Hasselbeck was named the starter of the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad this past weekend after posting his best statistical year with a career-high 98.2 quarterback rating along with 3,459 yards, 24 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. He attributed his success to an offense that allows him to improvise and the players surrounding him making him look good.
“Our offense is so much better. We’ve got some weapons, some tools and some things that we like to do that we didn’t necessarily have last year,” Hasselbeck admitted.
“A guy like Joe Jurevicius and the threat that he brings to our offense we didn’t have last year. Jerramy Stevens is a different player this year. He’s definitely a threat that people are aware of at all times. Then we’ve got some things schematically that our coach staff came up with that has really helped our offense this year. All those things make my job a lot easier. It’s a good thing. It gives us more chances to be successful.”
Another weapon on offense is the league’s leading rusher – Shaun Alexander. Alexander ran harder, produced an NFL-record 28 touchdowns and kept defenses honest throughout the season.
“I would think that every defense starts with stopping the run,” Hasselbeck said regarding Washington’s likely defensive game plan. “It’s a lot better for us because we’ve got, in my opinion, the best offensive line in football and the best back right now in football. So, yeah, you’ve got to do that. But at the same time, what about the other stuff that we can do? Pick your poison. That kind of balance is what’s been really good for our offense this year.”
Washington hosted the Seahawks in game four of the season, a 20-17 overtime thriller, that saw Seattle kicker Josh Brown miss a 47-yard field goal as time wound down in regulation, only to have the Redskins kick a 39-yarder on the opening drive of the extra period to win it.
That game was one of the more physical games as the Seahawks lost starting wideouts Darrell Jackson (knee) and Bobby Engram (ribs) to injuries during the contest and Hasselbeck remembers how tough it was fielding a full offense toward the end of the game.
“That was a tough game,” Hasselbeck remembered. “I think we lost Bobby and Darrell in that game both. Our tight end situation was tough. Late in the game, we were scrambling to figure out what personnel groupings we had and what personnel groupings we had lost. It was a physical game.”
“I think it says a lot about the type of defense that they play. They’re a physical defense. They’re going to hit you; they’re going to make you pay. You might catch the ball and get a first down, but they’re going to get a hit on you. We’ve just got to be ready for that kind of a game. I think it’s going to be the same style of game: very physical, and a tough one.”
The Redskins game was also a confidence-builder for the Seahawks as they proceeded to win 11 straight games to claim the number one seed in the NFC and tied for the best record in the league.
“I think we were sort of at a crossroads, at 2-2 after that game,” Hasselbeck admitted. “We felt like we were pretty good. We had a little bit of confidence in our offense; we made some plays. But we really hadn’t done it yet. So this year has been a good year. We had a bunch of wins in a row after that game. Looking back, I’m not sure anybody would’ve predicted such a good rebound after that game.”
Hasselbeck said one reason for the rebound was the confidence the team got from the long drives the Hawks were able to complete against the tough defense of the Redskins.
“I think that gave us a lot of confidence, doing that on the road, at their place, a loud, hostile environment,” Hasselbeck said. “I think the score was 17-10, and we had to go a bunch of yards to tie the game. It turned out not to matter too much, but I think that was a stepping stone for us, maybe a little bit of a confidence booster for our team.”
Now the teams face off at Qwest Field and the Redskins come in after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road 17-10 in a tough defensive battle that saw the Redskins produce the least amount of yards for a winning team in the playoffs in league history (120 total yards).
“If you looked at all the games, you’ve got to say that the home teams didn’t seem to have that much of an advantage this past week and great defense was the key to victory. Will this week’s games be different than last week’s games? Maybe; I don’t know,” Hasselbeck said.
“You’re not talking about a whole lot of games. But still, it was very, very impressive to see Washington’s defensive players and how Gregg Williams had game-planned those guys. They created turnover opportunities and they actually scored a couple touchdowns. It was an impressive game to watch, defensively, as were some of the other games. But this is one of the defenses where, as a quarterback, you say, wow, this is as tough a defense as we’ve played against.”
According to Hasselbeck, that defense has improved.
“I think they understand their schemes better, they disguise better,” Hasselbeck said. “They’re playing great football. It’s hard to imagine a defense playing better than that defense is playing right now. But at the same time, they have had some injuries and all those kinds of things. At this point in the season, there are some guys playing for them that haven’t played a whole lot this year. It’s a little bit of both. But I think they’re stronger than they were when we played them before.”
Injuries include former Seahawks CB Shawn Springs, who continues to be hindered by a groin injury, and DE Renaldo Wynn who may miss time after injuring his shoulder during the Wild Card game. Even with the missing players, Hasselbeck sees little to exploit this weekend.
“They do a lot of things well,” the seven-year veteran noted. “They mix it up. They give you a bunch of different things you’ve got to prepare for. They give you exotic looks, things that you have to use both camera angles on your film so you can figure out who is coming and who it not coming. Coverages, they like to do a lot of combination coverages.
“If you take veteran quarterbacks around the league and show a pre-snap look, you say it’s probably this, it’s probably the opposite sometimes. They hold off their disguise. They do a pretty good job. And I think their players are pretty smart. They’ve got some veteran players who are smart.”
This weekend’s game is the third playoff game hosted by the Seahawks since head coach Mike Holmgren arrived in 1999 and the second year in a row the Hawks were the home team. This year however, the expectations for a Super Bowl run are sky-high and Hasselbeck realizes the importance to the franchise and to the fanbase.
“I hope everyone’s excited,” Hasselbeck said. “You look at some of those games this weekend. Take New England, as an example: huge crowd noise advantage. Obviously, we’re hoping to have that same kind of advantage.
“Then there are other games, like the Redskins-Tampa Bay game. You couldn’t tell if there were more Tampa fans or more Redskins fans. It was a little ironic. You wouldn’t expect that in that kind of situation.
“My hope is that Qwest Field is alive, like it has been for us all year, that there’s a lot more blue than whatever-that-color-is and yellow. That would be the hope for me. It’s more of any advantage for our defense. That crowd noise really makes it tough on the opposing offense. It’s really nice not to have to go anywhere and get to play at home.”
Hasselbeck and his Seahawks teammates plan to bring the playoff-win drought to an end this weekend, but he knows they'll have their work cut out for them.
Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.