Are Bears ready for prime time now?
CHICAGO – When the Seattle Seahawks arrive Monday night at Soldier Field, the first thing you should notice is these guys are not who you may have thought they were.
Safety Earl Thomas is the only remaining member of the famed “Legion of Boom” secondary, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the only other starters still around from that defense that went to back-to-back Super Bowls.
And the All-Pro MIKE linebacker Wagner and Wright have been declared out with injuries for the Bears game.
Seattle’s defense still is built around great speed and athleticism, but it is somewhat unclear at the moment whether the Seahawks are rebooting or rebuilding coming off a 2017 season in which they were 11th in total defense, 19th against the run and 13th in points allowed – all behind the Bears – and have said goodbye to arguably their two best players, Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett.
Defensive end Frank Clark is an accomplished pass rusher who will challenge Charles Leno. But other than that, this unit is a work in progress.
Seattle has made fewer changes on offense, where many thought more were required, particularly on a porous offensive line, but the one constant that remains and around whom this team will be built going forward is Russell Wilson.
Wilson is an elite quarterback not because he has a special arm or unusual athleticism, although he is an excellent athlete, but because his improvisational skills when the play breaks down and ability to turn nothing into huge plays are second to none.
I asked Bears coach Matt Nagy about the importance of defending that aspect of his game, and he said, “It’s hard, but you’ve got to practice it.
“In practice, I thought we did a good job of trying to get some scramble drills thrown in there. He extends plays really better than most quarterbacks.
“That is a hard deal to do. So containment’s important for our outside linebackers, for our D-ends.
“And it’s gonna happen, it’s inevitable, he’s gonna do it.
“So you’ve got to try to just limit those, and then when he throws the ball, you’ve got to decide, are you going to go tackle him, or are you going to let your man free?”
Although injuries never are good news, there is more positive news for the Bears’ defense, as wide receiver Doug Baldwin, easily Wilson’s most dangerous weapon, also will be on the sidelines with Wagner and Wright.
One could argue that after Wilson, Wagner, Wright and Baldwin are the three best players on the Seahawks and the three they can least afford to be without.
Does anyone else smell a too-good-to-be-true story developing here? There will be a familiar face Monday night at Soldier Field to try to ruin it.
Thirty-four-year old Brandon Marshall becomes Wilson’s primary target with Baldwin out, and Tyler Lockett, although not the complete package at wideout, can take the top off the defense with the best of them.
Running backs Chris Carson and rookie Rashaad Penny are talented but somewhat unknown, and rookie Will Dissly is trying to replace Jimmy Graham at tight end.
The Bears’ game plan on defense most likely will be to keep it simple and see whether their front seven can win individual matchups, particularly Khalil Mack. He will line up across from Germain Ifedi, who led offensive linemen in penalties last year and was a swinging gate last week for Von Miller and company, as the Broncos sacked Wilson six times and hit him 11 more.
It’s tough to guess how Nagy will attack the Seattle defense off the offense’s explosive first quarter and docile final three last week, but our best hint probably is the 146 rushing yards on 32 carries Seattle allowed Denver last week with Wagner on the field.
It seems likely the offense could spin more around Jordan Howard than Mitch Trubisky early Monday night, and if Howard can soften them up, Nagy will let Trubisky try to take over in the second half.
Can the Bears bounce back from their bitter disappointment last weekend in Green Bay?
The matchups appear to favor them finding a way to get it done.