KEYS TO THE GAME: Rhythm
dancers: In a tough road environment, Seattle must do a better job of capitalizing
on its scoring opportunities. The Seahawks have scored just five touchdowns
in 13 red-zone possessions. RB Shaun Alexander is still running with a soft
cast on his fractured wrist, but he must keep the offense out of third-and-long
situations against Pittsburgh's pass rush. ... After watching Seahawks defensive
coordinator John Marshall turn his linebackers loose on the 49ers' quarterbacks
last week, the Steelers want to make sure they establish the run. That will
help buy time for QB Ben Roethlisberger, who did not enjoy strong protection
in the loss to Arizona. Coach Mike Tomlin also wants to clean up sloppy play
that led to 11 penalties.
KEY INJURIES: Seahawks:
CB Josh Wilson (ankle) is out. Steelers: WR Hines Ward (knee sprain) might return;
SS Troy Polamalu (abdomen) and NT Casey Hampton (hamstring) are expected to
play; nickel CB Bryant McFadden (high ankle sprain) is out; TE Matt Spaeth (bruised
thigh) will play after missing two games.
The Seahawks have 11 new
starters since their loss in Super Bowl XL. ... The Steelers have not allowed
a first-half touchdown this season.
--CB Kevin Hobbs was signed off the practice squad to add depth at the position
with Josh Wilson out with an ankle injury.
--RB Maurice Morris was held out of practice Thursday as he continues to nurse
a hip injury. His availability for the Pittsburgh game will be decided later.
--LB Will Herring returned to limited practice after taking a day off with a
--DT Rocky Bernard eased back into action Thursday; he missed part of Sunday's
game against San Francisco with an ankle injury.
--QB Ben Roethlisberger went through a full practice for the first time this
week on Thursday and should be fine for Sunday. He was limited in practice Wednesday
after his left foot was stepped on last week.
--WR Hines Ward again did not practice Thursday, but hopes to do so on Friday.
Ward missed last Sunday's game with a sprained knee and coach Mike Tomlin described
his status this week as questionable.
--NT Casey Hampton, who left last Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, has
not practiced this week but plans to on Friday and to start Sunday.
--SS Troy Polamalu, who left last Sunday's game with a rib cartilage injury,
has not practiced this week but plans to on Friday and to start Sunday.
--CB William Gay moves up to No. 3 this week with Bryant McFadden out (sprained
ankle). Gay has moved ahead of four-year veteran Ricardo Colclough.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Seahawks rank 17th in the NFL in rushing, but that area has been an area
of disappointment for head coach Mike Holmgren, who has seen several drives
this season stalled for failing to convert third-and-short rushes.
Holmgren said the rushing game was going to be a focal point during practice
the week before the Pittsburgh game. But the timing is difficult considering
the Steelers have the league's No. 2-rated defense.
"I supposed you'd like a different opponent to try and feel better about
stuff, but we can only control what we can control," Holmgren said.
The Seahawks average 104.5 yards a game, but leading rusher Shaun Alexander
is getting only 3.9 per carry. And even that figure is inflated by several long
runs that he's tacked on at the end of games.
The problem, Holmgren said, is not effort, but execution.
"We have had too many assignment errors," he said. "It's not
necessarily the defensive scheme or the team we're playing against. We're making
too many mistakes for what I would consider a pretty veteran group. These plays
are not new plays."
Holmgren said that he "let them have it" before practice on Wednesday
about being better about knowing assignments.
"Physical errors, that's football," he said. "But I will not
tolerate assignment breakdowns like that."
This game marks the first time the Seahawks and Steelers have met since February
5, 2006. That game, Super Bowl XL, was taken fair and square by Pittsburgh,
21-10, though several suspect calls overshadowed everything on both sides. For
Seattle, there was the frustration of wondering what might have been had the
calls evened out – it seemed that all the calls came at crucial times
for the Seahawks. For Pittsburgh, the irritation still arises from a game in
which their own performances aren’t mentioned often enough.
Though beat writers have
attempted to blow up the “Seattle’s still whining” story,
the Seahawks have only responded to questions asked of them by the media, and
generally with a forward-looking tone. The subsequent running to the Steelers’
side with a “Hey, did you hear what they said THIS time?” is more
worthy of the worst high-school drama clichés than professional sports
An example of such fabrication
can be seen in this report:
The Seattle Seahawks come to Pittsburgh Sunday still complaining about their
loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL, claiming the officials stole victory
from them. Even their press release for the game this week states about that
game, "Seattle out-gained Pittsburgh in various statistical categories
but an uncharacteristic seven penalties and two Pittsburgh big plays aided to
the final outcome."
The Steelers say it was folly then and even more humorous that they keep it
up. "I thought it was comical," guard Alan Faneca said.
"They're not going to get our Super Bowl rings," safety Troy Polamalu
"Wow, they are still talking about that?" quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
wondered. "We won. It's in the books. We got it."
Both teams could be contenders for the next Super Bowl. They enter the game
with identical 3-1 records.
And that's where the focus should be - on the upcoming game.
"I think that some of the faces are the same, they have some new faces,"
Roethlisberger said. "They have proved it by the way they played that they
are a very good defense -- exceptional talent in the secondary, great group
of linebackers maybe one of the best middle linebackers (Lofa Tatupu) playing
right now. Obviously their front four is very active, like to get in the backfield
and cause disruptions in the pass game."
That's an area of concern for the Steelers after Roethlisberger was sacked four
times and forced to scramble or throw the ball on the run many more times under
a heavy Cardinals rush last Sunday in Arizona.
It's not something he necessarily wants to continue doing this Sunday.
"When a quarterback scrambles, it's hard on everybody," Roethlisberger
said. "It's hard on linemen, it's hard on receivers. There are no rules.
It's play football."