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Seahawks keys at Chicago: Actually run the ball, to slow down Khalil Mack, help ailing defense

5 Players To Watch: Week 2 Seahawks vs. Bears

Gregg Bell gives you five players to watch as the Seattle Seahawks travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in a Week 2 Monday Night Football matchup.
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Gregg Bell gives you five players to watch as the Seattle Seahawks travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in a Week 2 Monday Night Football matchup.

What a weekend for the Seahawks.

And they haven’t even played the game yet.

On Friday, Mychal Kendricks, an admitted insider trader facing prison time, practiced for the first time with the team as the new weakside linebacker to replace struggling rookie Shaquem Griffin. Griffin started last week’s opener because starter K.J. Wright is recovering from knee surgery.

Saturday, Bobby Wagner became the third Pro Bowl veteran out for Seattle’s game Monday night at Chicago. The All-Pro middle linebacker has a groin injury he got late in the opener while playing all 74 defensive snaps. That means second-year free agent Austin Calitro will start in Chicago for Wagner. And that means Calitro can’t play weakside linebacker, too, like he did last weekend in Denver. So the Seahawks need Kendricks to play weakside linebacker against the Bears, after just two practices with the team. One of those was Saturday’s light walk-through before the team flew here.

“Yeah, he’s going to play,” Carroll said Saturday.

“This guy deserves a second chance.”

And the starter for Philadelphia in February’s Super Bowl gets one because the Seahawks are in such dire need already at outside linebacker.

Both starting cornerbacks are hurt. Rookie right cornerback Tre Flowers is doubtful to play Monday night because of a hamstring injury. Nickel back Justin Coleman, special-teams ace Neiko Thorpe and Akeem King, promoted last week from the practice squad, are the options to play for Flowers. Shaquill Griffin, the left cornerback replacing departed Richard Sherman this season, is listed as questionable with a thigh injury, though coach Pete Carroll said Saturday Griffin will play against the Bears.

Plus, the Seahawks cut their starting defensive tackle, Tom Johnson, because they are so concerned with depth behind banged-up strong safety Bradley McDougald. They needed Johnson’s roster spot to promote safety Shalom Luani from the practice squad on Saturday.

Whew! And it’s only week two.

The Seahawks had 23 combined Pro Bowl selections on their roster for week two of the 2017 season. They have six now, all by Earl Thomas.

At least the All-Pro free safety is healthy and starting again Monday in his second week back from his contract holdout.

Other than that, it’s been a swell start to the season for Seattle.

This game, perhaps unlike any other in the Carroll-Russell Wilson era, is high time for Wilson and his offense to carry the team. If they can’t be more effective than last week’s 2 for 12 on third down, can’t give lead back Chris Carson more than the seven rushes he got in the loss at Denver, it’s hard to see a Seahawks victory Monday night.

SEAHAWKS GAMEDAY

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (0-1) at CHICAGO BEARS (0-1)

Monday, 5:15 p.m., Soldier Field, Chicago

Line: Bears by 3.

TV: ESPN Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM

The series: The Seahawks have won four in a row and five of the last six meetings. Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll point to Seattle’s last game at Soldier Field, specifically to the fourth quarter on Dec. 2, 2012, as the first time the Seahawks’ coaching staff decided to turn Wilson “loose.” Carroll instructed then-play caller Darrell Bevell to ditch much of the offense’s structure and let Wilson improvise his way to an overtime win. Wilson’s pass to Sidney Rice won it. Now-Seahawk Brandon Marshall had 10 catches for 165 yards that day for the Bears.

“That game back in Chicago my rookie year feels like yesterday,” Wilson said Friday. “It’s exciting to go back to Soldier Field in one of the best cities in America. They love football and it’s a great environment. It doesn’t get much better than Chicago and Soldier Field. ...To be able to find a way to win in overtime, I remember Sidney Rice making an unbelievable play. It was just a fantastic game, back and forth. I remember Brandon having a great game that game, actually. It was fun to watch him play. Those are great memories. Hopefully, we can make another one this week.

I think it gave us clarity on who we could be.”

Russell Wilson describes the Seahawks’ last game in Chicago, in his rookie year of 2012, which was a turning point in the quarterbacks career.

SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY

Repel of the Mack: Germain Ifedi, come on down. One week after having to combat All-Pro and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, Seattle’s maligned right tackle goes against another one of the best edge rushers in the game. Newly minted $100-million man Khalil Mack almost single-handedly staked Chicago to a 17-0 last week at Green Bay in his first Bears game. Seattle must keep tight end Will Dissly, and maybe running back Chris Carson and others, in to help Ifedi keep Mack from doing what Miller did last week while getting three sacks as his Broncos beat the Seahawks. Good luck.

RUN THE BALL!: All CAPS, for emphasis. After an entire offseason and preseason setting the primary goal for 208 as running the ball, after hiring new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and line coach Mike Solari to restore the rushing offense, it’s time for the Seahawks to do what they’ve set out to do. Make opponents defend both the run and the pass. Make edge rushers read their keys. Have blockers fire out at defenders. Run the ball.

Out-score what the defense can produce: You may have heard by now Seattle no longer has the Legion of Boom, and that only three starters remain from its championship and playoff defenses of a couple years ago. And you see above what’s happening with Wagner and other starters Seattle now counts on to succeed. If ever Wilson and the offense needed to carry the night, it appears to be in this one. Perhaps 30 points, to be safe?

The pick: Seahawks, 30-24. The Bears and second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky are going to find soft spots and mistakes on Seattle’s remade defense full of fill-ins and head-scratchers. But the Seahawks finally running ball successfully slows down Mack and sets up Wilson’s big-play passes to outscore Chicago and avoid the dreaded 0-2 start.

PRIME NUMBERS

SEATTLE

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year

32 Chris Carson RB 5-11 222 second

Time for more than the seven rushes he had last week. The explosive, decisive way he runs, he deserves more than seven carries.

65 Germain Ifedi RT 6-5 325 third

Another All-Pro pass rusher coming at the maligned pass blocker. Ifedi gave up on one of Denver’s six sacks last week. Needs help with Mack in this one from rookie tight end Will Dissly, others.

56 Mychal Kendricks WLB 5-11 240 seventh

SEA so desperate to fix weakside LB while K.J. Wright recovers from knee surgery it rented a Super Bowl starter facing prison time for insider trading. CHI will test him with TEs, RBs.

CHICAGO

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year

52 Khalil Mack RB 6-3 252 fifth

Richest defensive player in NFL history looked almost worth $100 million last week with sacks, fumble recovery, interception, score in Chicago debut at Green Bay

10 Mitch Trubisky QB 6-3 222 second

Seahawks may not be completely sure what they will be getting with last year’s heralded top pick—other than athleticism to escape pressure. Ran it seven times in opener.

12 Allen Robinson II WR 6-3 211 fifth

153 catches with 20 touchdowns in 2015 and ’16 with Jaguars. Bears will have him test banged up Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin—or whatever cornerbacks Seattle have to play.

gregg.bell@thenewstribune.com; @gbellseattle

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