Bears-Seahawks preview: Protect the protectors

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Bears-Seahawks preview: Protect the protectors

Long-ago Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan always said that he learned his most basic tenet while the New York Jets defensive line coach and he saw the single-mindedness with which head coach Weeb Ewbank protecting quarterback Joe Namath. Ryan said he concluded that if taking care of the quarterback was that important, then getting to the quarterback should be the prime directive for his group, and when he became a coordinator in Chicago, it remained his guiding principle.

Jay Cutler, whether for reasons of strategy or simple self-preservation, is of like mind.

First and foremost, youve got to protect the quarterback, Cutler said. Its hard throwing out of a phone booth all the time. It makes life difficult when youre getting hit so you should be protected. If its better to have a few more guys in helping out, then thats what weve got to do.

So, how to do it

Saying it and doing it are different matters entirely. And, besides the fact that Seattle ranks No. 3 defensively in scoring (16.8 points per game; the Bears are No. 2 at 15.9 and San Francisco still No. 1), heres the first problem:

A weakness in the Bears offense an offensive line still with moving parts after injuries and demotions is directly opposite core strength of the Seattle Seahawks defense.

The Seahawks made defensive end Bruce Irvin the 15th overall pick of this years draft. He has seven sacks (nine, according to ProFootballFocus.com), five QB hits and 14 hurries despite playing almost exclusively in nickel situations and less than half (280) of Seattle opponents 667 snaps.

Chris Clemons has eight sacks and 17 hits. Clemons is 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, or just about the same size as San Franciscos Aldon Smith, who ran over and through the Bears for 5.5 sacks.

Seattle starts Clemons along with three massives: end Red Bryant (6-4, 323), who returned an interception of a Caleb Hanie pass last year for a touchdown; and tackles Alan Branch (6-6, 325) and Brandon Mebane (6-1, 311).

Theyve got some size about them, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. And 91 Clemons is a prolific pass rusher.

Finding a weakness

The Bears stated goal every game is to render an opponent one-dimensional by taking away the run game. The Seahawks believe the same but have inexplicably struggled stopping the run, however, going from No. 4 in the NFL in yards per carry allowed to No. 26 this season.

But Seattle ranks seventh in sacks per pass play and the Bears are an alarming 32nd in sacks allowed per play. And the Seahawks allow opposing quarterbacks a pedestrian 75.4 passer rating per game. Only the Bears (65.1) and Arizona Cardinals (74.3) are tougher.

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

Today on CSN: White Sox face Athletics in spring training game

The White Sox will battle the Oakland Athletics today, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:05 p.m.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Carlos Rodon vs. Kendall Graveman

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Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.