L.O.B’s what’s-next challenge moves on to Jay Cutler and the Bears

Posted Aug 20, 2014

As good as the Seahawks’ secondary was last season; the challenge is to be even better. That’s why Friday night’s matchup Bears QB Jay Cutler is a good test for what awaits in their regular-season opener.

What’s next? That’s become the Seahawks’ mantra for the 2014 season. But for their Legion of Boom secondary, improving on what it accomplished last season won’t be easy.

During the run to the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history, the defense led the NFL in average points and yards allowed, as well as interceptions and turnovers. Cornerback Richard Sherman had a league-high eight interceptions and free safety Earl Thomas was the only player in the league with at least 100 tackles and five interceptions. They were All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, as was strong safety Kam Chancellor.

But being even better than that – all of that – is still the goal as the Seahawks prepare for Friday night’s preseason home finale against the Chicago Bears at CenturyLink Field.

“Each and every year, we come together and we talk about the standard that’s been set,” defensive backs coach Kris Richard said. “But we also talk about raising the bar on that standard to where what happened last year and what was done last year, it’s not good enough for what’s going to happen today or tomorrow.”

It’s what’s next, if you will. That’s why Friday night’s matchup, even if it is in a preseason game, will provide a good challenge for Richard and his players. Since this is the third preseason game, the starters are expected to play into the third quarter – their longest stint before the Sept. 4 regular-season opener against the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field.

For the Bears, that means gunslinger QB Jay Cutler having more opportunities to test the Seahawks’ secondary by firing passes to Brandon Marshall, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound wide receiver who caught 100 passes for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns last season; Alshon Jeffrey, the Bears’ “other” wide-out who had 89 catches, 1,421 yards and seven TDs in 2013; Martellus Bennett, a 6-6, 265-pound tight end who caught 65 passes last season and is the brother of Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett; Chris Williams, a 5-8 wide-out who leads the Bears with 78 receiving yards in the preseason and is competing to be the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver; and, from the don’t-forget-about department, Matt Forte, who caught 74 passes last season to rank third in the league among running backs.

“We value each and every opportunity that we have,” Richard said. “Really, the opponent is never ever going to make the difference. It’s just us and how we prepare. Obviously, we know who they are, we had a chance to study them and take a look at them all week. And we’ll be prepared for the challenge.”

Talk about a good final preseason test to prepare the L.O.B. for the challenge it will face in the regular-season opener – the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers passing to anyone who might flash open for even a nano-second, including Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and second-round draft choice Davante Adams.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Richard, remaining focused on the task at hand. “We’re facing one of the best quarterbacks who’s out there, and he’s been doing it for a long time. We have the utmost respect for Cutler and the receiving corps and their offense. So we’re fully expecting a good game.”

If the efforts of the L.O.B. in practice on Wednesday are any indication – and they should be – the defensive backs are up to the challenge. On the first four plays in one drill, Sherman tipped away passes intended for Arceto Clark and Paul Richardson – each on a different sideline, with the second coming after Sherman had matched the speedy Richardson stride for stride on his route; linebacker Malcolm Smith let what would have been an interception slip through his fingers; and strong safety Jeron Johnson picked off a pass that was heading toward wide receiver Percy Harvin in the end zone.

“Definitely,” Harvin said when asked if the secondary has picked up this summer where it left off last season. “We thought those guys were the best in the league, and rightfully so. So as an offense, as a receiver, going against those guys every day it’s only making us better. If we can get separation and get open versus them, we feel like there’s no team that will have three, four, even five DBs that can match our receivers.”

Cutler has noticed the same things, as well as a Seahawks pass rush that generated five sacks and 10 QB hits in last week’s 41-14 win over the San Diego Chargers.

“They’re really good up front,” the Bears’ QB told reporters in Chicago. “They show you a lot of different looks. Their back end is as good as there is in football. Earl Thomas is all over the field. Richard Sherman is really good. It’s going to be a test.

“They’re challenging.”

And that’s exactly what the L.O.B. will be doing on every pass Cutler throws on Friday night.