In today’s “Key Matchup,” PFW’s Dan Arkush focuses on Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch vs. the Bears’ run defense Sunday at Soldier Field
Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch vs. Bears run defense
Don’t be surprised if the key factor at Soldier Field Sunday is the level of success the Bears’ eighth-ranked run defense has stopping the Seahawks’ eight-ranked rushing attack, which revolves primarily around Lynch, who is third in the NFL with 1,051 yards (4.5 ypc) behind the Texans’ Arian Foster and league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson.
If the Bears have as much success against Lynch as they did against Peterson last Sunday in their 28-10 victory over Minnesota, their chances of coming away with a victory would appear to be heightened. Peterson ran for 108 yards on 18 carries, but he was limited to a mere 7-25 rushing in the first half and lost a costly fumble. The Bears allowed 114 yards rushing altogether, the lowest total it has surrendered in five games.
As it did against Peterson, the Bears’ run defense, spearheaded by LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, must concentrate on filling their gaps, controlling cutback lanes and keeping Seahawks FB Michael Robinson from consistently clearing paths for Lynch, who has shown a preference for running mostly to the left side so far this season.
Lynch will be looking to rebound from one of his weakest efforts of the season last Sunday against a Miami run defense that was ranked ninth entering the game. After rushing for 100 yards in the previous four games, Lynch had only 46 yards on 19 carries (a season-low 2.4 ypc) in Miami, his second-lowest rushing total this season. In Seattle’s 38-14 rout of the Bears at Soldier Field in Week 15 last season, Lynch had only 20-42 rushing, but he also had two TDs.
The former first-round pick of the Bills who recorded at least one TD in a team-record 11 straight games last season, has a punishing running style with a knack for keeping his powerful legs moving for extra yardage. He runs much bigger than his size and frequently eludes tacklers with a rare blend of power and shiftiness. Some of his best runs come when he is seemingly trapped behind the line of scrimmage. Like Peterson, the relentless Lynch almost always finds a way to come through with positive yardage on every carry. Lynch also has become a better receiver out of the backfield.
Look for Lynch and Urlacher in particular to be engaged in constant contact between the tackles. While Urlacher appears to have lost some speed, he continues to play well, although not at the same ultra-high level Briggs, Tillman and Jennings have been playing at this season. Urlacher will occasionally get caught out of position, and he has a hard time breaking free when a blocker with power gets into his numbers.
Both Briggs and Tillman must battle through foot injuries (check statuses). Tillman reportedly has a chipped bone in his right foot, but it appears he will likely be able to play through the injury. Briggs, who has been named to seven straight Pro Bowls, provides a steadily disruptive presence on the weak side with underrated speed. On the strong side, Nick Roach is coming off a strong outing (team-leading seven tackles and a forced fumble), but it’s worth noting that he got steamrolled by Peterson on a 23-yard run in the fourth quarter last Sunday.
Run support from the Bears' secondary figures to be a crucial element this Sunday. Tillman, who was off to a productive start last week before leaving the game with an injury, will be the last line of defense if Lynch breaks through the second level. Tillman’s physical presence and celebrated prowess for punching balls free is something Lynch will no doubt be thinking about in the back of his mind.
Bears safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte must take angles that allow them to defend cutback runs. Wright played a strong downhill game vs. Minnesota after struggling mightily one week earlier vs. the Niners.