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Three Key Matchups: Seahawks at Bears

Three key matchups that could play a role in the outcome of Monday night's game between the Seahawks and Bears.

The Seahawks travel to Chicago this week to face the Bears in a Monday night showdown between two NFC teams looking to rebound from close losses in Week 1.

The Seahawks are not only looking to earn their first win of the season, but to also improve on an already impressive record in prime time and on Monday night in particular. All-time, Seahawks are 23-9 on Monday Night Football, the best winning percentage in the NFL, and since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over in 2010, Seattle is 7-1 on Monday night and 22-4-1 overall in prime-time games.

If the Seahawks are going to add to those impressive records and improve to 1-1 this season, these are three key matchups that could make the difference against the Bears Monday night:

1. Seattle's running game vs. Chicago's front seven.

The first two words out of Carroll's mouth when asked about the number of rush attempts the Seahawks had in Week 1 were "not enough," which isn't a surprise considering Seattle's running backs combined for just 14 carries (quarterback Russell Wilson had two more). For a team that made improving its running game a top priority this offseason, that wasn't exactly the start the Seahawks were looking for on the ground. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said it starts with him to get the running game going this week, though another key will also be just staying on the field longer to create more opportunities to run the ball. 

"We had the ball for 24 minutes," Schottenheimer said. "We struggled on third down, a good defense. Chris (Carson) popped a couple good runs, the one where he jumps over the guy coming out, that was really cool. We had a couple, 2 and 3-yard runs that if you could get a little bit more guy covered up here or there, that would have helped. Obviously, I need to do a better job of mixing the run. We had quite a bit of—we get sacked or we'd have a penalty, just want to kind of get that yardage back so it's second and 14 or second and 13. You're like, 'Hey, I got to get the third manageable.' Hard to do that running the football. I can do better at that. That starts with me first and foremost."

And for the offense to have a better shot at getting the running game going, the Seahawks know they need to be better on third down to keep drives alive after going just 2 of 12 last week.

"We've got to be great on third down," Wilsons said. "That's like any game, that's any situation. It's always going to be the case all year and for the rest of football history. We got to be great on third down. I think for us, we just got to convert and continue to move the chains a little and stay on the field. I think we were on the field for only 24 minutes or something like that. One, that's a credit for us scoring fast. Two, it shows that if we can be on the field a little bit longer, how much more can we score. I think that's what we look forward to is staying on the field. We want our great players like Tyler Lockett, Chris Carson and Brandon (Marshall) and those guys, you saw (Will) Dissly last week, Nick Vannett, we want them on the field. The more they can be on the field, the better."

The Seahawks are expecting a tough test when they go against the Bears defense, which is led by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, a coach the Seahawks know well having faced his defenses twice a year when he was the 49ers' defensive coordinator from 2011 to 2014.

"Really good front seven, good secondary, and we have all the respect in the world for Vic Fangio and his staff," Schottenheimer said. "They do a great job. Guys are well prepared. I've played against them quite a bit so again, it'll be another great challenge for us, going in there Monday night, but we're excited about playing. We know last week wasn't good enough. We expect better and we expect it to happen this weekend."

2. Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack vs. Seattle's pass protection.

The Seahawks knew they'd be facing Khalil Mack, one of the league's best pass rushers, at some point this season, but when the Oakland Raiders, Seattle's Week 6 opponent, traded Mack to the Bears, that meant facing the 2016 defensive player of the year earlier than expected.

As Mack showed in his Bears debut last week, he is one of the league's most disruptive players, and after giving up six sacks last week, including three to Von Miller, the Seahawks know they have their work cut out for them if they're going to avoid letting another elite pass rusher make things hard on their offense.

"He couldn't have had more impact in the amount of plays he played the other night, and he's a phenomenal player, so he causes all the problems you can imagine," Carroll said. "It's kind of similar emphasis for us (as facing Miller), coming from kind of the same spot over there. We'll see if we can take care of him."

While Mack frequently lines up over the opposing right tackle, it isn't just on Germain Ifedi to deal with Mack on Monday night. The Seahawks will use tight ends and running backs at times to help with Mack, among other methods they can use to help slow down one of the game's top defensive players.

"There are things that you can do," Carroll said. "There's a number of ways. You can help with different players on the tackles, you can move the line that direction, you can get the ball out real quick. You can do a lot of stuff that's kind of the classic stuff you do against special pass rushers, particularly guys on the outside. Even when you can do it, the really good guys they find their way. It's the challenge. We'll be challenged again this week with Khalil. He's an incredible ball player. There's no one way to do, you have to do it a variety of ways, and that's what we'll do."

And as Wilson was quick to point out, some of the sacks allowed against Denver were on him for either holding the ball too long or for putting himself in harm's way after fleeing the pocket.

"I take some of the blame for those sacks there," Wilson said. "Just trying to extend the play, third downs and the stuff like that. I definitely think (offensive line coach Mike) Solari is coaching the guys up really well."

3. Seahawks punter Michael Dickson and Seattle's punt coverage vs. Tarik Cohen.

If ever there were an example of how big of a difference special teams play can make in terms of field position, it was the performance rookie punter Michael Dickson had in last week's game at Denver. On six punts, Dickson averaged 59 yards per punt and had a ridiculous 57.5 net average, and four of those punts were downed inside the 20 (a fifth Denver possession started at the 10 thanks to a holding penalty on the Broncos). The Broncos managed just a single field goal off of the six possessions following Dickson punts, a big factor in keeping the Seahawks in the game. 

"It's a pretty remarkable factor we had in this game with Michael," Carroll said. "He did a great job. Our coverage teams, other than the one time they held us, were terrific to go along with it. That punt team, that's not just good punting. That was a fantastic factor. When we put the ball on the 2, 6, 10 and 11 (yard lines) four different times and we were kicking from our end of the field too to get that done. It's really something to look forward to growing with and trying to make sure that we can utilize it."

Repeating that kind of success in the punting game won't be easy this week as the Seahawks face one of the league's best punt returners, second-year running back Tarik Cohen. Cohen, who's also a threat as a runner and pass-catcher, had a 42-yard return in last week's game, and is coming off a rookie season in which he became the second player in league history, along with Gale Sayers, to have rushing, receiving and punt return touchdowns while also throwing a touchdown pass as a rookie.

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