Holmgren Reviews Stevens, Previews Rams

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has had to spend time in the short week dealing with the aftereffects of the behavior that marked his team's Monday night victory over the Raiders, especially the escapades of one Jerramy Stevens. More importantly, the St. Louis Rams are coming to town, trying to avenge their October loss. Holmgren talked about these things and more when addressing the media this week.

As the Seattle Seahawks prepare for their rematch against their only real division rival, the St. Louis Rams, Coach Mike Holmgren still had the events of Monday night on his mind. When Oakland Raiders defensive end Tyler Brayton kicked Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens in a rather sensitive area near the end of the Seahawks’ 16-0 win, and both players were fined by the league, it was the culmination of an evening of jabbering back and forth. Stevens was upbraided and benched in the first half of the game by Holmgren after getting flagged for a 15-yard taunting penalty, and didn’t have much of an impact, except in the peripheral highlight reels, upon his return. Holmgren has addressed the issue with the team, and has made it known that this sort of behavior will not fly.

“I did talk to the team as a whole on what I expect as far as conduct and just how we play the game,” Holmgren said on Wednesday. “Looking at some of those incidents, they are kind of selfish. You are putting yourself before the team, before the situation, with no real concern with how it affects the game. And I don't like that. And I told them. So I kind of talked to them a little bit about that today. Then I will talk to individuals as I see the need later in the week.

"I know I can't stop (the players from) trash talking or whatever. That's not what I am talking about. I am talking about unnecessary penalties. I'm talking about just things that hurt the football team. Now, I have my own personal opinion about guys who talk a lot, and I think at times it hurts their play by getting involved in that and not getting involved in other things. So I am a realist that that is kind of the way things are now.

"I've affectionately been called a 'dinosaur' in this room. But I really believe that. Those are things that really bother me a lot. It is such a great game, and such a great team effort to get something done, that to have someone put themselves about the team in any way, it just bothers me. That's a no-no. I ranted and raved a little bit this morning. But I think I explained to them why. They got to know how I feel. I think that's communicating. So, they know.”

Dropped passes are still an issue for the team, and Stevens is one of the poster boys. Holmgren, for his part, would like to see everything get back to football. But he knows that those ancillary issues can affect on-field performance, and that was at the root of his anger at his star tight end. “I think they (do),” Holmgren said. “I don’t mean to pick on Jerramy, but I think they are. Some players are more emotional. They wear them on their sleeves, they act out a bit. If the emotional player has a moment where something happens, then it’s a little harder to shake that. And then all of a sudden, it doesn’t work. I absolutely think there’s a correlation there. Now, every player I’ve ever had, when I talk to him about that, says, ‘Absolutely not. Absolutely not.’ But I don’t believe him.

”The biggest examples to me are quarterbacks. At the beginning of the game, you see it all the time, where the team comes together and they’re all jumping up and down, hitting each other and chanting, whatever they do, and someone’s got a microphone, you know that scene on the field. If my quarterback is in there … You know, (Jon) Kitna was good at that. He gets in there, and he likes to jump around and chant, too. If a guy’s in there, I go, OK, I like the fact that he’s raring to go, but you’ve got to think. I’d prefer the quarterback would just kind of, they’re there, but they’re just kind of … they’re thinking about what they have to do. The guys that throw an interception, like Matt. Matt’s a very emotional player. He’s better now. But he’d throw an interception and he’d be like, and the play after that, he’d make another bad play. You can’t tell me one didn’t have anything to do with the other. Now, settle down, calm down, and let’s get going. And the other guys are no different. You ask him. I’m sure you will. ‘No. One thing didn’t have anything to do with the other.’”

On to the Rams, who come to Qwest Field this Sunday looking to close the gap in the NFC West. St. Louis has a 4-4 record, and lost to the Seahawks on October 15 at the Edward Jones Dome, 30-28, on a last-second Josh Brown field goal. If the Rams hope to take the division, this game is a must. For Holmgren, the key to putting his team at 6-3 with a healthy division dominance despite the injuries to Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander comes down to fundamentals – defense and balanced offensive playcalling. In the previous win, backup RB Maurice Morris carried the ball 23 times, despite the back-and-forth nature of the game. Holmgren will sometimes outwit himself by relying too heavily on the pass when the heat is on, but the focus has changed recently.

“Yeah, I have a tendency to drift during the game just a little bit, from a number of things,” Holmgren said, when asked if he has to remind himself to stick with the run when things get intense. “Particularly when I'm cranked up a little bit. What I do there is typically I'll list four things (on his playsheet), no more than that but four things and it might be that, it might be make sure you call these in the first, whatever it is. Just reminders for me, so as I'm looking at the thing and put it and I circle it and I kind of highlight it, so I'm constantly looking over those things just as a reminder during games.

“And you guys know this, the actual game, it's very emotional and very intense, and I'm not playing in the game. The players are playing the game. But it gets a little wild and wooly down there sometimes - and I need those things for to pop back into my mind every once in a while during the course of a ballgame. That's why I do it. And I've really done that, stay with the run, more than a couple of times. Particularly in setting up the game plan during the week. You want to do that. I have in other games come off the run too early and made a mistake in retrospect. I've gone back over it and said 'I probably shouldn't have done that.' So those are just reminders for myself.”

Given the Rams’ rank against the run (28th in run defense), utilizing Morris would be the smart play. Perhaps the team’s MVP this season has been linebacker Julian Peterson, acquired via free agency in the offseason. The former 49er has recovered resoundingly from a 2004 Achilles’ tendon tear to lead the Seahawks in sacks with 8, which is already his career high, just halfway through the 2006 season. Peterson is also on pace for a career high in tackles, though his interceptions and passes defensed numbers aren’t what they used to be. San Francisco used Peterson’s stunning versatility a bit more, while Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall had preferred to utilize him in more traditional roles – as an outside linebacker and rushing end in certain blitz packages. Only recently has Peterson been moved around on the field as a Seahawk. When Seattle played the Chiefs, Peterson’s task (among others) was to cover tight end Tony Gonzalez.

But according to Holmgren, Marshall saw in Peterson the ability to become that impact edge rusher the Seahawks haven’t had in a very long time. “Well, John has done a nice job of trying to get him in a position to do that,” Holmgren said. “Julian, he disrupts. He’s fast. He’s strong. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he disrupts things. And that’s kind of the best way to describe our defense when they’re rushing he passer. We don’t have that – and I love my guys – but we don’t have that one guy, and I’ve always used Reggie White as an example, that everyone says, ‘Oh man.’ Michael Strahan. We don’t have that guy.

"We have good guys, and when they’re all cranked up and going, they disrupt for other people. So it all depends on how the offense wants to, who they want to block. We count on the guy who has the single block to win. You can’t double everybody. I think Julian has been the beneficiary of some of that. But he is a very fast guy. I was very happy that John decided to do that – to really crank up the blitzing part of it in the game Monday night. It worked for us.”

Holmgren did say, however, that there is a challenge in how to use a player who can do so many things. “He’s a normal, standup base linebacker. Then he’s a nickel down pass rusher. Then he’s a nickel rush linebacker from an up position. He’s having to learn a lot of stuff. It’s all good. People say, ‘You can use him in all these ways.’ But, I’ve said this a million times, it doesn’t matter how creative a coach is, really. What matters is, is what you can teach the player and then what he can absorb and do in the game. When you get a new player to your system, regardless of the talent level of the player, you have to be careful how much you throw at them, one, and then he has to get in his groove and feel that’s what he does best. You get those versatile players, while it’s a great thing; it creates some problems for you until you kind of figure out how you want to use them.”

Peterson’s value to the team goes beyond his playmaking on the field. “I think among his many strengths, the biggest one for me, is he is a little bit of the catalyst for the defense,” the coach continued. His energy level and how he goes about stuff in the huddle, in practice, in the locker room, it’s a healthy thing, it is a good thing for the defense. Grant is kind of held together with bailing wire a little bit, he plays the game so hard and he’s not a big, big guy, that is also impressive I think to his teammates. Now we have (Darryl) Tapp playing the same position as Grant, so Grant doesn’t have to play as many snaps, but he is an important guy on the team, even though his actual number of snaps in the game is probably down just a little bit.”

Peterson has been busy with the Xs and Os against the Rams and quarterback Marc Bulger, who has racked up six straight 100+ passer rating games. “It is going to be a little bit (of a) different game plan," the linebacker said. "I’m pretty sure (the Rams are) going to be looking at the film of what we did last time we played them and we’re just going to have to do what we normally do. If somebody is getting double teamed, the next guy who has one on one has to win, that was the biggest thing for us. Anybody that had one on one this past game, they tried to win the one on one battle. That is what we have to do this week.”

In the end, the challenge will be to continue the momentum of the Oakland game (without the distractions), as stars Hasselbeck and Alexander continue to recover from their injuries. Holmgren estimates that both will take part in drills (“I think (Matt's) going to try and do some things on Friday. Maybe some dropback. I don't know exactly how much he's going to do, but I think the training staff is going to allow him to do some things on Friday. I would say the same thing with Shaun. See where they are. See how their injuries respond to work like that, and then go from there.”), but he knows that he has to make this work with what he’s got. Seattle is playing for the upper hand, but the Rams are playing for the season.

“Well, aside from the normal division (aspect), it has been a good rivalry. Everyone understands what's at stake. The ramifications of winning or losing the football game. Now, we've got eight games left to play and I suggest it will go right down to the wire because that's the kind of season it's going to be, but it's usually important to both teams. The players know that. Once again, I'm glad we're playing at home. I think that's always a good thing for us, but have to play, we know these guys. We have to play well to win the game.”

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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