Seahawks Still Have a Chance in Weak Division

A division title remains well within reach for the Seahawks even though they haven't played their best football over the last month. For that, they can thank the conveniently weak NFC West.

The Rams have settled back into mediocrity after a fast start, falling to 4-4 with a home loss to Kansas City. The 49ers are good enough to win an occasional game at home, but they lack the talent and depth to challenge over the long haul. Arizona is Arizona, having once again turned high expectations into a punch line.

The Seahawks aren't exactly hitting on all cylinders, but they still have the most talent in the division. They still have the best home-field advantage in the division. And they'll improve as they get healthier over the next few weeks.

Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is probably at least a week away from returning from his sprained knee. Backup Seneca Wallace has suffered some growing pains in relief, but he knows the offense and he benefits from a talented group of receivers.

The big question is whether running back Shaun Alexander will be back sooner or later. Alexander's broken left foot is taking longer to heal than first anticipated. He hasn't played since the third game of the season. Coach Mike Holmgren hoped to have Alexander back for the Oakland game on Monday night, but it didn't happen.

Alexander's replacement, Maurice Morris, hasn't fared as well as expected. The running lanes haven't been there, and Morris hasn't been able to create much on his own. He's smaller than Alexander and it doesn't take as much to bring him down. Morris has not been a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, either, a mild surprise.

Seattle needs more consistent play up front, particularly at left guard. Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer and Rob Sims have the talent to be effective, but none of them has met expectations so far. Womack is the most injury-prone player on the team. Spencer is a natural center who hasn't seemed comfortable at guard. Sims has fared well in limited reps, but coaches generally like guys with more experience.

Even if the offense improves and Seattle wins a third consecutive NFC West title, the team won't make much noise in the playoffs without more consistent play from its defense. The Seahawks have given up far too many big plays this season, mostly through the air. Their defensive backs aren't communicating well enough, and there have been too many cases of undisciplined play.

Coaches are running out of options. They benched strong safety Michael Boulware in favor of Jordan Babineaux, without getting immediate results.

The 2005 defense played better than its talent level because players rarely made assignment errors. The existing players simply must fulfill their assignments better. And they must start playing with the aggressiveness that helped Seattle get to the Super Bowl last season.

"Playing run defense and tackling is attitude," defensive coordinator John Marshall said. "Yeah, we go out and practice leverage and all that stuff. It comes down to attitude. You look at the big-time tacklers in the league -- it's attitude."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Shaun Alexander's broken left foot has not healed as fast as expected. Coach Mike Holmgren is no longer saying when he thinks Alexander might return. This is because Holmgren doesn't know. Alexander will continue to get MRIs early each week to determine whether Alexander is ready to resume practicing. Seattle's medical staff generally errs on the side of caution. It's conceivable Alexander could miss additional games.

--RT Sean Locklear has missed two consecutive starts, one because of an NFL suspension and another because his ankle injury hasn't fully healed. The Seahawks had expected Locklear to be ready for the Oakland game on Monday night, but the ankle injury kept him out of practice. Tom Ashworth is the likely starter as long as Locklear is unavailable.

--RB Maurice Morris hasn't fared as well as expected. The running lanes haven't been there, and Morris hasn't been able to create much on his own. He's smaller than Alexander and it doesn't take as much to bring him down. Morris has not been a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, either, a mild surprise.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck is probably at least a week away from returning from his sprained knee. Backup Seneca Wallace has suffered some growing pains in relief, but he knows the offense and he benefits from a talented group of receivers. The Seahawks won't rush Hasselbeck back onto the field until his knee is right.

--LT Walter Jones seems to be playing better again now that his ankle isn't bothering him so much. Jones suffered ankle injuries in the first and second games of the season. He has remained effective but he has not been as dominant this season. His level of play should rise as the ankle feels better.

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