Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks/Cardinals, Pt. 2

In Part 2 of our four-part game preview series, Doug Farrar of Seahawks.NET answers the first five of ten questions from Brad Keller of CardinalInsider.com. What will the loss of D.J. Hackett mean to the offense, who replaces Ken Hamlin, why did the Charlie Frye and Bryce Fisher trades happen, and will Shaun Alexander run wild again in the Valley of the Sun?

Brad Keller: Is D.J. Hackett still a sleeper for this season? How much will his injury affect the passing game?

Doug Farrar: I’m not sure that Hackett was a “sleeper” anymore coming into this season – after all, when you’re on the top of everyone’s sleeper list, you’re cast out of the realms of the underrated. Most people had projected a big season for Hackett as Seattle’s starting split end, but his relative invisibility in training camp and through the preseason in comparison to Nate Burleson, eventually brought things to the point that Burleson was challenging Hackett for reps. Both Burleson and Hackett are good players, but Hackett was the team’s only deep threat with the exception of Deion Branch, and the high ankle sprain that he suffered in the Tampa Bay game negated Mike Holmgren’s four-wide packages and allowed the Buccaneers to basically take Branch out of the game.

With Hackett most likely out at least a month (though timeframe has not been confirmed), both Holmgren and Branch are going to have to step up and make up the difference – Holmgren in gameplanning and Branch in creating separation despite more confining coverages. It’s a lot to expect of Branch, but Branch has the ability, and he earned those expectations with what is essentially Reggie Wayne’s contract. Burleson will be the default starter at SE, with Bobby Engram in the slot as always. Ben Obomanu, who looked wonderful in the preseason, and rookie Courtney Taylor, will alternate for the fourth receiver spot. Obomanu has the edge there. Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace is the unknown factor in Seattle’s receiver corps, which leads us to your next question…


BK: What about the trade this week? What does Charlie Frye bring to the team? What does it lose with Bryce Fisher? Or, is this an NBA trade (basically trading one guy for the other and dumping some salary)?

DF: Frye brings some starting experience (as traumatic as it may have been) to the team, but he’s really starting from Ground Zero here. It’s a big step up from Cleveland’s basic attack to the Seattle scheme that Mike Holmgren has ingrained over the last eight years. This is a fast, relentlessly precise, timing-based offense in which several different elements must work in unison, as opposed to the “either hand off, throw the ball 40 times because you’re down by three touchdowns, or flail around and wait to get sacked” plan Frye had in Cleveland.

He’ll have to learn an offense far more advanced than anything he’s ever seen before. Could take quite a while, which is why the common assumption that Frye’s signing means that Seneca Wallace will see time as a receiver isn’t necessarily the case just yet. As Frye gets his legs under him, Wallace could be in the mix - and that’s bad news for enemy secondaries, as he’s got a fifth gear that few defenders can match. It’s important to note, however, that Frye’s weak arm and inability to react on the fly and get rid of the ball when necessary are fairly severe handicaps. He may never be more than a third quarterback on a quality team.

I don’t know that it was an “NBA trade” – at least I hope not, as the apparent rarity of competent general managers in pro basketball these days would have me shaking my head if that was the sport I wrote about. Fisher was a player who made a difference on Seattle’s defense in 2005 and through the first half of 2006, but the selection of Darryl Tapp in the second round of the 2006 draft was step one in the redefinition of Seattle’s edge rushers. Holmgren said in his Wednesday press conference that losing his starting job to Tapp before the 2007 season really affected him, and that it was better for all involved for Fisher to go to a team where he’s have a better shot at playing. The Titans have has some issues at Fisher’s position, so it’s a good deal for him.

Problem? Fisher was the team’s best run-stopping end, and with DT Marcus Tubbs out for the season, the front four’s ability to clamp down in the run has to be a concern.


BK: Shaun Alexander has had a great deal of success against the Cardinals. Do the Seahawks lean on him this week or try to open things up with the passing game right from the start?

DF: No Seahawks running back has ever put up a better performance against the Cardinals than Alexander did in November of 2005, when he rushed 23 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-long 88-yard run (actually, he’s done that twice in his career). He rushed for over 100 yards in the season opener against Tampa Bay, though his 3.9 yards per carry average has to be a bit of a concern when analyzing an offensive line that needs to improve in 2007.

Whether the Seahawks go with Shaun or go with the pass could be a win-win if it all works out. The Seahawks are making a conscious effort to throw more often to their backs this season. That’s a work in progress, but I like Alexander’s odds onthe ground against an Arizona defense that’s still obviously adjusting to a new 3-4 scheme.

Shaun’s odds catching the ball with consistency? Not so much just yet.


BK: How much will the defense miss Ken Hamlin (both as a player and an inspiration)?

DF: Hamlin was a free agent after the 2006 season, and the Seahawks weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to re-sign him. He wound up signing a one-year deal with the Cowboys. During Hamlin’s time in Seattle, he was known as a decent free safety in closer coverage who could get nuked on deep routes. The more he gained a reputation as a vicious tackler, the more he seemed to go for the kill shot over the solid wrap-up. His recovery from a severe head injury halfway through the 2005 season was used by the team as a galvanizing point for the team’s first Super Bowl run.

And when he returned for the 2006 season, he received the NFC Defensive Player of the Month award for September after racking up 18 tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble in just three games. This fact is often ignored by the Seahawks fans who would prefer to ignore the value that Hamlin did bring to the team – such observers are more prone to exaggerate Hamlin’s supposed proclivity for “boneheaded penalties”, though he ranked far below the likes of Chris McAlister and Antrel Rolle in that category. I like Hamlin as a player, and I think that he could display Pro Bowl potential in the right circumstances. In 2006, Seattle’s patchwork secondary and mediocre position coaching did not combine to form the right circumstances.

The Seahawks signed Brian Russell to replace Hamlin at free safety, and the jury’s still out. Russell seems to have a problem with missed tackles, though I’d like to see more before I decide that the tradeoff isn’t what we’re looking for.


BK: Speaking of safeties, the one big thing in the Cardinals' favor is Seattle's lack of depth and talent at that position. Couple that with Ken Whisenhunt's propensity to throw deep and you have a potentially hazardous situation on your hands. How will Seattle approach that? Or, at least cover that up?

DF: Pressure, pressure and more pressure. The Seahawks know that while they have a potentially great set of cornerbacks in Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson, the safety scenario isn’t so stellar. Strong safety Deon Grant seems to be a natural leader (he’s already been named a team captain) and he’s good in run support and sniffing out the occasional misdirection, but deep coverage has been an issue in Seattle for several years. It was less a problem in 2005, when the Seahawks led the NFL in sacks, and the idea seems to be that a quarterback can’t throw deep if he’s on his butt. Jeff Garcia had enough time to go deep twice against Seattle last week, and safety help wasn’t really evident on either play.

Of course, there aren’t many safeties who can keep up with Joey Galloway. With Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, the problem will be less about matching them step for step and more about getting the jump on those two giants. Boldin and Fitzgerald aren’t track stars – but they are two receivers who can give the best coverage teams fits all game long.


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