tuesday. Enjoy the football and have an easy fast.


Blogger Jeeves said...

I've been skeptical about the Bears offense, but man, we looked like a machine tonight. That TD pass to Berrian was a thing of beauty. It was absolutely perfect.

12:52 AM  

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