Behind The Game
Mike Holmgren and staff: Although offensive coordinator Gil Haskell has his hand in the game plan, Seattle’s offense is Mike Holmgren’s baby. The primary remaining professor of the West Coast system, Holmgren has nonetheless focused on balance in 2005, allowing the run to equal (and sometimes surpass) the pass. Holmgren’s mantra is. “Tempo, tempo, tempo” – what he means is that he wants his offense coming to the line set perfectly and in a big hurry. This upsets the timing of opposing defenses, but what has really done those opponents in this year is the seemingly infinite number of weapons this offense presents. The Seahawks' 2005 offense reminds me very much of the "pick your poison" conundrum presented by the late 1990's Denver Broncos of John Elway and Terrell Davis.
Linebackers coach John Marshall has commandeered Seattle’s defense this season on an interim basis - a former defensive coordinator in his own right, Marshall has done a fine job replacing Ray Rhodes, who suffered a stroke in September. Rhodes still acts as a consultant, but the bull-rushing line techniques and linebacker effectiveness this season seem to be more from Marshall’s bag of tricks.
Bill Cowher and staff: Ken Whisenhunt has called three offensive masterpieces in a row. He’s leaning on his young quarterback and his young quarterback’s making him look smart. Whisenhunt will also hit you in the mouth at the line of scrimmage if you let him. Russ Grimm is another assistant with a chip on his shoulder. Like Whisenhunt, he was passed over in the job market at a time when his offensive line has come together at the right time. These two men combine to head up a fine offensive staff.
Defensively, Dick LeBeau adds new blitzes – new blitzes that work – every week. He has his players moving exactly as he wants them. Against the Colts, the Steelers disguised until the last few seconds were left on the play clock and confounded Peyton Manning. Plummer was no match for LeBeau last week, but Matt Hasselbeck is a better game manager, particularly if his running game’s working. Cowher will let his two coordinators call the plays, and both are red hot. Cowher has also been a killer with his aggressiveness on fourth down.
The Rookie Tale
Seattle’s first-year difference-makers: When you talk about rookies in Seattle, you must start with Lofa Tatupu. The runner-up in the DROY ranking to San Diego’s Shawne Merriman, Tatupu took this defense in hand from his first minicamp – calling plays from the word go and earning the respect and deference of the veterans around him in record time.
Tatupu has transferred his freakish ability to decipher opposing offenses to the pro game, but it would be a mistake to assume that this smallish, cerebral player isn’t tough as nails – Carolina RB Nick Goings is still shaking off the collision he had with Tatupu in the NFC Championship game. Goings left the game, but Tatupu stuck it out despite a concussion. If anyone knows about young defensive difference-makers from USC, it would be Steeler fans, and Tatupu is our Polamalu in a way – the missing piece.
Don’t sleep on Rookie SLB Leroy Hill, either – Hill has pressure ability from the edge, and he’s a great run-stopper.
Pittsburgh’s first-year difference-makers: Heath Miller must be a concern to the Seahawks, who’ve been leaky against tight ends this season. They allowed Ben Troupe 116 yards and Jeremy Shockey 127. A guy named Eric Edwards went for 63. Miller is a threat to shatter all of that. As mentioned above, second-round CB Bryant McFadden is an outstanding nickel back. He’s confident, too, after passing the Reggie Wayne test with the Colts’ game on the line. McFadden broke up the potential touchdown two plays before the missed FG.
WR Nate Washington caught his first pass last week for a third-and-7 conversion. He also broke up an interception in the end zone. Greg Warren has been a flawless rookie long-snapper. Arnold Harrison was signed off the practice squad for this game. And the LB from Georgia could play special teams. It’s likely that Arnold Harrison’s only NFL game will be Super Bowl XL.
The Final Verdict
Why the Seahawks will win: First, motivation. Like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, no one expects the Seahawks…and after hearing two weeks of dismissal from talking heads everywhere, you can bet that this proud, underrated group will be ready to prove a point. There’s already an edge in some voices about this, and I’d expect that to become more pronounced after media day.
Second, balance. The Steelers can stop Alexander, or they can slip back and cover Seattle’s fine receivers, or they can bring it against Hasselbeck, but they can’t do it all. Holmgren is a genius at finding the holes in defensive strategies – even a defense as complex and well executed as Pittsburgh’s.
Third, Seattle’s front four. Pressuring opposing quarterbacks on their own and allowing linebackers to float back in a cover two, the Seahawks’ D-line is at once the most undervalued and crucial aspect of a Seattle Super Bowl victory.
In the end, I think the Seahawks’ offensive tempo trumps the LeBeau system, the defense shocks everyone by actually getting a hand or two on Big Ben, and Seattle reverses the Vegas line.
Why the Steelers will win: The Steelers are scoring more points than at any time in franchise history and they have an outstanding defense. They’ve won three games on the road against seeds Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in a conference that was favored by 10 points prior to the elimination of the Colts.
The Steelers have developed the swagger of the ’85 Bears but with an underdog’s closed mouth. Detroit is only five hours away from Pittsburgh, so the Motor City will be teeming with Steelers fans. They get tickets to every other game, so why not the neutral Super Bowl? It’s the melding of a perfect storm, with Jerome Bettis coming home for his final game on the 36th day of the year 2006 of our Lord. Or something like that. But that’s the way Steelers fans see this game, and they may have every right to expect a blowout of epic proportions.
However, I do respect the Seahawks. I respect their coach. I respect their quarterback. I respect their stout front seven on defense. And I’m a-scared to death of their offensive line and running game, with the play-action strikes to the tight end. If the Steelers get sloppy with their now-loved passing game, and the Seahawks remain patient with the ball, Steelers fans may be looking up at a clock that says three minutes left, and they might not be able to get the ball back.
Bill Cowher would not be able to live that scenario down, but it’s Cowher’s time. He shares these same concerns, and this underdog from Seattle will not sneak up on the Pittsburgh Steelers, your 2005 NFL Super Bowl champions.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.