Alexander has looked good in practice this week and he could return from a broken foot Sunday. Hasselbeck is probably another week away. Either way, the Seahawks could have their hands full Sunday. "They are a much-improved football team and on the rise," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "I'm very impressed with their defense. They beat the Vikings 9-3, and that's hard to do. They shut down Detroit last week, for the most part.
"They're a very active, good-tackling defensive team. And they're playing at home. Shoot, they're 4-5, the Rams are 4-5. We know what kind of a dogfight it's going to be."
A rejuvenated ground game gives Seattle its best chance to win this game. Maurice Morris has 262 yards in the last two games. Getting Alexander back would only help, even if he shares time with Morris.
The Seahawks' offensive line is run-blocking more efficiently with left guard Floyd Womack and right tackle Tom Ashworth getting more comfortable. Womack recently returned from a sprained knee. He played much better against St. Louis last week than he had against Oakland in his first game back. Ashworth, signed from New England in free agency, is more comfortable now that he isn't shuffling from one position to another on the line. He's a natural right tackle whose strength is run blocking.
Getting the ground game going will help Seattle take advantage of the 49ers' unconvincing secondary. Seneca Wallace will probably start for the fourth week in a row. Hasselbeck worked with the scout team during practice, but his knee didn't look quite right. Wallace hasn't played great, but he has played well enough, particularly in first halves, to put points on the board.
Seattle will probably have to change up some things offensively because Trent Dilfer knows Holmgren and the offense very well. Dilfer, a former Seahawks starter under Holmgren, thinks like a coach even though he's on the 49ers' roster as the backup to up-and-coming passer Alex Smith.
"You talk about players going to other teams that have a little knowledge, and some have a lot of knowledge," Holmgren said. "Some are like coaches, and Trent's a little bit like a coach. "Playing the quarterback position, first of all, and then he's a smart football guy. They'll have our audibles. They have all that stuff. He'll tell them what I like to do in certain situations, I'm sure."
The Seahawks will fare well in this matchup if their defense continues its increasingly disciplined ways. The secondary stuck to its assignments very well during the 24-22 victory over the Rams. That marked a change from earlier games. The Rams also hurt their cause, arguably, by getting away from some of the more aggressive passing schemes that proliferated under former coach Mike Martz.
The 49ers are improved up front with left tackle Jonas Jennings and left guard Larry Allen. Running back Frank Gore is having a huge season on the ground and he should start despite suffering a concussion last week. Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu learned a few lessons playing against Allen as a rookie last season. He'll be smarter this time and he'll also have help from someone the 49ers know well.
Julian Peterson leads the Seahawks with eight sacks in nine games. He might be the only lock for the Pro Bowl from Seattle's defense. Jennings will have his hands full with Peterson on passing downs. The Seahawks should be able to capitalize if their secondary plays a third solid game in a row.
SERIES HISTORY: 15th meeting. Seattle leads the series, 8-6. The Seahawks have won six consecutive games against the 49ers, including 27-24 at San Francisco last season. The Seahawks prevailed in the most recent meeting, a 41-3 victory at Qwest Field.
--LB Julian Peterson faces his former team for the first time when Seattle visits the 49ers on Sunday. And he'll be supremely motivated to prove himself worthy of the Seahawks' massive investment.
The 49ers decided to funnel their rebuilding money toward younger players. They made little effort to re-sign Peterson in free agency. "It was a business move," Peterson said this week. "I had to respect all that San Francisco did to me because when I tore my Achilles, they still gave me the franchise tag. So they still gave me enough respect in that aspect.
"It was just a business move for them: new coaching staff, they wanted to get their new guys in, so that was pretty much it. There's no hard feelings. I'm happy here and I'm ready to kick some 49er butt."
--The Seahawks are seeded third in the NFC playoff picture with seven games remaining. Chicago leads the way with an 8-1 record. Seattle, New Orleans and the New York Giants are 6-3. The Saints are the second seed because they have the best conference record of the three teams. Seattle is the third seed because the Seahawks defeated the Giants earlier this season.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck seemed to be favoring his right knee upon returning to practice Wednesday. But he wasn't limping. No way. Hasselbeck, who hadn't practiced since suffering a sprained MCL three-plus weeks ago, called it a "strut" to his step. "I can roll out and throw, that's not a problem," Hasselbeck said. "I think the big question would just be getting tackled, getting bent up in the bottom of the pile like a pretzel. I don't know how you plan for that, but that's part of my job. I get a bunch of guys much bigger than me, laying on top of me, diving on me, throwing their head into shoulders."
--Holmgren said Wallace wasn't entirely to blame for the fumble-forcing sack that turned into the Rams' 89-yard return for a touchdown Sunday. The coaches could have done a better job designing the protection on the play. But what really annoyed Holmgren was the penalty preceding the fateful play. "The major screw-up was having 12 guys in the huddle," Holmgren said. "That I dealt with today. I have failed my team miserably when we do that and hopefully that should never happen again. We should never be in that situation again."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1,087 -- The Seahawks are on pace for 1,087 fewer yards than they gained last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is the most injuries on one side of the ball (offense) that I can remember." -- Holmgren on losing Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Bobby Engram, Floyd Womack, Sean Locklear and Jerramy Stevens.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Seahawks have decided against signing a fullback even though Josh Parry remains sidelined by a foot injury. Mack Strong is the only true fullback on the roster. And while most teams have gotten away from using traditional fullbacks extensively, Seattle still leans heavily on the position. The team has decided to have TE Will Heller double as backup fullback for now. That would change if something happened to Strong.
Seattle brought in some fullbacks for tryouts this week - Thump Belton, Lousaka Polite, Alan Ricard and J.T. Wall. Rookie David Kirtman, presently on the practice squad, provides another option. Kirtman was a fifth-round pick from USC.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck returned to practice Wednesday and worked with the scout team. He was listed as questionable on the injury report. Seneca Wallace appears likely to play against the 49ers on Sunday.
--RB Shaun Alexander returned to practice Wednesday and appeared close to full strength. Alexander has been sidelined by a broken foot. The team will monitor him Thursday to see how the foot responds to its first practice since the injury. Right now, Alexander appears likely to play Sunday.
--CB Kelly Herndon missed practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury. He is probable.
--CB Jimmy Williams practiced Wednesday despite an ankle injury. He is probable.
--LB D.D. Lewis missed practice Wednesday with a toe injury. He will not play Sunday.
--FB Josh Parry missed practice Wednesday with a foot injury. He will not play Sunday.
--WR Bobby Engram practiced Wednesday despite a thyroid condition. He is questionable on the injury report.
--RT Sean Locklear missed practice Wednesday with a high ankle sprain. He is questionable on the injury report.
--C Robbie Tobeck missed practice Wednesday. He is sick. He is questionable on the injury report.
--DT Rocky Bernard missed practice Wednesday with a foot injury. He is probable on the injury report.
GAME PLAN: The Seahawks need to stick with their ground game. It's a simple strategy and one that worked in consecutive victories over Oakland and St. Louis. Maurice Morris and/or Shaun Alexander should find ample running room behind an offensive line that is finally getting to the second level. The passing game will be there, but Seattle should be selective. There's no need to take undue chances if the running backs are getting 4-5 yards a carry. Defensively, the Seahawks should blitz 49ers QB Alex Smith until the second-year pro proves he can beat them. That means sending Julian Peterson and Lofa Tatupu up the middle. Seattle DT Rocky Bernard is starting to get some pressure, too.