The game within Sunday’s game between the Seahawks and Bears will be Matt Hasselbeck and Brian Urlacher trying to out-check one another before each snap at Soldier Field.
Brian Urlacher points with one hand and makes a quick gesture with the other as he inches closer to the line of scrimmage.
Matt Hasselbeck counters by stepping away from center, hollering something to his left and then pointing in Urlacher’s direction with his right hand.
That prompts Urlacher to take a step back, flap both arms and yell something to the linemen who are hunkered into their stances in front of him.
Hasselbeck then touches his helmet with both hands before yelling something to his right and then left.
Before the ball is ever snapped in Sunday’s game between the Seahawks and Bears in Chicago, Hasselbeck and Urlacher will engage in a game within the game that has been worth the price of admission when the Seahawks’ three-time Pro Bowl quarterback and the Bears’ six-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker have faced off in the past.
“Urlacher does a great job of audibling as a middle linebacker,” Hasselbeck said Thursday. “He’s a great player and he’s well-coached. He’s been playing in this scheme a long time and you’ll see when an offense checks – a quarterback checks – he’ll check. Or, if he gets the sense that you’re pretending to check, then he’ll call it off.
“It’s one of those things where you make eye contact with him, you’re making a check, and he’s like, ‘No. No. No. Let’s just leave this one on.’ Or other times, he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, let’s check.’ And so he’s a great player.”
The beauty of this bald-on-bald game of pre-snap cat and mouse – or Seahawk and Bear – was holstered last season, when Hasselbeck (cracked ribs) and Urlacher (season-ending wrist surgery) sat out the Week 3 game at Qwest Field.
But they have faced one another four other times. The Seahawks won 30-23 in 2007 and 24-17 in 2003, both at Qwest Field. The Bears beat the Seahawks twice in Chicago in 2006 – 37-6 during the regular season and 27-24 in overtime in the playoffs.
In the Seahawks’ wins, Hasselbeck completed 69 percent of his passes (49 of 71) for 552 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception. He was sacked four times. In the ’06 losses, Hasselbeck was sacked eight times while completing 50 percent of his throws (34 of 68) for 391 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Urlacher, meanwhile, had 21 tackles in the two losses at Qwest Field, but had only one big play – a tipped pass. In the ’06 doubleheader at Soldier Field, Urlacher totaled 19 tackles, but also had two tackles for losses and three passes defensed.
Except their moves and countermoves to have an equal impact on Sunday’s game, as the 4-1 Bears try to strengthen their bear hug on first place in the NFC North and the 2-2 Seahawks try to steal an upset victory on the road.
“I like that when we’re at home,” Hasselbeck said of his gamesmanship with Urlacher. “It’s a little tougher when we’re there.”
The opposing coaches definitely like what they see in the Seahawks’ quarterback and the quarterback of the Bears’ defense.
“We played against Hasselbeck quite a few times,” Beas coach Lovie Smith said this week. “We really have a lot of respect for his game. With a quarterback like that you know you’re in decent shape.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had this to say about Urlacher and the Bears’ defense: “There are a couple of big dogs they’ve got over there. With (Julius) Peppers and Urlacher and (Lance) Briggs, they’ve got some big-time players and they just don’t give an inch.”
Just as the Seahawks have not been the same without Hasselbeck the past two seasons (3-7 in games he missed because of injuries), the Bears learned last season what life is like without Urlacher. After he was lost of the season in the opener, the Bears went 7-9 and the defense ranked 17th in the league. This season, it’s 4-1 and the defense ranks No. 6 – third against the run.
“I mean we talk about Julius,” Smith said of Peppers, the Bears’ big free-agent addition this year. “We talk about a lot of different people. But Brian Urlacher is the face of our franchise and, of course, the face of our defense.
“He’s the quarterback of the defense. Everything starts through him. Last year, we didn’t have a guy that all our players are used to hearing before every snap. It’s different. But to have him back this year truly healthy, sometimes taking a year off can help the rest of your body heal up.
“All I know is that he’s just been like the Brian of three years ago. That’s the type of play we’ve been getting from him, whether it be physical play or making great interceptions like he did last week.”
Then there are the things Urlacher brings before the ball is even snapped.
“It’s just one of those things,” Hasselbeck said. “I think for us, we’ve got to understand they are very, very good at it. And so even though that is a big part of our game typically, that probably isn’t going to be as big a part of our game because of what he brings to the table.”
It makes you wonder, of course, if Urlacher is buying that prediction.