Much like a fine wine from the Northwest, Seattle Seahawks quarterback MATT HASSLEBECK’s eight-year career has been nurtured from the start, and is blossoming into one of the finest the league has to offer.
Last season, the 30-year old Westwood, Massachusetts native led the NFC in passer rating (98.2), tied for the conference lead in touchdown passes (24) and threw for 3,000 yards for the fourth year in a row (3,459) -- breaking the Seahawks’ record of his quarterback coach JIM ZORN. All this came while leading the Hawks to their first Super Bowl appearance in their 30-year history.
Hasselbeck’s career has seen a steady climb in overall production, and it can be partly attributed to the guidance he has had along the way. It started with his father DON, who played tight end in the league for 10 years (1977-85), then went from BRETT FAVRE in Green Bay (1988-00), to TRENT DILFER (2001-04) and Zorn in Seattle (2001-current).
Hasselbeck cites that each of these men taught him something different about playing football in the NFL, with one no less valuable than the other.
The lessons Hasselbeck learned from his influential quartet:
Don Hasselbeck: Work Ethic. “My dad taught me from an early age that nothing is ever handed to you in life. You’ve got to earn it.”
Brett Favre: Have Fun. “I had so much fun watching him play the game. He plays with a youthfulness that is infectious to a team and in a huddle. It's probably the most fun any player has ever had sitting on the bench.”
Trent Dilfer: Loyalty. “The biggest thing Trent taught me was his loyalty and friendship in the competitive situation we had. His support was an unusual thing to find."
Jim Zorn: Integrity. “He is a man of integrity and honesty, and he is a very good football coach as well.”
FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON: NOTES ON 2006 NFL TRAVEL
• Four teams (Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle) will “travel around the world” at least once. A trip around the globe is 25,000 miles. Oakland and Seattle will go even further – more than 30,000 miles.
• OAKLAND RAIDERS travel the most miles during the season, at 30,702 miles. Only three of their 10 trips will be for less than 3,000 miles round-trip. However, they will be traveling over 5,000 miles shorter than last year’s leader, Seattle (35,930). The Raiders will be making three cross-country trips, traveling to the New York Jets, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
No other team will make more than two such trips.
• CAROLINA PANTHERS travel the fewest miles (8,966). Only three of their trips will be greater than 1,000 miles total, with the longest at 1,860 miles to Minnesota.
• The teams of the NFC West fly the furthest, at 101,688 miles total. The AFC West will fly a total distance of 93,700 miles, and the NFC North comes in a distant third, at 63,500 miles. The NFC South travels the least, at 47,122 miles.
• The total distance flown by all teams will be 541,780 miles. A round-trip flight from the Earth to the moon and back would average about 66,000 miles less. However, this is still significantly fewer than last year’s total distance of 627,724 miles.
• Twenty teams will fly a shorter distance this season than last season. The ATLANTA FALCONS will be traveling about a third of last year’s total, saving over 17,000 miles.
• Of the 12 teams flying a greater distance this year than last season, the GREEN BAY PACKERS will be adding the most – 6,868 miles.
• Since the 2000 season, the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS have traveled the longest total distance – 221,234 miles. The CINCINNATI BENGALS have traveled the least in that span (66,797 miles). They are the only team to average fewer than 10,000 miles per season since then. The BALTIMORE RAVENS are next, at 11,822 miles per season.
• Six teams have traveled a shorter distance since 2000 than the HOUSTON TEXANS, despite the fact that the Texans joined the league in 2002.
THE “COVER 2”: WHAT IS IT?
The Seahawks run it, and announcers are always talking about it, but how many people really know what “Cover 2” means?
Although a defense may employ 20 to 30 different pass coverages, “Cover 1,” “Cover 2,” “Cover 3” and “Cover 4” are the most basic secondary schemes, which usually include four defensive backs -- two safeties and two cornerbacks.
In layman’s terms, the number of “covers” refers to how many of those four defensive backs are “deep,” or approximately 12-15 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
“Each coverage has advantages and disadvantages,” says Carolina Panthers secondary coach MIKE GILLHAMMER. “Some work really well against the run, others work well against the pass, but the idea is to keep switching it up so the offense isn’t sure what you’re doing.”
Below is a description of the four main coverages:
Cover 1: In this formation, only one safety is deep. He is usually in the middle of the field and his presence is largely precautionary – the defense is anticipating a run. The two cornerbacks are in “press coverage,” which means they are matched up man-to-man against the opposing team’s wide receivers. The second safety is approximately five yards off the line, preparing to cover the tight end.
“A disadvantage of this formation is the vulnerability of the single deep safety to the long pass play, but it’s very effective against the run,” explains Gillhammer.
Cover 2: A favorite of many coaches because the secondary can more readily adjust to different plays and audibles. Both safeties stay deep, while the cornerbacks cover the receivers on the line. It’s advantageous because the safeties are prepared to help out on deep pass plays, but they can also come forward to defend against the run.
“There are two general types of a Cover 2 defense,” explains Gillhammer. “There is the standard Cover 2 (described above), and there is also what is known as the ‘Tampa 2,’” made famous by the schemes of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator MONTE KIFFIN.
“In the Tampa 2, the cornerback jams the outside receiver toward the middle of the field, while the MIC, or middle linebacker, focuses on preventing him from penetrating up the middle,”
Gillhammer says. “The double coverage makes it more difficult for big-time receivers like TERRELL OWENS and STEVE SMITH to make the play.”
Cover 3: A formation in which one safety is approximately 12-15 yards deep, while the cornerbacks are shallower at 10-12 yards, and the second safety is near the line in press coverage against the tight end.
“This zone defense also works well against the run, but a good quarterback and receiver tandem can pick it apart by throwing short passes ‘underneath,’ or in front of the secondary, because it’s difficult for bigger, slower linebackers to keep up with quick receivers,” says Gillhammer.
Cover 4: This coverage requires all four defensive backs to stay off the line. They can play “tight,” or five yards away, as they would in red-zone situations, or to stop the run, or they could play “loose,” at 12-15 yards away, to prevent the deep pass play. A coach might use this coverage towards the end of the game when he is trying to protect the lead and run out the clock.
SEATTLE SITS IN THE (LONG) DRIVER’S SEAT
Away games are not the only great distance the Seattle Seahawks travel. Last season, the Hawks’ West Coast offense had the most touchdown drives of 80 yards or more in the NFL with 20.
How did Seattle become such long-distance movers? The team’s offensive coordinator GIL HASKELL cites three keys to the Seahawks’ success in this game-controlling area. “We have a quarterback in MATT HASSELBECK who does not make mistakes and can get you out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage, a running back in SHAUN ALEXANDER who forces defenses into eight-man fronts which frees up the short passing game, and a head coach in MIKE HOLMGREN who is the best play-caller in the NFL.”
Holmgren’s offensive pedigree traces back to his days with the San Francisco 49ers where he learned the West Coast offense from Pro Football Hall of Famer BILL WALSH as the team’s quarterback coach from 1986-88.
“The key to this offense is the rhythm three-and five-step-drop passing game, which enables you to get rid of the ball quickly,” says Haskell. “You have to have a quarterback with a great mind and arm and good feet. You saw those characteristics under center with JOE MONTANA and STEVE YOUNG.”
Defensive players around the league will all tell you: playing in the red-zone creates a whole different level of pressure. Here’s what some of those who have been through it have to say:
DT ANTHONY ADAMS, San Francisco: “Your opponent wants to score on you, and you have to have pride in order to defend your red-zone. You don’t want those guys to score at all. You want to protect your house at all costs. You don’t want someone going into your end zone, score, and celebrate on you”.
S BRIAN DAWKINS, Philadelphia: “You always want to make a play. When the field gets shorter and you’re playing in the end zone, you’re not going to get many more chances to get the ball back.”
DE AARON KAMPMAN, Green Bay: “When you’re in the red-zone, things become much more compact and seem to happen quicker. Your mindset as a defensive player has to change because the offense no longer has such a big field to work with. It even changes the way you’re going to rush the passer because you know you don’t have that much time before the ball is going to be released. You try to do anything you can – knock down balls at the line, anything that will stop the other team.”
DE PATRICK KERNEY, Atlanta: “They call it the red-zone for a reason. A big ‘ol red siren goes off in your head and in your ears. You can smell it and you know it is make-or-break time.”
LB LEMAR MARSHALL, Washington: “There’s a big sense of urgency. I always look at it like this is the game right here. No matter if it’s the first quarter or the fourth quarter, there is always a sense of urgency. If their offense doesn’t score in the end, then we win. That’s how I look at it.”
CB DELTHA O’NEAL, Cincinnati: “You have got to be on your game when an offense reaches your end zone. It’s just 20 yards for them to score six. That’s all you have to work with. You’ve got to stop them from getting in there. Inches count. You want to speed up the game, swarm around the ball and stop them from moving any further. It’s vital.”
LB MICHAEL PETERSON, Jacksonville: “It’s now or never. It’s basically do whatever you have to do to stop them. We buckle down as a defense. You’re trying to get the turnover to get the ball back. Your mindset is the most they can get is three points. We don’t want you to get an inch. If they get a first down, we are looking around like ‘What’s the problem?’ The good thing about it is with our defense, if someone does get a first down, we will know exactly where the problem is. All of our guys have been in this system for a while.”
DB BOB SANDERS, Indianapolis: “It’s the most important part of the game. There are three scenarios. They go three and out. That’s good and the best scenario. They score three points or they score a touchdown. If we had our way as a defense, they would never score. Don’t blame us for trying.”
LB BART SCOTT, Baltimore: “We always play with a sense of urgency – no matter where we are on the field – because that’s what great defenses need to do. But, if the opposing offense gets deep in our territory, then you have to really pick it up. It’s hard to go back once they get there, so that’s when it’s important to make a big play.”
LB LOFA TATUPU, Seattle: “That’s shut-down time. Yards aren’t going to kill you, points will.”
DE KYLE VANDEN BOSCH, Tennessee: “Snaps in the red-zone can change a game. If we can hold the offense to a field goal or force a turnover, there might be a 4-, 7-, or 10-point swing in points. You also know that you need to dig deeper with only a few snaps left in the drive to make a difference.”
DT JAMAL WILLIAMS, San Diego: “The sense of urgency is increased a thousand percent because you’re trying to create a turnover or at least force them to kick a field goal. You’re just trying not to give up a touchdown because seven points is devastating for a defense. Any points are devastating, but seven points is drastic.”