Game Preview: Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars

It's finally here! The 2005 season kicks off in northern Florida this Sunday when the Hawks take on the Jaguars at Alltel Stadium.

What: The first game of the regular season
When: Sunday, September 11th, 10 a.m. (PST)
Where: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida
Weather forcast: Scattered Thunderstorms 86 degrees


Jaguars Key Players:

QB Byron Leftwich: The third-year signal caller has been solid his first two seasons in the league, but in order for this team to go to the playoffs, he must have a breakout season in 2005. The coaches have retooled the offense a little, employing the shotgun, a formation that Leftwich is very comfortable with, and more play action. He must improve upon his career 77.8 quarterback rating and 58.9% completion percentages in order for this team to be better than they have been. Leftwich has a strong arm, is surprisingly mobile for a man his size and is an excellent leader. Look for him to garner Pro Bowl-type numbers this season and to take the Jags to the brink of the post-season.

RB Fred Taylor: Taylor, also known as "Fragile" Fred Taylor by the more cynical fans, has been anything but the past three years. After missing 24 games in his first four seasons, Taylor has only missed two games (the final two weeks of last season) in the last three years. After offseason knee surgery, the team took it slow with Taylor during camp and he is expected to be ready to go by Sunday's game. He still has a good burst to the corner, but he does most of his damage in between the tackles. He's also a good receiver out of the backfield and an even better blocker on pass plays.

WR Jimmy Smith: One of the biggest reasons that Leftwich will have a breakout season is the presence of Smith, who has lost some of his speed, but still runs precise routes and possesses excellent hands. Last season he led the Jags with 74 receptions for 1,172 yards and six touchdowns. He is also a good blocker on sweeps to his side and a veteran presence in the locker room.

DT John Henderson: Henderson combines with DT Marcus Stroud to form one of the better defensive tackle combinations in the league. Henderson finished fifth on the team with an incredible 77 tackles, including 5.5 sacks, from his inside spot. He gets good push when pass-rushing, but his forte is his ability to hold strong at the point of attack, shed the blocker and then make the tackle. The ability of Henderson and Stroud to occupy blockers allows the Jaguars linebackers to fly to the ball and make plays.

CB Rashean Mathis: One of the best kept secrets of the NFL, Mathis uses his size and strength to take the opposition's best wide receiver out of the game. Mathis posted 21 pass breakups and five interceptions in 2004 and if he continues to improve – he's only entering his third season in the league – he will be a mainstay in Honolulu for the foreseeable future.


Key Matchups:

Leftwich vs. Seahawks FS Ken Hamlin: Hamlin played very little during the preseason as he rested a surgically repaired shoulder for most of camp. He is bound to be rusty and if Leftwich can get him to bite on play-fakes – something that has been Hamlin's bugaboo during his short career – the Jags could get some big plays. Leftwich isn't super-accurate as a passer and he's still learning the nuances of the quarterback position, so it remains to be seen whether he can take advantage of Hamlin's aggressiveness or not.

Seahawks C Robbie Tobeck vs. Henderson and Stroud: As mentioned above, these two are the NFL's version of the "immovable object". Last year, Jacksonville ranked 11th in the league in rushing yards allowed at 111 per game and the coaches expect them to be even better this season. Tobeck, along with guards Chris Gray and Steve Hutchinson, will be counted on to move these two behemoths enough so that RB Shaun Alexander, who does most of his damage between the tackles, has room to run. If they can establish the running game early, the Hawks would have a significant advantage during the game, because they would then be able to use play-action to free up their wideouts down the field.

Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson vs. Mathis: Jackson had a solid training camp and preseason. He's quick in and out of his cuts and has shown good hands, something that has been a problem the last two years. Mathis is strong and quick, but he is still young and learning how to diagnose routes. Jackson runs excellent routes and sells double-moves better than most receivers in the league. Look for QB Matt Hasselbeck to look for Jackson early in the hopes of keeping Mathis honest.

Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu vs. Taylor: Taylor, when healthy, is a stud. He's listed as questionable for the game on Sunday, but expect him to play if he can go. Tatupu has skills and instincts, but no experience. He took some bad angles during the preseason, but he is learning on the fly and the expectation is he will be fine sooner rather than later.


News and Notes: In 2001, Alexander rushed for 176 yards against the Jaguars at Husky Stadium and it still ranks as the most ever surrendered by the franchise during a game; Hasselbeck has 11 300-yard passing games and needs just one to pass Dave Krieg for the most in franchise history; the Hawks defense had the 24 interceptions in 2004, third most in the league; Jaguars are 7-2 in opening week games; Smith has more receptions vs. the Seahawks (25) than any other NFC team; Hawks lead the series 3-1.



OUT: WR D.J. Hackett (knee); OT Wayne Hunter (knee); OT Floyd Womack (elbow)

QUESTIONABLE: WR Cortez Hankton (ankle)
PROBABLE: DE Bobby McCray (wrist)


Prediction: Jaguars 17 – Seahawks 13

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Feel free to contact him at Top Stories