Playoff Breakdown: 'Hawks-Bears
A lot has changed since then. After experimenting with four different starting lines in the first eight games, position coach Mike Tice settled on the group that will take the field Sunday. What's interesting is center Olin Kreutz is the only one playing the same position he did in Week 1. Frank Omiyale has moved from right tackle to left tackle, Chris Williams from left tackle to left guard, and Roberto Garza from left guard to right guard. Rookie J'Marcus Webb, who joined the first team the week before the Seattle game, is the right tackle.
The continuity -- and a greater commitment to the running game -- has produced dramatic improvement. After allowing at least four sacks in four of the first seven games, the Bears have limited opponents to two or fewer sacks in six of their last nine outings.
Protecting Cutler will be key. He's making his first playoff appearance and has a history of struggling with his decision-making when opponents pressure him and force him to move in the pocket. Interestingly, the Seahawks got to Cutler as much with their scheme as their personnel. Four of the six sacks were by defensive backs, including two by safety Lawyer Milloy and 1½ by Jordan Babineaux.
Matt Hasselbeck, who was sensational in the Seahawks' defeat of the Saints last week, throwing a franchise postseason-record four touchdowns, is 0-3 as a road starter in the playoffs. A big issue has been pass protection; he has been sacked seven times in those games and managed just two touchdowns in 111 pass attempts.
In their October meeting, the Bears were on the short side in time of possession by nearly nine minutes. The primary reason was they failed to convert on any of their 12 third downs. Some of that could be attributed to their inability/unwillingness to run the ball. Matt Forte, who ranked ninth in the NFC in rushing with 1,069 yards, carried just eight times for 11 yards. His 1.4 yards per rush was 3.1 below his season average and prompted coach Lovie Smith to seek more balance offensively. Mission accomplished. Forte, who is also a threat as a receiver, has run for at least 91 yards in five of his past seven games and has scored three of his six rushing touchdowns during that time.
This is where the fairy-tale ends for Seattle. Chicago's defense is too strong, particularly with linebacker Lance Briggs in the lineup after not playing in the first meeting. The Bears won't have the same defensive breakdowns that the Saints had, and they also will benefit from a crowd that will want to show it can have as much of an impact on a game as Seattle's famed 12th man.