Seattle is 11-2, two games ahead of the Bears, Bucs, Giants and Carolina Panthers. Their NFC West championship is their second in a row, and their third division title during Mike Holmgren’s seven-year tenure with the team. Their current record includes nine straight wins, the longest streak in team history.
Seattle faces a daunting task on Christmas Eve day when the 13-0 Indianapolis Colts come to Qwest Field. No confirmation yet whether Colts coach Tony Dungy will be setting his starters loose on the Qwest FieldTurf (Indy has already wrapped up home field throughout). But if Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney and the rest of the stars who make up the best team in football come to play, the Seahawks will have to bring everything they have to stand a chance.
In the meantime, the team will travel to The Coliseum in Nashville, Tennessee to play the 4-9 Titans, a team in the throes of a salary cap purge. The Seahawks will look to match their single-season win total with 12 (last accomplished in 1984, which was also the last time the franchise was able to celebrate a playoff victory).
The Titans may not present the obstacles that the Colts do, but this is no game to look beyond. Tennessee is 3-4 at home, and are led by Jeff Fisher, a highly-respected coach who serves with Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren on the NFL’s Competition Committee. When asked about his upcoming opponent on Wednesday, Holmgren talked about his respect for Tennessee’s coach and the team he runs. “(Fisher) does as good a job as anyone in football, in my opinion,” Holmgren said. “They are well coached. I think by all indications, they are in a little bit of a rebuilding mode. They are playing a lot of young people. They still have a real fine quarterback in Steve McNair. They have had some injury problems this year.
Holmgren also talked about this being his first visit to Tennessee as the Seahawks' coach. The last time the Seahawks played the Titans was in 1998, the year after they moved to Tennessee. Seattle beat the Tennessee Oilers (name changed to the Titans in 1999) by the score of 20-18. Holmgren was coaching in Green Bay at that time. “I have never been to this stadium; it is a first time with me. I understand it is a difficult place to play. It is a very important game for us. There are a lot of ramifications going into this game, so hopefully we will continue to prepare and get ready to play like we have been doing all season.”
Holmgren’s respect for Fisher and his team manifests itself in many ways, including a wise refusal to look past the Titans and focus on the Colts before he should. “I said it the other day and I'll stand by that…we have a lot to play for on Sunday. Regardless of the opponent, (the Seahawks have) gone after it and I would expect us to do the same thing Sunday.”
Fisher was a player on Buddy Ryan’s legendary “46” defenses in Chicago in the 1980’s, and Holmgren discussed some similarities between that defense and what the Seahawks will face this Sunday. “Well, they’re aggressive. He was a coach for Buddy Ryan (on the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles’ staff), and Jeff knows the 46 defense very well. They play a little bit more of that than some teams. Typically, they’ve been very, very good tacklers. They play a fair amount of man-to-man defense. I would say they’re very aggressive on defense. And they’ve been good.” Currently, however, the Titans rank 28th in the NFL in points allowed per game (25.3), and 13th in yards allowed per game (307.2). They will have a hard go matching wits with Seattle's combustible offense.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck chimed in with his thoughts on Tennessee’s defense. “They do play a lot of that Buddy Ryan defense, jam or Navajo or bear or 546, different people call it different things” Hasselbeck said. “They do play some of that. But, honestly I think what they do is they are sound defensively. Their head coach is a defensive coach and they have a pretty sound defense and they stop the run and they rally to the ball, they tackle as a defense. They do present some problems.”
One member of Tennessee’s 2004 defensive unit will be happy to share his knowledge with coach Holmgren – CB Andre Dyson, who signed with the Seahawks in the off-season. Dyson is currently out with a high ankle sprain, but Holmgren was asked if Dyson could provide value to the Seahawks in another way this week – by sharing signs and tendencies. “Yeah, he can. Any time you get a player that you’ve acquired from a team you’re going to play, you do talk to him,” Holmgren explained. “(Dyson) sits down with our coaching staff, and what you do is you get two or three things, that’s all. Most of the players know exactly what to do at their position, but (with) Andre, you can learn a little bit about the style or what a player that he played against – like the receivers in practice he practiced against – what they like to do, what they’re good at. Those types of questions.”
Holmgren also talked about the injury situation – especially in the secondary, where CBs Dyson and Kelly Herndon are sidelined, along with backup safety and special teams maven John Howell. “Dyson, Herndon (and) Howell are still out, but they are making progress. As I mentioned on Monday, we should get those guys back hopefully in the next couple weeks. (WLB) D.D. Lewis will continue to practice him the way we have been practicing him, very little, with the possibility of him playing on Sunday. That should improve his situation to the point where next week he can do everything."
One player who has enjoyed a full recovery from injury is WR Darrell Jackson. Jackson practiced today, and will likely start against the Titans. Jackson had caught 29 balls for 376 yards and 2 TDs through the first four games of the season, when he was advised to have surgery to repair a torn meniscus cartridge in his right knee. Jackson caught 87 balls in 2004, a franchise record. Holmgren said that Jackson will start with Bobby Engram, and Joe Jurevicius will get quite a bit of playing time as Jackson is brought back into the lineup gradually. Jurevicius has been an absolute savior in Jackson’s absence - a clutch receiver that Hasselbeck can always go to in key situations. Jurevicius has doubled his prior season-best total for touchdowns with eight in 2005. He has caught 48 passes for 621 yards – both totals are second on the team behind Engram’s 57 catches for 640 yards. With four more catches and 85 more yards, Jurevicius will eclipse his career highs in both of those categories, as well.
Engram talked about Jackson, and what his return brings to the team, both on and off the field. “He is a fun guy. He is always upbeat, always making people laugh,” Engram said. On a professional side, he brings a lot of play-making ability to the team. He is quick, fast and he makes the defense account for him. I know it has been tough on him. He has missed quite a few weeks, but it was a necessary evil. Now he is going to come back as healthy as possible and help us win some games. He is coming back at a great time with this stretch run in December going into the playoffs.”
As that stretch run begins, the Seahawks have rarely been in a better position throughout their history to make a real impact in the postseason.
SIGHTLINES AND AUDIBLES: With 70 more yards passing, Matt Hasselbeck will eclipse the 3,000-yard mark for the fourth straight year. When he does so, he will break the team record set by Jim Zorn, Hasselbeck’s position coach, from 1978-1980.
A win against the Titans would bring the team’s road record to 5-2, tying the franchise best for wins away from home (5-3 in 1984).
When he takes the field this Sunday, Mack Strong will tie Jacob Green for third most games played by a Seahawk with 178. Steve Largent is second with 200, and Joe Nash is the all-time leader with 218 games played.
The Seahawks have not surrendered an opening drive touchdown all season. They rank second in the NFL in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns only 39.4 percent of the time. Seattle’s scoring defense ranks 4th in the NFL, allowing just 16.2 points/game.
While Seattle leads the NFL with 45 total sacks, their own offensive line has only allowed 20 sacks this season, fifth fewest in the NFL.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.