Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks aim to hit reset button vs. scuffling Bears

For their season opener, the Seattle Seahawks’ buzzword was playing with “emotion,” to generate their own energy on a morning inside a dark dome in St. Louis.

Last weekend in Green Bay their word was “communication.”

Neither theme worked a darn.

So how about this week’s home opener for the Seahawks (0-2) Sunday against Chicago (0-2)?

It’s “mulligan.”

“That’s kind of been our talk throughout the locker room in terms of meetings and all that. It’s a new season,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “The season’s 0-0.”

Or so they wish.

With Kam Chancellor ending his 54-day holdout on Wednesday despite not getting what he wanted, this is as complete as the Seahawks will be all season. Plus, they are playing a real game at sold-out (for the 107th consecutive time) CenturyLink Field for the first time since January’s NFC championship.

“There’s no better place in the world than playing here,” left tackle Russell Okung said of the stadium in which Seattle has won six straight home openers, the NFL’s second-longest streak.

“We look forward to coming home and get settled this week and trying to start this thing over again,” coach Pete Carroll said.

“We came out of (Green Bay) healthy for the most part. So we’re going crank it up and get going. Really, it’s that simple.”

Well, not quite.

The Seahawks offense needs to get tight end Jimmy Graham, its star acquisition in March, more involved much more quickly in games. The NFL’s most productive pass-catching tight end since 2011 had just one reception against the Packers. Wilson threw to him just twice last weekend.

But before they can do that, the Seahawks need to establish Marshawn Lynch’s power running game. Green Bay and, for much of the opener, St. Louis, flooded gaps and dared Wilson to keep the ball on read-option plays. For the first six quarters of the season the elusive quarterback kept the ball on those options exactly once.

Then in the second half against the Packers Carroll instructed play caller Darrell Bevell to make Wilson run it more. Using bootleg runs and passes outside, and keeping it a few more times on the zone reads in the third quarter, Wilson sparked a 14-point rally into a 17-13 lead at Green Bay.

Look for more of Wilson keeping and running against weakened Chicago — even though he keeps insisting he’d rather keep handing the ball to Lynch.

On defense, Chancellor’s return to strong safety in the middle (pending his expected addition off the exempt list onto the active roster by Saturday) instantly makes Seattle’s defense whole again.

“He’s so comfortable in his position and he’s one of the best at his job,” defensive end Michael Bennett said.

The tackling, another of Chancellor’s specialties, must improve — especially against Chicago’s Matt Forte. He had 141 yards rushing in the Bears’ 31-23 loss to Green Bay in its opener. Chicago offensive coordinator Andrew Gase lines Forte up in the slot, outside as a wide receiver, as a wing and, oh yeah, in the backfield. So communication will again be a key for Seattle on defense. That’s another area in which Chancellor will help greatly.

“He even made checks that we haven’t heard in a while,” Bennett said of Chancellor’s first practice back on Wednesday afternoon. “It was like ‘Oh, damn, Kam’s back.’ He knows exactly when to call things, and it’s cool to have him back out there.”

Gase was Denver’s coordinator in the 2013 season when the Seahawks crushed the Broncos in Super Bowl 48 by taking away Gase’s short, quick passing game for Peyton Manning. Sunday, Gase has about Manning’s polar opposite trying to trigger the same schemes. Jimmy Clausen will be making his second start in four years because starting quarterback Jay Cutler pulled his hamstring on Arizona’s return for a touchdown of his interception last weekend.

Clausen has started once in Seattle: a 31-14 loss in his rookie year for Carolina in 2010, Carroll’s first Seahawks season. Seahawks new linebackers coach Lofa Tatupu returned an interception for a touchdown in that game to spark a 21-point rally. And this time Clausen is starting behind an offensive line that has four former undrafted free agents.

Clausen entered for Cutler in the second quarter last week and completed 14 of 23 short passes for 121 yards. He had an interception, three sacks, a fumble and a quarterback rating of 56.6 in Chicago’s 48-23 loss to Arizona.

The 79 points these Bears have surrendered are the most in the NFL through two games, though Arizona scored on an interception return against Chicago’s offense and a 108-yard kickoff return against its special teams. So the Seahawks’ electric rookie returner Tyler Lockett may become huge again two weeks after he returned a punt for a score against the Rams.

Those 48 from the Cardinals were the most points the Bears had ever allowed in a home game. That includes way back to 1924 at Wrigley Field. So, no, these are not exactly the Monsters of the Midway.

But Seattle’s defense has been far from its top-ranked self lately. It’s now four consecutive games the Seahawks have blown a lead in the fourth quarter. That dates to January’s NFC title game, when Green Bay tied them with a late field goal to force overtime.

The public doesn’t think this one will be a lead Seattle will have difficulty preserving. The betting line favors the Seahawks by 14  1/2 points, the largest in the NFL so far this season.

The team, of course, doesn’t concern itself with that. Really, Seattle’s players and coaches aren’t concerning themselves with the Bears as much as with getting themselves right again.

And this first 0-2 start since 2011, a hole from which just 23 of 204 team have made the playoffs since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990?

Their coach says he isn’t worried about that, either. It doesn’t fit this week’s theme.

“I’m not really concerned about that at all. I’m concerned about this game coming up — and getting going. There’s a lot of games left,” Carroll said.

“I know you like to see everyone go perfectly as they roll through this thing, but it isn’t like that. There are great challenges to it. We were 3-3 last year at one time, and everybody’s wondering ‘Where are we?’ ‘What’s going on?’ And we hadn’t found our stride yet.

“Here we are two games, we’ve got to see what happens. We’re two games old. Got to go.”

SEAHAWKS GAMEDAY

CHICAGO BEARS (0-2) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (0-2)

1:25 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field

TV: Ch. 7. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.

The series: Chicago has lost 10 of the 14 regular-season meetings in a series that dates to the Seahawks’ expansion season of 1976. This is the first regular-season meeting in Seattle since Sept. 27, 2009, when the Bears won 29-25 and then-Seahawks coach Jim Mora publicly roasted his kicker, Olindo Mare, for missing two field goals within 43 yards. Chicago has beaten Seattle in their only two playoff meetings, in the divisional rounds of the 2006 and ’10 seasons, both at Soldier Field.

SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY

See how they run … : They’ve talked the talk. Now they need to run the run. The Seahawks have yet to truly establish Marshawn Lynch’s power running game and quarterback Russell Wilson’s keepers off the read-option plays. When it’s working best, the offense features both to make each one better. Coaches had to direct Wilson to run more last week in the third quarter against Green Bay, and that’s when Seattle rallied for two touchdowns into the lead. They shouldn’t have to this week against the Bears, who have allowed an NFL-high 79 points through two games.

… And see how that run works for No. 88: We keep saying it, Jimmy Graham added to the passing game is great and all. But he will continue to be an underutilized $40 million tight end until the remade offensive line establishes consistent rushing yards to set up the play-action pass. That, in turn, will give Wilson the time to find Graham down the field on the longer-developing routes for which Seattle acquired him. He had just one catch last week in part because the game plan kept him in to aid previously atrocious pass protection. He shouldn’t have to stay in to block the faulty Bears nearly as much.

Find and flummox Forte: Chicago’s chance for an upset rests almost entirely on versatile running back Matt Forte doing it all from the slot, the wing, outside as a wideout plus running and catching screen passes from the backfield. That’s especially true with the Bears starting backup QB Jimmy Clausen. Forte’s 141 yards rushing almost beat the Packers in Week 1. Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and he’s-back strong safety Kam Chancellor will be seeking No. 22 in white before each snap, then chasing him after it.

THE PICK

Seahawks, 31-13. This appears to be the perfectly weakened foe in the perfect setting for Seattle to start its not-so-perfect season anew. It’s the first of three home games in four weeks to quell the talk the NFC champs are done.

 

PRIME NUMBERS

 

CHICAGO

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

8

Jimmy Clausen

QB

6-3

222

sixth

Jay Cutler’s fill-in will dink and dunk. In his only previous start in

Seattle, in 2010, he threw a game-turning pick-six to Lofa Tatupu.

22

Matt Forte

RB

6-1

218

eighth

With a backup QB starting, Chicago will rely on his running and

catching screens more than it already does.

83

Martellus Bennett

TE

6-6

265

eighth

Chicago’s top target might line up man-on-man against his

brother Michael. They say it’s not their favorite thing to do.

SEATTLE

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

31

Kam Chancellor

SS

6-3

232

sixth

If the team hasn’t activated him by the time you read this,

he might go back to holding out.

72

Michael Bennett

DE

6-4

274

seventh

Opposing his brother Martellus for the fourth time. Expect

a stunt of some kind if he wins a one-on-one jam at the line.

88

Jimmy Graham

TE

6-7

265

sixth

All eyes are on him. Even in the locker room. Where is he

dressing? Why isn’t he talking? Is he mad?

gregg.bell@thenewstribune.com

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