There are three categories as to why the Seattle Seahawks are the reigning, two-time NFC Champions: They're the league's top overall and top pass defenses over that time, and were the top-ranked rushing team a year ago (fourth in 2013).
It's early, but they're 17th in total defense and 21st versus the pass the first two weeks, with a still-respectable 11th-ranked ground game (where the Bears ranked sixth entering Monday night). The Seahawks are the ones with the targets on their backs, dealing with the off-season hangover of the Malcolm Butler goal-line interception that denied a Super Bowl repeat and the contract wars that've bled into the regular season with the one star they haven't paid.
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It all figures to get better after losses in St. Louis and Green Bay when the Bears come to town Sunday, especially if Jimmy Clausen's at the offensive controls, the Chicago defense can't come up with stops and special teams can't assist in field position amidst the 12th Man's deafening din. We won't get into pre-snap penalties. Seattle recovered from a 3-3 start a year ago, and after the Bears, the Seahawks host Detroit, travel to Cincinnati, and hosts Carolina.
Earl Thomas is the only starting defensive backfield-mate from the last two years in the lineup right now with star cornerback Richard Sherman, who was made to look pedestrian by Aaron Rodgers Sunday night despite the absence of top target Jordy Nelson. Safety Kam Chancellor remains in holdout mode, 2.5 years after his most recent extension. Sherman and Thomas got their fresh money a year ago. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson got fresh green this offseason. Dion Bailey's stepped in off the practice squad a year ago for Chancellor at safety. And the Cary Williams-Byron Maxwell free agency cornerback swap with the Eagles has hurt more than it's helped, while nickel back Jeremy Lane remains on the PUP List from his Super Bowl injuries.
Wagner is still flanked by Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright in a terrific linebacking corps, while the pass rush rotation is still led by Michael Bennett, who wanted fresh paper himself despite spurning more cash from the Bears in March of 2014 to join brother Martellus in order to remain a Seahawk. The Wilson contract forced them to dump starting tackle Tony McDaniel, but former third-round picks Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill have stepped in after going on injured reserve last season. Ahtyba Rubin was signed away from the Browns to add more inside push, and help Cliff Avril bookend Bennett to attack on the outside.
Kris Richard is the third coordinator in four years of that talented defense, after Dan Quinn (Atlanta) and Gus Bradley (Jacksonville) were rewarded with head coaching jobs.
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Offensively, though, the much-ballyhooed acquisition of Graham has been a disappointment (ready, Antrelle and Adrian?). One of the NFL's top receiving tight end has all of seven receptions for 62 yards, including one for 11 Sunday night at Lambeau Field (targeted just twice). The Seahawks sacrificed center Max Unger in the Graham deal and the offensive line he's left behind has looked ragged. Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch has been tamed with just 114 yards (3.5 average, one run of 20-plus), and the attack has been most dangerous with Wilson moving and improvising, rather than pounding Lynch, much to his mom's chagrin. Doug Baldwin's 14 receptions lead Wilson's wideouts.
On special teams, the Bears' struggling kickoff coverage unit has to deal with rookie waterbug Tyler Lockett, whose 22.5-yard return average was 10th in the league entering Monday. His 21.1-yard punt return average (with a touchdown) ranked second in the NFL.
**Join Chris, Dan Jiggetts, and CSNChicago.com "Bears Insider" John Mullin Wednesdays on Comcast SportsNet for "Bears Huddle, brought to you by Verizon Wireless." They'll further preview Sunday's matchup in Seattle, and let you in on the news conferences of John Fox and Vic Fangio, as well as locker room interviews**