Notebook: Secondary Concerns


Posted Jan 2, 2007


The Seahawks got their offense going just in time for the playoffs. Now they have to figure out what to do on defense. "We have to be prepared to do something," team president Tim Ruskell said following a 23-7 victory at Tampa Bay to close the regular season.

Seattle's defensive secondary has been hit by a long list of injuries to key contributors. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant, Kelly Herndon and Jimmy Williams are expected to miss the wild-card game against the Cowboys on Saturday at Qwest Field.

Rookie corner Kelly Jennings made his first start against the Bucs because Trufant was out with a high ankle sprain suffered a week earlier. Jennings started the game on the right side, but he took Herndon's place on the left side after Herndon suffered a broken ankle.

Williams then came into the game on the right side, only to suffer a knee injury.

Jordan Babineaux, the starting strong safety until two weeks ago, replaced Williams on the right side. Seattle stayed with its base defense in nickel situations against the Bucs, but that wasn't the only problem caused by the personnel shortage.

"The biggest thing was rotating us on special teams," Babineaux said. "With the heat, that played a big part in it, too, and the fatigue. We just rotated each other around and stuck together. They put four receivers out there and we only had two corners."

The Seahawks were considering their options Monday. Coach Mike Holmgren was not available to reporters because the team was getting together its game plan for Dallas. The team will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for the Saturday game.

The team announced no moves early Monday, but the roster shuffling was expected to be done in time for practice Tuesday. The Cowboys have problems of their own, but Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn could present matchup problems against Seattle. Babineaux does have starting experience at corner, finishing the 2005 season at the position. But it's unclear how Seattle might react when the Cowboys deploy three or more receivers.

"I've been playing the nickel and the dime and so it has helped me to continue to better my cover skills," Babineaux said.

Holmgren went into the Tampa Bay game determined to play his starters to gain momentum for the playoffs. Seattle had lost three games in a row. The decision led to a strong showing by the offense, but it had no bearing on the injuries at cornerback.

Herndon and Williams would have been playing in the game even if Holmgren had decided to rest key players. Seattle simply didn't have enough depth at the position to give those guys a rest. The latest wave of injuries is par for the course in Seattle. The team previously lost Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Robbie Tobeck, Darrell Jackson, Jerramy Stevens, Bobby Engram and others for significant stretches. That explains in large part why the 2006 Seahawks don't resemble the 2005 version.

"Last year's team was a lot different because we knew across the board we were going to be better athletically than the teams we played," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "And we knew which 11 guys were going to play snap in and snap out.

"This year, a lot of guys have had to step into roles they weren't expecting early in the year. It's a growing process for our team."

NOTES, QUOTES

--SS Michael Boulware was feeling much better about himself after returning a fumble 32 yards against Tampa Bay. Boulware had been burned in pass coverage during the pivotal San Diego touchdown a week earlier. He has had problems in pass coverage all season. "It just feels good to help my team out," Boulware said. "I've been the cause of a lot of bad things, and to help out and maybe do something good feels good."

The playoffs give Boulware a clean slate, to an extent. "You've gotta clear your mind and prepare for it," Boulware said, "but at the same time, know what you did wrong because you know the other teams are going to try to capitalize on it."

--Rookie P Ryan Plackemeier made some changes to his game at midseason, resulting in more punts downed inside the 20 and fewer touchbacks. He wound up with a 45-yard gross average and a solid 37.3-yard net average. The change he made consisted of turning the nose of the ball down on shorter punts. "Darren Bennett brought it into the league and about 10 guys use it now," Plackemeier said. "You can only kick it 40, 45 yards at best, so it helps you control distance. The team is covering it well. It has definitely helped my game a lot."

--The Seahawks have issues at defensive back and receiver. Injuries have sidelined CB Marcus Trufant, CB Kelly Herndon and CB Jimmy Williams. WR Darrell Jackson and WR D.J. Hackett might also miss the playoff game Saturday depending on how they feel later in the week. The depth issues could force Seattle to lean on its ground game in an effort to dominate time of possession.

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Itula Mili did not play in the final five games of the season. Backup RT Tom Ashworth played tight end in some two-tight sets against the Bucs. Mili is not expected back next season. He is contemplating retirement for health reasons.

--TE Jerramy Stevens caught 22 passes in the 11 games he played this season, half of them in the final three games. The team wanted to get him more involved as the playoffs approached. He has cut down on the dropped passes lately.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck played one of his best games of the season Sunday. It was his only game this season with a touchdown pass, no interceptions and no more than one sack.

--WR Darrell Jackson is expected to miss the Dallas game unless his turf-toe injury improves significantly before game time. More will become known when the team resumes practicing Tuesday.

--LT Walter Jones had his hands full with Bucs DE Dwayne White on Sunday. Jones is not having one of his best seasons. He has been out of position more than usual. He probably misses having LG Steve Hutchinson next to him.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS

PASSING OFFENSE: A --
QB Matt Hasselbeck avoided interceptions and Seattle suffered from only one dropped pass. The Bucs registered only one sack and Hasselbeck had great success finding WR D.J. Hackett for big plays. Hasselbeck also effectively used TE Jerramy Stevens, who presents matchup problems for most teams. Using the tight end is important in beating the Tampa-2 defense. Seattle found openings down the middle on its way to 28 first downs.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Seattle stuck with its ground game to move the chains and sustain drives. The team's longest run was only 10 yards, bringing down the per-carry average. But the team ran well enough to control the clock for 37 minutes. C Chris Spencer and LG Rob Sims are physical drive blockers who moved the Bucs around up front. TE Will Heller made some nice blocks in spot duty at fullback.

PASS DEFENSE: B --
Bucs WR Joey Galloway got loose early for a 44-yard reception, but the Seahawks played admirably despite losing two more corners to injuries. LB Julian Peterson collected his 10th sack of the season. Seattle flushed QB Tim Rattay from the pocket a few times.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Seattle allowed a 32-yard run, but otherwise the Bucs had trouble getting much going on the ground. MLB Lofa Tatupu continued his improved play, getting off blocks and making sure tackles. LB Leroy Hill also showed more than he has most of the season. DT Rocky Bernard remained active on the interior. The Hawks were particularly effective when the Bucs handed off to FB Mike Alstott.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- K Josh Brown hit all three FG tried while sending three kickoffs for touchbacks. P Ryan Plackemeier effectively sold the officiating crew on a running-into-the-kicker penalty that helped Seattle run out the clock late in the game.

COACHING: A -- Mike Holmgren succeeded in motivating his team for a game that meant nothing in the standings. He also mixed the run and pass effectively, at one point catching the Bucs off-guard with a first-down run from a three-receiver set. The defensive staff weathered the loss of two more cornerbacks. The team stuck with its base defense in nickel situations and it worked. Special-teams coach Bob Casullo gets credit for tightening up a few problems with penalties.



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