"And while I take responsibility for getting the team ready to play, all the things that should motivate the athlete to be at his best, it really comes down to the individual player."
The Seahawks had won 10 consecutive NFC West games dating to 2004, when they fell flat in San Francisco on Nov. 19. Seattle did have a couple of excuses going into that game. Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck remained sidelined by a knee injury, and MVP running back Shaun Alexander was making his first start following an extended injury absence.
Hasselbeck now has two games under his belt. Alexander has 291 yards rushing in two starts since the loss to the 49ers. And yet the offense isn't clicking. Seattle had only two first downs in the first half of a 23-20 victory in Denver last week. Hasselbeck rallied the team in the final minutes as Seattle pulled out a rare road victory against a winning team, but beating the Cardinals might actually take a better effort.
Arizona is coming off a 34-20 victory in St. Louis. The Cardinals have started to establish a running game in recent weeks, and their defense is wacky enough to give Seattle problems if the Seahawks don't play well. Hasselbeck once tossed four interceptions during a 2004 loss at Arizona.
The plan this week could involve lightening the mental burden for Hasselbeck while turning loose the defense a little more. Seattle suffered three delay-of-game penalties in Denver largely because the Seahawks sometimes expect Hasselbeck to make too many pre-snap adjustments.
"All of a sudden, we're going to run a play when the linebacker's here," Holmgren said, motioning to one side. "He moves three inches here, and then we want Matt to run another play. No one can do that. Nobody can do that.
"And that's a concept I'm having a tough time getting everybody to understand. They will understand it, now. We're going to change that."
Some of those pre-snap adjustments have helped Seattle bust big plays against he gambling Cardinals. That included Alexander's 88-yard touchdown run in Arizona last season. Clearly there is a healthy balance to be struck.
"If you look at what the Cardinals did against St. Louis, against Detroit, they confuse their opponent," Hasselbeck said. "We have the advantage that we've played these guys a bunch and we know them a lot better than we would know someone outside our division.
"But at the same time, they get creative on defense and we have to play our best. Now, I think we have a great plan and I feel good about what we're doing that way. I think we have some things that are going to work, but we gotta go out and do that. Not think about it, just go out and play and play hard and play fast and execute well."
On defense, the Seahawks get their first look at rookie quarterback Matt Leinart. Seattle had a history of successfully blitzing the Cardinals when Kurt Warner was under center. Defensive coordinator John Marshall eased off the throttle a bit unexpectedly against Denver's Jay Cutler, and Holmgren hinted Wednesday that he'd like to see a more aggressive plan.
"We're at our best defensively, I think, when we're pressuring, not when we're playing coverage," Holmgren said. "Not that we haven't made plays playing coverage, and you've got to kind of mix it up and stuff like that, but I think our best results have been when we pressure.
"The tradeoff there is you're singled up. And in the case with Arizona, they have good receivers. As the signal caller on defense, John Marshall, I understand why he gets nervous doing that. That makes sense to me.
"I don't have to call the defenses, but I would think he doesn't want to put those guys on an island too much in the secondary. But when we pressure the quarterback, we're pretty good on defense so you've just got to decide how much you're going to do it."
SERIES HISTORY: 16th meeting. Seattle leads the series, 8-7. The Seahawks have won the last four meetings by a 115-62 margin, including 21-10 at Qwest Field in the second game of this season.
--Coach Mike Holmgren is famous for his occasional sideline blowups. He took the grandfatherly approach last week in Denver when he pulled aside rookie punter Ryan Plackemeier following a few poor punts. Plackemeier wound up finishing the game with a 40-plus net average. The soft touch apparently had nothing to do with any high-minded psychology. "I'm reacting more on how I feel," Holmgren quipped. "I could care less about him, to be honest. Depending on my mood. That's really what it boils down to.
"That's chapter two in my book, 'Brilliant Coaching.'"
--Seattle receiver Darrell Jackson is making no apologies for Florida's inclusion in the national championship game against Ohio State. "I think we're going to go ahead and run the table, do Ohio State," said Jackson, a former Gator. "I head someone on TV talking nonsense talking about no matter who (the Buckeyes) play, they got it.
"When you play the SEC, man, we don't play that. We going to go take care of business, shock the world.
"I know Ohio State has a strong alumni program. USC had one too. That's why they wanted them to get into the championship game. So did Michigan. Florida got a strong alumni program too, a strong team, a strong coach, and we looking to win."
That could make things rough on Seahawks rookie Rob Sims, a fourth-round pick from Ohio State. "He's going to have to take it," Jackson said. "His maturity and stuff like that, he's going to have to grow up real fast because we don't plan on losing."
BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- The number of rushing touchdowns Seattle needs to score in the final four games to match its total from last season (29).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Trust me, there's plenty left on the plate." -- QB Matt Hasselbeck on the team's plan to take a few pre-snap adjustments "off his plate" this week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Seahawks are carrying only one true fullback on their roster, but that could change if Mack Strong has problems in practice this week. Strong suffered an ankle injury against Denver last week. He is questionable. Rookie FB David Kirtman could be signed off the practice squad late in the week. In the meantime, veteran TE Will Heller is getting snaps at fullback. Heller played quite a bit against the Broncos.
--FB Mack Strong did not practice Wednesday. He is questionable with an ankle injury.
--RB Josh Scobey was placed on injured reserve with a broken bone in his upper arm.
--LB D.D. Lewis did not practice Wednesday. He is doubtful with a toe injury.
--TE Itula Mili did not practice Wednesday. He is doubtful with a concussion.
--C Robbie Tobeck is doubtful with a hip injury. He did not practice Wednesday. Tobeck, who had an infection, needs to regain about 15 pounds. He is questionable.
--WR Bobby Engram has cleared a hurdle in his return from a thyroid disorder. He could return in another week. He is questionable.
--DT Rocky Bernard missed practice Wednesday. He is probable with a foot injury.
GAME PLAN: The Seahawks were overly conservative in their game at Denver last week, in part because the Broncos were starting a rookie at quarterback. The Cardinals appear more capable offensively and more vulnerable defensively. For those reasons, the Seahawks will probably need to open up their offense more this week. That means trusting Matt Hasselbeck to play the way he did in the final few minutes of the Denver game, when he quickly led Seattle downfield for 10 late points. Defensively, Seattle needs better tackling now that Edgerrin James is working more effectively behind an improving offensive line.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson. Wilson presents special problems. He has four interceptions, four sacks and two touchdowns in 12 games this season. The Cardinals use him in varied ways. They line him up in different places; they even put him in a hybrid defensive end position early in Seattle's game against the Cardinals last season. Hasselbeck must be careful. Paying too much attention to Wilson could cause the offense to get away from its plan. Paying too little attention could lead to big plays for the Cardinals defense. Striking the right balance is important.
--Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, a big target with great ball skills, vs. Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant, a former first-round pick trying to meet expectations. Trufant has been making more aggressive plays on the ball. He has one interception in his last two games after going longer than a year without one. He nearly picked off another pass against the Broncos when QB Jay Cutler tested him with an early pass to Javon Walker. Fitzgerald has won this matchup over the years, but not at the expense of Seattle winning the games.
INJURY IMPACT: FB Mack Strong might be wearing down at age 35. An ankle injury prevented him from finishing the Denver game last week. He expects to start against the Cardinals, but will he finish? The Seahawks might not be as versatile offensively if Strong is limited. Converted TE Will Heller will serve as fullback if Strong can't play. Heller seemed effective in Denver.