Notebook: The Crowd Goes Wild/Hutch Returns

The home crowd and the emergence of newfound offensive weapons give the Seahawks an edge against the Vikings on Sunday at Qwest Field. Seattle has won 24 of its last 27 regular-season home games, the NFL's highest home winning percentage since Week 16 of the 2002 season. The Seahawks are also showing signs of life offensively now that receiver Deion Branch is getting more acclimated.

Branch caught two touchdowns against St. Louis last week even though he and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck are only beginning to establish a rapport. Branch's increasing productivity seems to be infusing life into the position. Darrell Jackson keeps making big plays and D.J. Hackett is stepping into the void created by Bobby Engram's absence.

The Vikings' defense is stronger than the one Seattle overcame in St. Louis. Tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are stout against the run, and Seattle's ground game will have to work for everything it gets. The Seahawks miss Shaun Alexander's nose for the end zone, and their line misses left guard Steve Hutchinson, now with the Vikings.

"I feel like they play very offensive defense," Hasselbeck said. "They don't necessarily wait around to see what we're going to do; they're going to run their defense.

"They call a defense; they're going to run it. If we put four wides out on the field, they are going to stay nickel, they're not going to go dime; they're going to leave two linebackers in. They dictate what they want to do. We're the same way as an offense; we like to dictate what we're going to do. It should be a good matchup."

In a game featuring two underrated defenses, the team with the most offensive weapons will have the advantage. That team is Seattle and the disparity is significant. Consider that Nate Burleson would probably be the Vikings' No. 1 or No. 2 receiver had he remained with the Vikings. He is the Seahawks' fourth option this week even without Engram, a crafty veteran who caught 68 passes last season.

Engram, 33, will miss this game while doctors gain control of a thyroid problem that has sapped his strength. With Engram watching last week, Branch and Jackson combined for three touchdowns, including a clutch 42-yarder on third-and-long as Seattle recovered from a dismal first half. Hackett, meanwhile, caught three important passes, including a 37-yarder over the middle as Seattle tried to run down the clock late in the game.

Crowd noise also works against the Vikings in this matchup. Minnesota's offensive line is a collection of talented pieces that haven't had time to jell. Communication problems have plagued the line even at home. Qwest Field is known as the NFL's loudest venue for a reason, and the noise has become more deafening this season.

That will make life tough for Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson. Johnson is a smart player with loads of experience, but he lacks weapons to exploit a defense downfield. Seattle's defense has struggled against the deep ball at times, largely because the safeties haven't been as disciplined as they'll need to be against top teams.

The home field serves as a great equalizer, however, and the Vikings' already modest ground game will have a hard time against one of the NFL's better run defenses. Seattle is allowing less than 3.4 yards per rushing attempt.

SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Seattle leads the series, 6-3. The Seahawks won the most recent meeting, collecting a 27-23 victory at Minnesota in 2004. The Vikings are 0-2 in Seattle since beating the Seahawks in the Kingdome during the 1990 season.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seahawks miss Steve Hutchinson for more than just what he contributed on the field during five stellar years in Seattle. Hutchinson, who signed with Minnesota during the offseason, also had quite a few friends on the team.

"I miss him a lot," center Robbie Tobeck said. "He's one of the best friends I've made since I've been in the NFL. "In this day and age, you don't have an opportunity to play with guys for five years. We've been lucky here in Seattle that we've had that situation with Hutch and Walter Jones and Chris Gray."

I hate him.  We all hate him," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck joked. "He’s kind of one of those guys that is impossible to hate.  He’s just a good guy.  A blue-collar guy, came in as a rookie and started for us and played well.  We all respect him as a player.  We know that he wanted to be back here.  For three years he complained and whined because he is an offensive lineman and that’s what offensive linemen do.  Saying how he wishes he could sign a deal, yada yada.  To me, I’ll say what I said back then.  I feel like sometimes when you get agents involved, things get screwed up.  If it could have been just Steve and just someone from our team talking it out, I think they could have come to an agreement that everyone would be happy with.  Sometimes you get super-agents and negotiating that goes on and then you end up in a situation that is not really what anybody bargained for.  Is it the end of the world?  No.  Hutch made out like a bandit and got a nice contract and he’s on a team with I’m sure they’ve got good guys on their team too.  It was too bad that it worked out the way that it did.  We kind of had to move on and we did.

--Vikings center Matt Birk called former teammate Nate Burleson one of the toughest receivers he has ever seen. Burleson has struggled to produce in his first five games with Seattle, but he has shown toughness by playing with a hand injury.

"I remember a couple of years ago, Randy Moss was out, Nate was playing," Birk said. "He had a broken finger, and a bad shoulder. He went out there. He had an increased load because Randy was down.

"Nate stepped up, kept making plays, never complained about how bad he was hurt, and it really helped us out, and helped us win some games."

--Coach Mike Holmgren thinks the league should not amend its rules so that formation penalties are subject to 10-second clock runoffs late in games. Seattle survived such a penalty to kick the winning field goal against St. Louis last week, leading Rams coach Scott Linehan to question the rule. "If I was Scott, I'd be upset too," Holmgren said. "But the simple fact is, it's different.

"The kill-the-clock play is different than when you're trying to run a play down the field. If you told someone to take a deliberate penalty to stop the clock, we felt that yeah, then you must have a 10-second runoff. But the play we were running was actually a play to stop the clock (as opposed to a penalty designed to stop the clock), so they said this falls into a different category.

"I knew the rule, and I can certainly understand why Scott would be upset because he thought the game was over. But if it came up on the competition committee or if they presented it to the membership, I would vote to leave everything be."

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- The number of times Seattle used its four-receiver set against the Rams last week, down from a combined 42 times in the previous two games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he ran pretty well, and he caught a couple nice passes. I would say he didn't leave a lot of the yards out there. I thought when he got through a couple times he made some nice moves. When you watch the game in the second half that was more what I think he can do. In the first half, I didn't call enough runs." -- Holmgren on running back Maurice Morris, who continues to start while Shaun Alexander recovers from a foot injury.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Seahawks have kept former practice-squadder Marquis Weeks on the 53-man roster since releasing LB Isaiah Kacyvenski three weeks ago. Weeks carried three times during the final stages of the team's Oct. 1 game at Chicago, but he won't play unless Maurice Morris is injured or the game is out of hand. The team is expected to release Weeks and re-sign him to its practice squad once Shaun Alexander returns from a foot injury. Alexander could be back in another couple weeks.

PLAYER NOTES

--LB D.D. Lewis missed practice Wednesday with a turf-toe injury. He is getting a second opinion to see if there's anything else wrong with the toe. This injury will probably bother Lewis for the rest of the season. He can play in games, but only if he misses practices. The team is listing Lewis as questionable.

--DE Joe Tafoya missed practice Wednesday and the Seahawks listed him as questionable on their injury report. He has missed the last few games with a knee injury. The team is getting strong play from ends Grant Wistrom, Bryce Fisher and Darryl Tapp. Tafoya is most valuable on special teams.

--RB Shaun Alexander will probably miss the next two games as Seattle takes no chances with his foot injury. Alexander said he feels good enough to practice, but the team wants the cracked bone in his foot to be fully healed.

--WR Bobby Engram's thyroid condition is probably viral in nature and the team expects him back for its Oct. 29 game at Kansas City.

--WR D.J. Hackett continues to see his role expand while WR Bobby Engram recovers from a thyroid condition. Hackett has the size and speed to make plays downfield. He has out-produced WR Nate Burleson lately, so don't be surprised if Hackett gets more and more reps.

GAME PLAN:
The Seahawks need to turn their defense loose and take advantage of the Vikings' communication problems up front. Minnesota has played things very close to the vest offensively, diminishing chances for big plays downfield. The Seahawks will have crowd noise on their side, making life tough on the Vikings' offensive line. LB Julian Peterson and DE Bryce Fisher should be able to get home in this game.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Seahawks DT Marcus Tubbs vs. Vikings LG Steve Hutchinson. The Vikings' offensive line is still finding its way. Tubbs has played very well since returning from knee surgery. He has the size and athletic ability to hold up in this matchup. The Seahawks rotate at the DT position and veteran DT Russell Davis gives them another viable option.

--Seahawks FB Mack Strong vs. Vikings MLB Napoleon Harris. The Vikings are very strong in the middle of their defensive line, making life easier for Harris, who is enjoying a career revival. Strong is having a good year, particularly as a runner. His blocking will be increasingly important as the team gets back to its familiar two-back offense after flirting extensively with four-receiver sets in recent weeks.

INJURY IMPACT: The injury report is clear-cut for Seattle, but the availability of TE Jerramy Stevens remains a small mystery. Stevens practiced all last week, only to become a last-minute scratch because his knee wasn't feeling right. All signs point to Stevens playing in this game, but if the knee wasn't feeling right last week, perhaps he isn't ready to stretch the field just yet.


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