Bears-Seahawks: Five things to watch

Five things to watch for in Sunday’s Chicago Bears-Seattle Seahawks divisional-round playoff game at Soldier Field.

Special-teams units for both teams: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll stirred up debate earlier in the week by saying his team’s plan is to kick the ball to Devin Hester. But there’s reasoning behind the coach’s logic. Although Hester broke loose for an 89-yard touchdown in the Week 6 meeting between the teams, it’s important to note that Seahawks punter Jon Ryan pinned the Bears inside the 10-yard line five times that day and that for the most part, the Seahawks have been adept at kick coverage this season. Hester’s game-breaking ability demands attention, but the Bears also aren’t sleeping on Seattle return man Leon Washington, who has run back three kickoffs for touchdowns.

Will Seahawks apply pressure? Seattle sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six times when the teams played in October, but since then the Seahawks have dialed back the pressure somewhat. The Seahawks have sent four rushers or fewer approximately 90 percent of the time in their past two games. But against the Bears in Week 6, the Seahawks generated 4.5 of their sacks with blitzes from defensive backs. So it’ll be interesting to see what tactic the Seahawks employ in Sunday’s meeting. The Seahawks have been able to apply sufficient pressure with the four-man rush lately because of improved play from defensive ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock.

How the week off affects the Bears: The last time the team received significant time off, it struggled in its return. Coming off a bye in October, the Bears faced the Buffalo Bills in Toronto and won 22-19. But with 10 minutes left to play, the Bears trailed to a Bills team that racked up 340 yards of offense and converted 63 percent of third downs. Although Chicago owns the obvious home-field advantage, the way it starts out Sunday’s game ultimately could determine the victor. The Bears can’t afford to get off to a sluggish start against the Seahawks, who enter the game riding a wave of momentum.

How the Bears affect Hasselbeck with the rush: Widely considered the most valuable player for the Bears' defense, Julius Peppers seemingly disappeared when the teams played in October, contributing just three tackles playing against a rookie offensive tackle in Russell Okung. The Bears finished the game with no sacks and were credited with only one quarterback hit, allowing veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck plenty of time to diagnose coverages and pick them apart. With Peppers neutralized, none of the other Bears stepped up to fill the void. That can’t happen Sunday against Hasselbeck, who is set to make his 11th postseason start and has proved adept at exploiting the weaknesses of Cover 2.

Forte’s involvement: The Bears need to make sure to get running back Matt Forte rolling right away because he’s the key to success on offense. The Bears averaged 16 runs per game in five losses during the regular season and more than 30 runs in the 11 victories. So the numbers prove Forte’s importance. Besides that, Forte is on a hot streak, averaging nearly 6 yards per carry in the past month and a half. By establishing Forte as a major threat early on, the Bears would be able to easily work in their play-action passing game, which also would slow down Seattle’s rush.