Notebook: No Margin for Error in Arrowhead

The Seahawks weren't playing particularly well in their last game, but the score was tied in the third quarter and a 13th consecutive home victory was well within reach. Or so they thought. Losing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck changed everything for Seattle, and his absence puts the Seahawks at a distinct disadvantage in Kansas City this week.

The Chiefs are improved on defense and tough at home, a combination Seattle will have trouble solving without Hasselbeck and injured running back Shaun Alexander.

Quarterback Seneca Wallace is making his first NFL start. "What I talked to the team about was, 'Don't worry about Seneca, worry about what you do, and then we can maybe make Seneca's job easier,'" coach Mike Holmgren said.

Wallace is a gifted athlete who can make plays with his feet better than any current passer not named Michael Vick. It's unclear, however, how well Wallace's skills fit this offense. If the Seahawks ask Wallace to do what Hasselbeck did, they could be missing out. On the other hand, turning him loose could come at the expense of the rhythm that makes a West Coast offense go.

"We'll change a couple things," Holmgren said. "Obviously, his grasp of the things we ask Matt to do as far as formations and motions, that has to change just a little bit.

"But the structure of the offense and what we ask him to do won't change that much."

The Seahawks are having problems on their offensive line. Former center Chris Spencer is playing out of position at left guard, and it shows. He lacked experience, anyway, and the position change could be a little more than he's ready to handle right away.

Alexander was averaging only 2.9 yards per carry before leaving the lineup with a broken foot. Replacement Maurice Morris is faring only slightly better (3.1), in part because Seattle has faced stout defenses in losses to Chicago and Minnesota.

Hasselbeck was the great equalizer. Though he forced things and got burned by the Bears, he gave Seattle a chance to win every week. His heads-up audible produced a 72-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the Minnesota game, a prime example of what the Seahawks will be miss for a three-week period starting in Kansas City.

"You have to guard against overloading (Wallace), but at the same time I don't want to insult his abilities either, or his preparation, or his ability to play the game," Holmgren said. "I want him to be confident when he plays, and feel good about the stuff.

"There are plays in every week's game plan, where on Friday I'll talk to Matt and he goes, 'I'm kind of lukewarm on this,' and I just take them out. It doesn't matter how smart my coaches are. What matters is how the player can function with what we teach him. It is a fine line, but I believe he'll handle most things pretty well."

Defensively, the Seahawks are harping on becoming more disciplined. They benched strong safety Michael Boulware in favor of dime back Jordan Babinaeux, a player has made big plays for Seattle on passing downs. The move should help Seattle tighten up against the deep ball down the middle of the field. The move also sent a strong message to the defense: Either play within the system or take a seat.
Boulware is a diligent worker and talented athlete. He has outstanding ball skills. But he has also been out of position on several long balls. The Vikings lacked offensive firepower, but they threw over Boulware's head for a confidence-building 40-yard touchdown that tied the game just before halftime.

Seattle needed to eliminate those types of plays even before losing Hasselbeck. It's even more important now that the three-time Pro Bowl passer won't be there to bail them out.

SERIES HISTORY:
The Chiefs lead, 30-18. Kansas City dominated this rivalry when Seattle was in the AFC West from 1977 through 2001. The Chiefs hold a 19-5 series lead in Kansas City. Seattle was winless there between 1990 and 1999.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Seneca Wallace never had to study his playbook a great deal at Iowa State. He really didn't need great study habits when he first came to Seattle given that he was third on the depth chart. That changed when the Seahawks started thinking about making Wallace their No. 2 quarterback, a move that became official last season.

Wallace initially had some problems in his approach to learning. At the team's suggestion, he attended learning classes that helped him better absorb the playbook. "It was just a class that helped me study," Wallace said. "It helped me prepare. It is something that a lot of people do; there was a lot of grownups there, just helping you prepare and visualize things differently. It had nothing to do with me being
dyslexic or whatever the situation was (reported to be). It was a class that I thought could help me out in the long run."

--Coach Mike Holmgren has a tough road ahead as the Seahawks make do without their starting quarterback. That's a tough challenge for a coach, but nothing compared to what Holmgren's wife and daughter are facing on their medical mission to Rwanda. The two left this week for the troubled African country. They served previously in the Congo while the Seahawks were at Super Bowl XL.

--Starting QB Matt Hasselbeck has great freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Wallace will have that power, too, but not to the same degree. "See, Seneca is usually standing next to me on the sidelines," Holmgren said, "so he knows every time Matt changes the play and it doesn't work, he knows exactly what I say. So now, he's going to be the guy."

--Wallace has not been getting first-team snaps in practice until this week because Holmgren thinks it's pointless for the backup to take snaps from the starter. Years ago he tried to get some practice snaps for the backup, but not any more.

"The more you think about it, in the short-yardage drill, we have four plays," Holmgren said. "To split it up and have it go 2-and-2, I don't know if it was helping anybody."

BY THE NUMBERS: 21 -- The number of sacks Seattle has allowed in six games, compared to 24 all last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He can help me out a lot. He has been doing this for a long time and he knows how it goes preparing each week and getting ready to play a game as a starter. He will be here helping me out all week." -- Seneca Wallace on the input he's getting from injured starting QB Matt Hasselbeck.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Seahawks' inability to land a veteran backup quarterback in free agency could cost them. The team tried to sign Brad Johnson, to no avail. Seattle also brought in journeyman Jamie Martin for a visit. In the end, the Seahawks went to camp with Seneca Wallace and David Greene behind starter Matt Hasselbeck.

Hasselbeck will miss the next three games with a knee injury. Seattle re-signed Gibran Hamdan as insurance after releasing him during the exhibition season, but the move did not give coach Mike Holmgren an experienced option while Hasselbeck is away.

Wallace, Greene and Hamdan have never started an NFL game, even in the preseason.

PLAYER NOTES

--DB Jordan Babineaux moves into the starting lineup at strong safety as Seattle tries to guard against the big pass play. That means SS Michael Boulware will come off the bench, if he plays much at all. Babineaux has made big plays as a nickel and dime corner, but he hasn't played safety extensively since college. Babineaux fits the mold of a free safety more than a strong safety, but that isn't important to Seattle right now. The Seahawks need disciplined play from the position and Babineaux will try to give them that.

--SS Michael Boulware lost his starting job after Seattle's defensive gave up too many big pass plays recently. DB Jordan Babineaux will start in Boulware's place.

--TE Jerramy Stevens will move into the starting lineup this week for the first time all season. He played in a reserve role last week and did not catch a pass. Stevens is coming off two knee surgeries in the last six months.

--LB Julian Peterson has six sacks in six games, but he might prove most valuable Sunday in pass coverage against Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez. Peterson has the athletic ability to run with any tight end in the league. He is also valuable as a pass rusher, however, and Seattle will have to determine where he is most needed. Leaving LB Leroy Hill on Gonzalez would not seem to make much sense.

--RB Shaun Alexander is getting closer to practicing. "He was on the treadmill and his foot responded well," coach Mike Holmgren said. "He will continue to increase his workload this week with the target being next week's game."

--RT Sean Locklear missed practice Wednesday and the team added him to its injury report. Locklear is expected to start Sunday.

--LG Rob Sims is getting some first-team reps this week as Seattle considers its options. LG Chris Spencer has struggled this season and the team is without injured starting LG Floyd Womack for another week or so.

--LG Chris Spencer is on a short leash and could lose his job to rookie LG Rob Sims. Spencer has struggled early in the season.

GAME PLAN: Seattle's defense must force turnovers and possibly even score points for the Seahawks to have a good shot at winning this game. The offense could have a tough time dealing with the Arrowhead Stadium noise, particularly with QB Seneca Wallace making his first start. Seattle's ground game is stuck in neutral, putting undue pressure on the passing game. That's a terrible combination for Seattle and another reason the Seahawks need their defense to come up big.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Seahawks QB Seneca Wallace vs. Chiefs coach Herm Edwards. Wallace has virtually no NFL experience. Edwards has turned around the Chiefs' defense. One question could be how much to pressure Wallace. Wallace has the legs to escape the rush and take off downfield. He can also throw for long pass plays on the move. One strategy might be to sit back and let Wallace make mistakes. Letting him improvise could be a little more dangerous.

--Seahawks LB Julian Peterson vs. Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez. Peterson is one of the best athletes in the league. Gonzalez is aging but still dangerous, and he's coming off a big game. The question here is how frequently Seattle's coaches will assign Peterson to Gonzalez. It's a matchup Peterson can win if given the chance.

INJURY IMPACT: It doesn't get much bigger than losing Hasselbeck. His absence severely impacts Seattle's ability to win games. The Seahawks' margin for error was already small given its blocking problems and the absence of RB Shaun Alexander. Now the margin for error might not be there at all.

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