Doug Farrar, Editor-in-Chief, Seahawks.NET: According to Mike Holmgren, Hasselbeck fractured an area between the index and middle finger knuckles on his left (non-throwing) hand. He is practicing this week with padding on the left hand, and he’s expected to start. He was listed as probable on the team’s Thursday injury report.
The injury won’t affect his throwing, but there may be a cumulative pain effect as he takes snap after snap – he’s also working with second-year man Chris Spencer, who’s started the last three games as Robbie Tobeck recovers from an injury, and the exchange from Spencer to Hasselbeck might be an issue. I tend to wonder if an overemphasis on making sure the ball doesn’t get lost might affect the offense’s timing.
MS: Will it be considerably harder to game plan for Jay Cutler at quarterback, coming off a short week and having not seen him at all during the regular season?
DF: I don’t think so – the real issue is game planning for Denver’s offensive line. Seattle’s defense is small and fast in the front seven, so it should be a very interesting matchup with Denver’s offensive line. I would hope that facing a quarterback who’s starting his first NFL game would cause defensive coordinator John Marshall to bring more pressure. Correspondingly, of course, that approach might open things up for the Denver running game.
MS: Will Seattle utilize the blitz more than normal, now that they’re facing a rookie in his first career start?
DF: As I said, one would certainly hope so. It would seem to be the way to go – bring extra men up near the line and force Cutler to work his way out of the pressure.
MS: From a Seahawks standpoint – what is the Broncos’ biggest weakness and how would you plan to exploit it?
DF: Denver hasn’t managed a consistently productive ground game lately, and that’s good news for a Seattle defense that misses injured DT Marcus Tubbs terribly and has been very up-and-down against the run this season. I’m also curious to see what the safety situation will be with Nick Ferguson on injured reserve.
The Seahawks have several starting-level wide receivers who can exploit any holes in the middle of the field brought about by a safety deficit. With Champ Bailey and Darrent Williams to deal with at cornerback, don’t be surprised if Mike Holmgren looks first to hit the underneath stuff in front of the safeties if Denver plays deep.
MS: It appears that Shaun Alexander has returned to form following the broken foot, do you expect another 30+ carries this Sunday or will Mike Holmgren tighten the leash to avoid further injury before the playoffs?
DF: I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar number of overall touches for the backs, but I’d like a few more to go Maurice Morris’ way. Alexander’s backup, who rushed for over 100 yards twice this season in Alexander's absence, is a much better receiver, and this would take advantage of Denver’s real defensive weakness.
According to Football Outsiders’ proprietary statistics, the Broncos rank 2nd in the NFL in pass defense DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, explained here) against #1 receivers, 9th against all other receivers, 13th against tight ends, and 31st against running backs.
The Seahawks run surprisingly few screen passes for a supposedly prototypical West Coast Offense team, but this would a good week to start.