The heart of every Seahawks fan skipped a beat or ten as Hasselbeck crumpled to the turf before being helped off the field. More important than the loss is the future of Seahawk's franchise quarterback, and if backup QB Seneca Wallace can lead the Seahawks in Matt's place.
Minnesota Vikings 31, Seattle Seahawks 13
Sunday October 22nd, 2006
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
Play of The Day: While Hasselbeck's knee injury is clearly the most important event to occur today, the play with the most impact on the game was RB Chester Taylor's 95-yard touchdown run. Running behind former Seahawk LG Steve Hutchison, Taylor found no room and bounced the play to the outside, where he saw daylight and ran almost untouched to the end zone. The run defense, which had been stellar all year, laid an egg on this play specifically and today in general. LB Lofa Tatupu, who came into today leading the team in tackles with 40, had an opportunity to stop Taylor but missed his tackle right as Taylor accelerated through the hole.
Bringing Their "A" Game: LB Julian Peterson, with 12 tackles and two sacks - the only player to truly play inspired... LB LeRoy Hill, 6 great tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble... FS Ken Hamlin, for 9 tackles, several passes defensed, and a couple bone-jarring hits… WR Darrell Jackson, who despite a few mistakes caught 7 passes for 136 yards and a score... Marcus Tubbs, despite not having the big numbers, had a great game against Hutchison, particularly against the run… P Ryan Plackemeier has actually reserved this spot for the rest of the season, as he continues to boom punts with ease - a 51.2 yard-per-punt average today…
Go Back to Training Camp: FB Mack Strong, who has had troubles in pass-protection all year, had an awful game - giving up a sack, pushing his man into Hasselbeck (causing the injury) and missing his block on Seattle's failed 4th-and-1 run… RB Maurice Morris, who apart from an early 27-yard run gained nothing on his other 16 carries… SS Michael Boulware, never a coverage safety, had a lot of trouble dealing with the deep pass and was burned a couple of times - though he does get props for almost catching RB Taylor from behind during the 95-yard touchdown run… The entire defensive line, for poor pressure in the passing game (three of the four sacks came from Lbs Julian Peterson and LeRoy Hill), though the run-stuffing wasn't horrible… Mike Holmgren, for calling an off-tackle run on 4th and 1...
Referee Report Card: Overall it wasn't a bad game by the referees. There was a downright criminal pass interference call on CB Marcus Trufant, but otherwise the refs were solid. Despite what some angry Seattle fans believed, E.J. Henderson was pushed by Mack Strong into Hasselbeck's leg, so no flag was warranted. Overall a solid effort results in a solid B.
Offense: The offense got off to a wonderful start. On the first series, Hasselbeck motioned for WR Jackson to move into the slot on the right, matching him up against 2nd year nobody CB Ronyell Whitaker. Jackson caught the pass and ran up the field for a quick seven points. Despite the mountains of praise heaped on Hasselbeck by the announcing crew, it looks like the play was designed to motion the receiver so that Jackson would have a favorable match-up. Either way, the play was a stunning success that should have set the tempo for the offense.
Unfortunately, the running game took away any momentum that Hasselbeck could've used. After a big 27-yard run by Maurice Morris early in the 1st quarter, Morris gained 22 yards on his remaining 16 carries. Now, the Vikings are a very solid team against the run, but Morris has had trouble running inside all year. Despite his best effort, his size makes it difficult for him to run between the tackles: He is brought down too easily, linebackers just need to get an arm on Morris and hold on, they'll bring him down. In comparison, Minnesota's RB Chester Taylor slipped through tackles all day despite facing a far superior linebacker group against Seattle.
There were three players on offense who came to play today: LT Walter Jones, who was his usual self, WR D.J. Hackett, who caught 4 passes for 37 yards and operated the middle of the field beautifully, and WR Darrell Jackson was golden, as usual. However, every other offensive player was either overlooked or played poorly. Hasselbeck was injured but even before the injury he didn't look very sharp. RT Sean Locklear finally allowed a sack, and honestly it looked like DE Darrion Scott caught Locklear off guard when Scott bull-rushed and hit Hasselbeck for a sack. The interior line hasn't been a strength of the offense lately and it showed against two great defensive tackles. WR Deion Branch was solid but Wallace didn't seem comfortable throwing to him. And Mack Strong…
Strong might be the biggest weakness of this offense. Every Seahawks fan has a special place in their heart for the veteran fullback - he's arguably the most beloved current Seahawk - but his blocking has become a liability. He has been at least partially responsible for close to half a dozen sacks on Hasselbeck and has had trouble run blocking for Maurice Morris. These troubles were exacerbated against Minnesota. First Strong gave up a sack with 6:00 remaining in the 2nd half (split between LB Napoleon Harris and DE Ray Edwards), then in the 3rd quarter he made the unfortunate mistake of pushing blitzing LB E.J. Henderson down to the ground and into Hasselbeck's knee. Worst off all, Strong's normally stellar run-blocking looked shaky. Morris gained nothing, and on several times he and Strong didn't seem to be on the same page. On the 4th-and-1 off-tackle run (an inexcusable call by Holmgren), Strong unnecessarily blocked DE Kenechi Udeze (who was being handled quite nicely by LT Jones), coming too late to keep LB E.J. Henderson (that's a familiar name) from tackling Morris for a 3 yard loss. While Strong has been a solid receiver and has shown a lot of juice in the running game, his (vital) role in an offense is as a blocker and he has had trouble fulfilling that role.
Obviously the loss of Matt Hasselbeck is tremendous. He is the emotional leader of an offense that features many laid-back players. He is also a perfect fit for the West Coast Offense that Holmgren runs. However, his loss (as of now, estimated between 1-4 weeks) does not spell the end of Seattle's playoff hopes. For the last four years, Seneca Wallace has been patiently waiting for his chance to take a meaningful snap. Well, the snaps weren't meaningful for long but Seattle finally got to see what Seneca could do against a real defense, with a 1st team offense. While the numbers aren't impressive at all - 14/25, 134 yards, and 2 interceptions - Wallace performed much better than those numbers indicate. He also showed some impressive potential.
There are three huge differences we'll see between Wallace and Hasselbeck. The obvious one is that Seneca is much, much faster than Hasselbeck. While Hasselbeck can occasionally do a Michael Vick impersonation, weaving through open space for a first down, Seneca made a college career of doing that. The biggest drawback with Seneca is that he locks onto his man far too often. While Hasselbeck has gotten very good as finding his 2nd and 3rd options at the right point in their routes, Seneca will stare down one receiver - though he usually will check down for a short completion if the #1 read is covered. We saw Branch, usually the #2 read on most plays, get fewer looks once Seneca came in, though Jackson got a steady diet of passes. The last difference is that Seneca has a high powered rifle where mere mortals have a right arm. He threw bullets to receivers while on the run, off his back foot, sidestepping the rush, upside down while learning Latin… He can make all the throws.
Seneca would've looked much better if he'd had time to prepare - his first few snaps were rusty, and understandably so. As he got into a groove Seattle saw more of his game. As rarely as this is said for running quarterbacks, he had opportunities where he probably should have run but instead threw the ball. Looking at his interceptions, both were the results of poor reads - what look to be his only two throws into coverage - and some bad luck. His first interception he tried to force a throw to Jackson, who had no chance of catching the pass because CB Cedric Griffin was right in front of Jackson. His second interception was possible a worse read, as WR Deion Branch was sandwiched between two Viking defenders, one of them LB E.J. Henderson - who had a spectacular game against Seattle. Despite those two mistakes, Seneca looked sharper as the game progressed and looked like someone who could lead this offense in Hasselbeck's absence.
Defense: The biggest story of the defense is the mortality of the Seahawk run defense. The run defense hadn't had a downright bad game dating back to the 2004 season (when the defense had plenty of bad games). However, Chester Taylor churned out a performance that would be noteworthy, even without the 95-yard backbreaking touchdown romp. He was the first running back in a long time to consistently gain positive yardage. It wasn't great blocking up front - he often got hit, but he seldom went down. His inside-the-tackle presence was the perfect crutch for Minnesota's passing game, which seemed more miss than hit. Minus when Taylor was passing.
And did that trick play ever catch the defense with their pants around their ankles. While it is tempting to heap the blame at the feet of SS Michael Boulware - which does occur later in this article - he really was caught in a bad situation. It was a well executed play by Taylor in particular. Normally on halfback passes, it is easy to spot the pass coming because the halfback will run more upright than normal. In this case Taylor ran really low and did a convincing job of selling the run. Could Boulware of made a better read? Obviously. However, even though it wasn't the right read, it wasn't a boneheaded play by Boulware.
While Boulware should be absolved of the blame for the trick pass, he was 100% responsible for WR Marcus Robinson's 1st quarter 40-yard touchdown reception. Playing 4 deep coverage, Boulware had a deep zone responsibility. Robinson faked a post route, which Boulware bit on, before he turned up field and sprinted past Boulware for a touchdown. In Boulware's defense, quarterbacks feel like they've won the lottery when their best wideout is matched up against a safety. That was a perfect play call by the Vikings, who would have been in a lot more trouble if Seattle had called a man defense. At the end of the day, this is Boulware's third year at safety, he should not be falling for simple fake routes like that.
Boulware might have struggled, but FS Ken Hamlin had a huge day. Nine tackles, many of them against the running back. And, despite some harsh criticism by Seattle fans, Hamlin was absolutely dominating in coverage. Hamlin only had a few chances, but made the most of them. On one pass, with 9:50 remaining in the 1st quarter, Hamlin leaped into the air and deflected a short pass. A few plays later, with 8:30 remaining in the 1st quarter, Hamlin laid a bone-jarring hit as WR Troy Williamson tried to come down with a deep reception, knocking the ball loose and sidelining Williamson. Don't be surprised if that appears on some highlight reels. Late in the second quarter, QB Brad Johnson tried to hook up with WR Marcus Robinson, who was being covered by Trufant. As the ball sailed a few feet beyond Robinson, Hamlin appeared from almost nowhere and hit Robinson with the force of a sledgehammer - that kind of hit doesn't impact the play but energizes the crowd and the rest of the defense. Comeback Player Of the Year, anyone?
There remains a problem with the front four generating a pass-rush. Linebacker/DE Julian Peterson - who has 6 sacks on the year - is doing a great job of providing pressure, and LeRoy Hill is making the most of his blitzes, as usual, but the defensive line isn't consistently getting in the quarterback's face. LG Steve Hutchison had some issues in the running game but stonewalled Seattle's defensive tackles in the passing game. DT Rocky Bernard finally notched a sack, hopefully a sign for improvement, but RE Grant Wistrom continues to be the invisible man of the defense. Even against the run he looked frustrated. DE Darryl Tapp, who looked really good to start the season, has gone silent over the past month. Until the front four starts at least hurrying throws, the defense will be forced to either let the Quarterback pick them apart or risk leaving the middle of the field open for blitzes.
Special Teams: Wow. The coverage units had been extremely solid for most of the year, even against solid return men like Lions KR Eddie Drummond. However, today it seemed every time that the Vikings returned a punt or a kick they went right through the coverage units. RB/KR/PR Mewelde Moore showed some fancy footwork, or supernatural powers, as he danced through the coverage for huge gains. The only bright spot was P Ryan Plackemeiers punting, which continues to be excellent.
Summary: This team is hurting. TE Jerramy Stevens played almost no snaps, though seeing him on the field was definitely a positive. RB Shaun Alexander continues to sit, and his absence hurts the ability of the offense to run inside, where Maurice Morris is completely out of his element. QB Matt Hasselbeck is injured, and is likely to miss at least a couple of games, leaving the offense resting squarely on the shoulders of backup QB Seneca Wallace. This was supposed to be a deep team, well, Seattle will get to see just how deep the team really is when they travel to Kansas City to take on the suddenly resurgent Chiefs.