Behind Enemy Lines: Seatle Seahawks

Doug Farrar of Seahawks.NET answers your questions as the Seahawks prepare to take on the Browns. Here's the latest perspective on Sunday afternoon's game straight from the Pacific Northwest...

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PHILLYBROWN and KRAZINESS: What percentage of the following has caused Shaun Alexander's horrible season?
1) Poor O-Line Play
2) Alexander losing his burst
3) Defenses crowding the box
4) Broken hand

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: There's no question that Shaun Alexander's relative ineffectiveness has been the Seahawks' biggest story this season, After winning the NFL Most Valuable Player award in 2005 with 1,880 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns, Alexander gained less than half that amount in 2006 (896 in the regular season) after missing six games with a broken bone in his left foot. In 2007 he's amassed only 460 yards in seven games, and his 3.6 yards per carry average last year, and 3.4 average in 2007, point to severe decline.

As far as the reasons for it, I'd say it's mostly a cross between poor offensive line play and Alexander losing a great deal of his ability to accelerate out of cuts and bounce outside. This was most evident this season in a 21-0 loss to th Steelers, in which Willie Parker was making cuts that Shaun simply couldn't anymore. At his best, I think he was a cross between Franco Harris (without the ability to break tackles inside) and Duane Thomas. He would glide more than he would chop through tacklers, but he seems to have lost his afterburners.

As a result, defenses are playing Seattle honest, or actually playing pass more than ever. The Steelers put up to eight defenders in coverage, boxing out Seattle's receivers, and Alexander still couldn't gain any ground. That should tell you all you need to know.

BETTERHANDS: What are pros/cons of your O-Line from both the run-blocking and pass-blocking perspectives?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: The line has been a problem since the Seahawks lost left guard Steve Hutchinson to the vagaries of the poison pill before the 2006 season. Seattle found itself in an unmatchable situation, the Vikings got the best guard in the business, and the Seahawks were left to pick up the pieces with a skeleton crew. Second-year guard Rob Sims (whose father Mickey, played for the Browns from 1977 through 1979 and sadly passed away in 2006) is a good player who's getting with the program, but there are complex blocking assignments in Seattle's offense, and coach Mike Holmgren has been frustrated by the play of Sims and right guard Chris Gray recently. Holmgren has talked about making changes, but except for the hulking and injury-prone Floyd Womack, there just isn't much in the cupboard.

This is not a line that dominates at the point as it did in 2005; it cannot facilitate long drives, and asking for consecutive productive running plays borders on asking for the moon. Seattle's sack totals blew up front 27 in 2005, to 49 in 2006, and 16 already this season. The pass-blocking issues also can be tied to the receivers, and fullback Leonard Weaver is still learning the intricacies of run blocking, but the line is the primary culprit. Seattle tried unsuccessfully to wrest guard Kris Dielman from the Chargers, and I think there's an awareness that they'll have to do what Cleveland recently did and spend draft picks and free agent money on the line.

YSUFAN: What EXACTLY IS the status on Hackett and Branch?  Are they 100%, been fully practicing, etc...or more like 50/50 to play on Sunday?  Major/minor roles?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: Hackett practiced and will be ready to play for the first time this season since early in the opener against Tampa Bay. Branch hasn't practiced all week, though he's engaged in some conditioning drills outside the practice bubble. Mike Holmgren has him as a game-time decision, but I'd rather he didn't play if he didn't practice. Last time the Seahawks did that, they lost defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs for the season. My Spidey-Sense says that Branch is about 15-85 to play.

If Branch does play, he's a danger to Cleveland's struggling defense. He's a deep threat with great speed and the ability to make plays on shorter catches. Hackett is a taller, lanky guy who can also get deep. Good hands, can play outside or in the slot, red zone target. The Seahawks have missed him.

KRAZINESS: The Browns are a "get back on track" Defense with no apparent resistance in the passing OR running game-- how do you expect Seattle to attack?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: I would expect the Browns to play the pass unless the Seahawks force them out of it. Not sure how well a guy like Kamerion Wimbley plays coverage - maybe he'll focus on blitzing - but there's no reason to put extra focus on Shaun Alexander unless it's necessary. This year, it hasn't been. Obviously, Leigh Bodden's a concern in the secondary. Football Outsiders, the other site I write for, has been rating Bodden very highly for a while now. Seattle will do what it always does - attack with receiver screens and slant patterns. More than in recent years, it's become an old-school West Coast Offense in which 3-5 yard gains will be tried through the passing game. The Seahawks don't do a lot of play action, very little no-huddle and almost no shotgun - it's pretty much, "step-step-step-throw" and the occasional throw downfield. With Hackett returning and tight end Marcus Pollard out of this game, I'd expect quite a few four-receiver sets.

KRAZINESS: Early in the year, Seattle's defense was beating some people and proclaiming that they had turned a corner.  Does it still look that way?  Do they have the talent to slow down BE/KWII/JJ?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: They will have to do what they did against the Bengals - they tested Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh with tight corner coverage and pinpoint safety help. Carson Palmer threw for 342 yards in that Week 3 game, but it took him 43 attempts to do it, and he threw only one touchdown pass against two interceptions. I think the X-Factor here is where the Browns line up Jurevicius and Winslow. If they use KWII as more of a Dallas Clark hybrid type, and Seattle counters with linebacker Julian Peterson, that's a very interesting matchup. Edwards is one of the best receivers in the game. Everybody knows it, and he's going to get his catches. The key is to make sure that as the Browns get closer to the red zone, those catches don't turn into anything more than field goals.

KRAZINESS: Do they expect QB genius coach Mike "the Walrus" Holmgren to work wonders with Frye (they way he once did with Favre & Hasselbeck)?  Or was Frye simply a cheap, short-term, depth move that enables them to feel a little bit better about playing Seneca at WR?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: I think Frye is exactly that - a short-term option that allows the Seahawks to put Wallace on the field as a receiver.

RATTDAWG: Brian Russell's impact, positive/negative?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: I recently wrote an article about Russell for Seahawks.NET. Basically, the Seahawks jettisoned their two young safeties, Michael Boulware and Ken Hamlin, in favor of Russell and former Jaguar Deon Grant. The results appear to be very positive so far - last season, Seattle's pass defense was a severe liability, but it's only been a real problem against the Saints this year. The Seahawks have to play "bend-but-don't-break" because they don't have a true shutdown corner, though Marcus Trufant has improved tremendously this season, and I'd say that his ability to rely on the safety help behind him is a big part of that.

RATTDAWG: What's the status on Matt Hasselbeck's health?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: Hasselbeck strained an oblique muscle in Seattle's pre-bye beatdown of the Rams, but that week off really helped. He's been throwing well in practice, by all accounts, and I don't think his health will be a big factor unless the Browns get in his face and knock him down a lot.

MILEHIGHDAWG: What's Seattle fans view of the Cleveland Browns?  Are we seen as an up and coming team?  Do they see us as dangerous, lucky, still inept, etc.?

Doug Farrar, Seahawks.Net: I think that most Seahawks fans see the Browns for what they are - a very dangerous offensive team with a defense that can be trumped. Both Cleveland and Seattle have underrated special teams. Judging from the predictions on our message board, I'd say that we're certainly not underrating your team at all - most people see it as a high-scoring but close game. Either team could take this one, really.

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