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.

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Carl Edwards Jr. couldn't dream up a better pitcher to try to emulate than Mariano Rivera.

Not for a young right-hander who is still getting used to being a reliever with a cutter as his bread and butter pitch.

After picking up his first career save late in 2016, Edwards mentioned how he has been watching video of Rivera. At the Cubs Convention earlier this month, Edwards name-dropped Rivera again in response to a fan question and went into more detail with exactly what he's aiming to accomplish by watching Rivera tape.

Let's be clear: Mariano Rivera is inimitable. He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent and there almost assuredly will never be a better closer in Major League Baseball.

But Edwards knows that. 

"He's great. He's a Hall of Famer," Edwards said. "He goes out there like he has the world in the palm of his hand. He's very competitive; I've never seen him back down. That's one [takeaway] for myself — I'm gonna go out and never back down.

"I don't really get into trying to be like him. I just look more into how he goes about his business. That's something that I can control — how I go about my business."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Cubs coach Mike Borzello was there with Rivera in 1997 when the now-legendary cutter was born.

It's not fair to compare Edwards' cutter to one of the greatest pitches ever, but his version is pretty nasty in its own right:

The Cubs are still searching for long-term answers in the rotation, but don't have any intentions of moving Edwards back to a role as a starter.

Like Edwards, Rivera began his career as a starting pitcher coming up through the Yankees system. But Edwards actually has a leg up on baseball's all time saves leader: Edwards' first save came in his age 24 season while Rivera didn't tally his first save until age 26 in New York.

Edwards also struck out 13 batters per nine innings in 2016 while Rivera never posted eye-popping whiff totals (a career 8.2 K/9 rate).

As Edwards gets set for what he and the Cubs hope will be his first full season in the big leagues in 2017, his maturation will be important in an age of baseball where relief pitchers have never been more valued.

Rivera pitched in the playoffs nearly every year, routinely working more than one inning and posting ridiculous postseason numbers: 0.70 ERA, 0.759 WHIP and 42 saves while taking home the World Series MVP in 1999 and ALCS MVP in 2003.

The Cubs hope Edwards will be pitching in the postseason on a regular basis, too.

For now, the 25-year-old is still reveling in the glory following the 2016 Cubs championship.

He served as honorary drummer at the Carolina Panthers game in November.

"That was pretty amazing. That's a highlight of my offseason," Edwards said.

He grew up as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan despite being a South Carolina native, but Edwards said he did get a pair of Cam Newton cleats to wear for 2017 when he and Cubs teammates like Addison Russell or Matt Szczur throw the football around in the outfield to get loose.

Edwards was also blown away by the reception from Cubs fans at the Convention — "This is my third year and every year as been better" — but still hasn't fully wrapped his mind around the ending of the 108-year drought.

"Everything happened so quick," he said. "Hopefully in the next couple weeks when I have a break, I can sit down and soak it all in."

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of area basketball fans in our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @CSNPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights of that game will appear on that night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00pm. The show also live streams at csnchicago.com. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30am and 8:30am the following Saturday. This week, for the first time ever in our “Viewers’ Choice” poll, we will have girls basketball as our focus:

Warren at Lake Forest, 7:00pm

Glenbrook South at Maine South, 7:00pm

Vernon Hills at Maine West, 7:30pm

Poll opens Monday at 12:00pm and closes Thursday at 4:00pm. Here is what fans need to do to vote:

**Follow @CSNPreps on Twitter.

**Note the “pinned Tweet” atop the @CSNPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.

**Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @CSNPreps just after 4pm Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @CSNPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week,” along with other basketball news, scores and highlights this season.