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60-second rant: Five Bears under the microscope

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Jan. 11, 2011 @ 8:56 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

The Bears can't claim the underdog tag this time. Chicago is the heavy favorite against Seattle — which won the NFC West with a 7-9 record — and most everyone expects Lovie Smith's team to win on Sunday. The Seahawks played loose in their upset of the Saints in the first round, though, and they already beat the Bears at Soldier Field in Week Six. Chicago will have to follow its opponent's lead and avoid playing tight in a pressure-packed situation. Every coach and player finds that the spotlight burns brighter in the playoffs, but the five Bears listed below are among those who will be monitored closer than others against the Seahawks.

1. QB Jay Cutler — This will be Cutler's first taste of the postseason, as he's never participated in an NFL playoff game. He has a chance to make up for lost time against a pass defense that ranked 27th in the league in the regular season and gave up 404 yards passing against Drew Brees last week. He played up to his potential for much of the second half of the season, and the Bears have to hope he doesn't regress. They are 1-10 when he throws more than one pick.

2. DE Julius Peppers — Peppers and the rest of the Bears' pass rushers were not much of a factor against the Seahawks in Week Six. They didn't sack QB Matt Hasselbeck and were credited with hitting him only once all game. Hasselbeck is still very effective when he has time to throw — he threw four TDs and was sacked just once against the Saints — and if Peppers is kept in check by rookie OLT Russell Okung again, the Bears' defense will suffer.

3. CB Charles Tillman — The Seahawks' top receiver, Mike Williams, racked up 123 yards on 10 catches against the Bears on Oct. 17, and Tillman was covering him for much of that game. Lovie Smith acknowledged that the Bears have to do a better job of defending Williams, but the coach isn't one to completely change his style defensively. Tillman is Chicago's best corner, but the crafty veteran will need to do a better job in coverage this time around.

4. WR Johnny Knox — After his least productive game of the season — he was targeted eight times against the Packers but didn't have a catch — Knox gets a chance to bounce back against the team that allowed him to rack up a season-high 120 yards receiving. The Seahawks did a decent job of taking away deep passes from Brees last week, and a big play or two by Knox could make a big difference for the Bears.

5. ORT J'Marcus Webb — The Seahawks sacked Cutler six times in October, and 4½ of those sacks were made by blitzing defensive backs. Chicago's offensive line is in much better shape than it was for that game, but Seattle could target Webb, a rookie seventh-round pick, with blitzers in his first postseason game. While Webb has shown improvement since the season began, the Bears have to be prepared to send help to his side in an effort to keep Cutler upright.

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