Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks/Bears, Part 2

In Part Two of this four-part series, Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar and BearReport.com's John Crist continue their back-and-forth with five questions from John to Doug. Can Maurice Morris effectively replace Shaun Alexander, how will Mike Holmgren attack Chicago's formidable defense, and is this Matt Hasselbeck's MVP season?

John Crist, Editor-in-Chief, BearReport.com: When did Seattle really know that Shaun Alexander was hurt, and why did they continue to give him the ball in the second half against the Giants last week despite a commanding lead?

Doug Farrar, Editor-in-Chief, Seahawks.NET: I don’t think they knew about the broken bone in his left foot until after the Giants game. Coach Mike Holmgren said that Alexander had the same acceleration and the same explosiveness at the second level, when he could get there. The problem with Alexander’s foot stretches all the way back to the season opener against the Lions, but it was a bone bruise at that point. The team had been monitoring that situation daily, but they didn’t shut him down for any amount of time until the tests showed a fracture.

After a brief period on Wednesday when Alexander claimed to be healed and feeling fine (citing “the power of prayer”), and the team listed him as doubtful on the Wednesday injury report, the MRI came back showing a crack in the fourth metatarsal bone of his left foot (click here for more on this specific injury in an exclusive interview with ESPN.com’s Will Carroll). Certainly, there’s no chance of him playing now.

Shaun doesn’t know exactly when it happened, and I have no idea why he was in the game when the Seahawks had a 42-3 lead on the Giants. Holmgren said that Shaun was “grumpy” when he tried to take him out, but that’s what a coach is for, no?

Seattle Seahawks' Maurice Morris (20) races ahead of Arizona Cardinals' Karlos Dansby on a third quarter 27 yard pass reception, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 21-10. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

John Crist: We all know that Maurice Morris is no Alexander, and although he is a quality backup tailback, how much will the focus of the Seattle offense fundamentally change from run to pass?

Doug Farrar: The Seahawks are running the ball 53% of the time through three games this season, and the West Coast Offense on which Holmgren cut his teeth has a 60/40 pass/run ratio. Morris is a better receiver out of the backfield, so I’d expect to see some swing and screen passes, as well as more outside runs. Morris is smaller and generally quicker in short areas. He doesn’t have Alexander’s fluidity, vision or cutback ability, but he’s better than your league-average backup. It’s important to factor in fullback Mack Strong as well – Strong might be the second half of an ad hoc “thunder and lightning” backfield attack.

With the four-receiver sets the Seahawks have featured since the recent acquisition of Deion Branch, there might be more passing. As always, the ratio will depend on the closeness of the game. I don’t see the Seahawks putting up the kind of score they did on the Giants, so they might be passing more late in the game as a matter of course.


John Crist: Strange as it may sound, since the Bears are so brutal against the running game anyway, do you think the Seahawks will be better off focusing on the pass since Chicago has shown some chinks in the armor in the secondary?

Doug Farrar: Take on a relatively vulnerable secondary as opposed to Tommie Harris? Doesn’t sound strange to me! I’m sure that the only discernible weakness on that defense will be a focus for Holmgren as he puts his scheme together. But I’m just as likely to think that Matt Hasselbeck will try for the outside and underneath routes – loosening up the linebackers as they play the flats in order to give Morris some breathing room out there. I’d be surprised if every pass lands in the secondary anyway.


John Crist: The trade for Deion Branch gives Seattle a fourth dangerous wide receiver to go alongside Darrell Jackson, Nate Burleson, and Bobby Engram, but what has his addition done to change the roles of the other three?

Doug Farrar: It hasn’t changed Jackson’s role as the flanker, or Engram’s role in the slot as the drive-extending possession receiver. He’s been alternating with Nate Burleson at split end and adding to the offense on those four-wide sets. In the short term, I think the plan is for Branch and Burleson to alternate in the three-sets as they both learn the offense. But Jackson has had trouble with his knee, missing nine games last year (ten total) and the entire preseason due to injury, so Branch is also a great insurance policy as a #1 guy.


John Crist: Matt Hasselbeck could be on the verge of a breakout season after five touchdowns passes last week against the Giants, but will the loss of Alexander prove to be what catapults Hasselbeck to MVP level or what exposes him as a QB dependent on a dominant running game?

Doug Farrar: I’d say that 2005 was Hasselbeck’s breakout year, when he became the best quarterback in the NFC and one of a handful of truly elite players at the position. The focus on Alexander last season was of great benefit to Hasselbeck, but it’s also worth remembering that he was without his best receiver for most of the season, and his two best for three games when Engram was also out with cracked ribs. He’s used to winning without a full deck, so to speak.

After several years of growing pains, Hasselbeck has mastered Holmgren’s complex offense and become the ideal leader of it. He’s not fast, but he’s extremely adept and elusive in the pocket. He doesn’t have a rocket arm, but there’s enough to get the job done and his accuracy makes up for it. He’s great at dissecting enemy defenses and much better at thinking on his feet and audibling out of trouble when the need arises.


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