Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers/Seahawks, Part II

In Part II of an exclusive four-part series, SFIllustrated.com’s Craig Massei and Seahawks.NET's Todd Breda continue their back-and-forth interaction with five questions from Craig to Todd. How are the Seahawks managing a 6-3 record, alone in first place with their top two stars out? Any truth to that pesky Super Bowl "Jinx"? These questions and more are answered inside...

Craig Massei, Editor-in-Chief, SFIllustrated.com: Everybody out this way wants to know how former 49ers' stand-up guy Julian Peterson is doing with his new team. Did you guys get a great player and meritorious individual when you threw the big money at Jules, or what? What kind of impact is he having on the team in general and the defense in particular?

Todd Breda, Site Owner, Seahawks.NET: When Julian Peterson arrived in Seattle, expectations were high. Fans were elated - of course - but there was some concern as to whether he would be able to get back to the Pro Bowl player he was before suffering the injury to his Achilles in 2004. It quickly became clear that those concerns were all for naught. Peterson has not only lived up to expectations, but has become the undisputed leader and spark plug on the defense. He has already surpassed his career sack total with 8 (and there’s still 7 games left to play), and is the disruptive, tenacious, deadly force you 49ers fans know and remember well.

With a body fat index that would make Adonis jealous, Seahawks fans marvel that his muscles appear to have muscles. He’s no question been a big part of any defensive success the team has enjoyed this year, despite the injuries and challenges the Seahawks have faced so far this year. You simply can’t have too many Julian Peterson’s on your team and there’s good reason you don’t find that many. He’s a true specimen, supernaturally gifted athletically; an outstanding person and leader…Athletes like “Jules” are a rare commodity and the Seahawks are simply thrilled that he’s a part of the team.

Craig Massei: What's the latest word on Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander? Are they playing this week? Are they healthy-ed up enough to make a difference if they do?

Todd Breda: Both Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander have been cleared to practice. Hasselbeck has been working some basic team drills, 7-on-7 and agility tests the past week. He was on the field last Sunday before the Rams game throwing the ball around and his arm looks just fine. There was plenty of zip on the ball and he’s able to drop back without problem, but it’s the cutting and pressure that occurs during actual game time that is still in question. Hasselbeck felt some moderate soreness with his knee and will rest until Friday where the team will take a good look at him in practice. How his knee responds to that will go a long way in Mike Holmgren’s decision to play him this Sunday against the 49ers.

Shaun Alexander has been finally cleared by team doctors to practice. That is set to occur Wednesday. He ran agility drills last Thursday and managed to come out of that without any pain. Since Alexander hasn’t been feeling any pain in the foot the past 3 weeks, the doctors will allow him to test it for the first time since the injury. At the time of this writing Shaun is probably doing just that. We will know by tomorrow or Friday what his status will be.

My best educated guess is that neither will see any action on Sunday. Or if anyone does, I would think Alexander might see limited action. I simply don’t see the need to rush either of their top two players on the team back to the field unless they are both 100 percent healthy. Thanks especially to the performances of backups Seneca Wallace and Maurice Morris who have been holding the fort down admirably in their absence; the Seahawks have the luxury of letting them sit for at least another week if they need to.

Craig Massei: Which begs the question: How have you guys been able to get by with Seneca Wallace and Maurice Morris in their places and still lead the NFC West by two games with seven to play?

Todd Breda: It all starts up front. In recent weeks the offensive line has done a much better job coming together and giving Seneca time to find his receivers and opening up running lanes for Morris. This has given them both an opportunity to showcase their skills and what they can do. Wallace has been learning the offense the past 4 years and he’s simply displaying to the world what the Seahawks already knew…He’s a true talent. With all due respect to “Jules”, Wallace is considered the quickest and most talented athlete on the team. The Seahawks have wanted to find ways to get him on the field to utilize his gifts as he’s the backup to Matt Hasselbeck, there hasn’t been much of a chance until now.

Opposing defenses are beginning to discover just how elusive and quick he is. What makes him even more dangerous is he’s showing his knowledge of the offense by going through his reads, making the correct audibles under pressure, and using his speed and elusiveness as a last – not first – resort. In each of the games he’s started, his QB rating has improved, culminating with a rating of 114 last Sunday in a must-win game against the Rams.

Morris struggled early but that was more due to the offensive line’s cohesion issues due to injury and Mike Holmgren’s earlier inclination to stop running the ball when the going got tough than anything Morris was doing wrong. With the line shoring up some of the inconsistencies and Holmgren realizing that he must stick with the run no matter what (he even wrote in big letters on his play sheet two weeks ago against the Raiders…”STAY WITH THE RUN!!”), Morris has been able to find his rhythm. He doesn’t possess Alexander’s vision and freakish ability to find the end zone in the red zone but he is quick and doesn’t sidestep much. He has a quick burst and is more of a North-South runner. However, he’s a bit on the smaller side so the added carries can take a toll physically.

Teams that have good depth - players who can step in and step up as the Seahawks have proved last year and even this year, usually find themselves playing well into January.

Craig Massei: Any truth to the Super Bowl jinx? Or have the Seahawks, despite their injuries, pretty much been able to stay above the hex that has swallowed the past five Super Bowl losers?

Todd Breda: I think the so-called “Super Bowl Jinx” is little more than the media trying to find something entertaining out of stats. If you look at the teams who lost the Super Bowl over recent years, then look at their record the following year, you see a dismal pattern. Yet, looking closer, why is it really that those teams did so poorly one year removed from a Super Bowl season? Injuries. With any team in the NFL, injuries can have a devastating effect. Why haven’t the Seahawks succumbed to the same fate? It comes down to depth and character. Team President Tim Ruskell is especially canny when it comes to filling needs at key positions. They don’t just pick names from available hats and hope they work out. There is an incredible commitment by the current front office to study and scout players who can fit not just the scheme but their paradigm of high-character and work-ethic over the prototypical talent.

In trying times like the Seahawks have had to endure this year, that paradigm and protocol pays off in high dividends.

Craig Massei: At this point in the season, how do the Seahawks compare to where they were last season at this time when they began rolling toward the postseason?

Todd Breda: At this point last season the Seahawks were 7-2. Not much of a difference in record (6-3) but it’s a universe apart from where they were this time last year. Our offensive line was easily one of the best in the NFL. Neither Hasselbeck nor Alexander was injured, instead in the middle of producing a pro bowl and MVP season respectively. The defense was playing consistent and inspired and the offense was at the top of the league in scoring. This year, so much has changed.

Obviously the injury bug has hit. Losing Steve Hutchinson was a near-catastrophic blow to the cohesiveness of the offensive line. Those two factors have created a kryptonite-like effect to an offense considered just a year ago the NFL’s most prolific. There was an inexplicable lack of urgency missing in the earlier games this season – on both sides of the ball – but I am thankful to say that in recent weeks, it appears the Seahawks have rediscovered that “It” factor which was such a huge part of their historical season last year.

With the backups doing such an admirable job in recent weeks and the team’s top two horses edging ever closer to get back in the race, Seahawks Nation is beginning to see that the light at the end of the 2006 tunnel isn’t a train after all.

 

PART III: Make sure to check back on both SFIllustrated.com and Seahawks.NET as Todd and Craig continue their back-and-forth interaction with Craig answering five more of Todd's questions.



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