Well, the Seahawks played their best complete game of the season, even if it was against a really bad Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. The victory and the experience did not come without a price, however, as the Seahawks will face the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card game looking very thin at cornerback.
Seattle Seahawks 23, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
December 31st, 2006
Play of The Game: Since the game did not really mean much, how about the injury to Kelly Herndon. The MMQB has been as harsh to Herndon as any column, and earlier this week, in my Ken Hamlin article, I claimed he could not “outrun the hotdog vendor”… But the Seahawks needed Herndon for the playoffs, slow of foot as he is. He is a solid tackler, but more importantly, he is cornerback, something this team has 1 ½ of (Jennings and Babineaux, the corner/safety hybrid) right now.
Bringing Their “A” Game: Matt Hasselbeck, who still doesn’t have his accuracy but completed 17 passes for 216 yards, a score, and no interceptions… WR D.J. Hackett, who caught 4 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown… TE Jerramy Stevens, who caught 4 passes for 54 yards and looked very solid… LB Julian Peterson, who had 6 tackles and a sack… CB Kelly Jennings, who blanketed his man very well, he will be vital to stopping Dallas’ passing game… SS Michael Boulware, who was not beaten deep for once and had the longest 30-yard fumble recovery in football history… P Ryan Plackemeier, who wins this almost by default.
The Bad and the Ugly: Who is going to play cornerback? CBs Kelly Herndon and Jimmy Williams both suffered injuries – Herndon a broken ankle, Williams some sort of knee injury… Aside from the one Julian Peterson sack, not a whole lot in the way of pressure on Tampa QB Tim Rattay… Joey Galloway burned the secondary – even with Herndon – several times, to the tune of 8 receptions for 118 yards and a score… LB LeRoy Hill suffered a concussion, a serious blow to a defense that cannot rush the passer and has trouble stopping the run… The announcing crew was awful, including changing to the Detroit-Dallas game during a running play – missing a Shaun Alexander fumble.
Referee Report Card: Who did D.J. Hackett anger in the replay booth? First, the zebras overturned a 33-yard touchdown reception (conclusive video proof my rear end…), then on another touchdown catch the booth once again review the catch, though this was upheld. Shaun Alexander's fumble looked to be a missed down-by-contact call. The officals failed to call offsides on Tampa DE Greg Spires, on a play where he was blatantly offsides and sacked Hasselbeck. Jerome Boger is a rookie official, and he certainly showed it today.
Offense: The Seahawks offense has been just so inconsistent this season that Holmgren had to risk injury in order to give some much-needed repetitions to the offense. The results were mixed. While the offense looked good, most of the points were the result of good field position, with Tampa turning the ball over three times, and accomplishing little on offense. The offense itself put up points but appeared smooth on only a couple of drives.
One reason the offense struggled at times was the result of that bulky knee brace that is clearly hindering QB Matt Hasselbeck. Before the knee injury, Hasselbeck was prone to making some poor reads but his accuracy was top-notch. Hasselbeck seems to be doing a better job making his reads, but his throws have often gone to the wrong spot. I bring this up only to ask what Holmgren decides to do in the playoffs. Does he leave the brace on and accept that Hasselbeck will complete fewer passes and maybe throw a pick due to inaccuracy, or does Holmgren let the quarterback take off the brace and risk aggravating the knee injury?
While his accuracy was diminished, that didn’t stop Hasselbeck from getting the ball into Jerramy Stevens’ hands. Stevens, like Herndon, has been maligned for his poor play this season. However, over the past couple of games Stevens has been solid, if unspectacular. The hands remain a worry, but as long as Stevens can continue to catch most of the balls thrown to him, the offense will have the big middle-deep threat that has been missing all season long.
While the pass offense looked solid, the running game sputtered a little. A lot of the problems had to due with running Alexander in the red zone but not near the goal line. The Tampa Bay defense was loading up on the run and Alexander had almost no room to run. Closer to the end zone the holes were not much bigger, but Alexander’s nose for the end zone made up for the mediocre blocking. Some passes would likely have opened up some room and really made a difference in terms of Alexander’s YPC average.
One possible reason Holmgren stuck to the run so stubbornly – I think that is the first time I’ve ever said that about Holmgren – is that he wanted to give the offensive line practice run-blocking. While the team has struggled in pass-protection, many sacks came from confusing blitzes instead of good front-four play. However, the running game has not had sustained success all season. By calling more running plays, the linesmen got to do what they love – run blocking – while also working on their biggest weakness.
Lastly, a note to the coach: The offense needed this game to get their heads removed from their rears. However, was it necessary to leave the first team offense in when you were doing little more than killing the clock? You’d already lost two cornerbacks, were you so anxious to lose Deion Branch, who got rolled on and looked injured for a moment, as well?
Defense: Where, oh where, have our cornerbacks gone? First Marcus Trufant is injured against San Diego. Then, Seattle’s #2 and #4 corners are both injured against Tampa Bay. A unit that has remained so healthy all season long is now down to the third and fifth corners, a rookie and a former (failed) starter at safety. This unit is suppose to go against Tony Romo, who the national media has informed me was just named God’s right hand man, and Terrell Owens? Yikes!
The real question is, how will Seattle fill the void at cornerback? Will we call up practice squad player Gerard Ross? Will we sign every cornerback off of various practice squads? Will we try to find a recently retired cornerback who wants another ring? Will we hold open tryouts like the Eagles did in the 1970s? Even if Seattle manages to snag some free agent cornerbacks, they likely won’t be any good, so how does Seattle game-plan for Dallas? Will we see a lot of confusing zone scheme in the hope that Romo will throw some lame ducks? Or will we see a vanilla defense that will be out-talented by Dallas? Given our coordinator, I’d wager the second option.
A little disturbing was the defense’s inability to stop the run. While Gruden didn’t run very often – the running backs had only 16 carries – Pittman still averaged over six yards a carry. The Tampa Bay offensive line is not even a good one, so the dominance up front is disturbing. I am especially worried given the running style of Dallas RB Marion Barber III, a smash-mouth runner with excellent vision. Seattle will need a great effort by the defensive line just to contain Barber.
But the defensive line cannot focus just on the running game. Tony Romo is not nearly as good as Dallas fans believe, but if he is given all day to throw he will hurt a defense. So far the defensive line has notched two sacks over the past four games, against a slew of young quarterbacks. It will be vital for the defense to get to Romo early and often, even if that means sending blitzes (Note to Marshall, you can send players other than Julian Peterson on blitzes) and risking a big play our two. Dallas’ offense matches well against Seattle’s, so the coaching will need to be much more creative than we’ve seen this season.
Special Teams: Solid, if unspectacular. Nothing really of note here, except I think Tampa had more special-team penalties than we did, a rarity. Plackemeier continued to boom punts across the field, and Brown continued his efficient kicking. The only real thing of note was that Brown’s kickoffs made it to the end zone with regularity.
Summary: This game was not really important to Seattle, except to give the team more practice. The team did so, but with a cost – the loss of two experienced cornerbacks. Injuries are a part of life in the NFL, but it sure would be nice if we could stop the flood of injuries to our already weak secondary. Seattle will be riding the 12th man against Dallas next Saturday, and hopefully stadium’s record against NFC East teams will continue.
Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.