Seattle Seahawks (3-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 15th meeting. Seahawks lead series 8-6. Not included in the regular-season results is the Seahawks' 23-10 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Aside from that, Seattle has won four of the last five.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Rhythm dancers: In a tough road environment, Seattle must do a better job of capitalizing on its scoring opportunities. The Seahawks have scored just five touchdowns in 13 red-zone possessions. RB Shaun Alexander is still running with a soft cast on his fractured wrist, but he must keep the offense out of third-and-long situations against Pittsburgh's pass rush. ... After watching Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall turn his linebackers loose on the 49ers' quarterbacks last week, the Steelers want to make sure they establish the run. That will help buy time for QB Ben Roethlisberger, who did not enjoy strong protection in the loss to Arizona. Coach Mike Tomlin also wants to clean up sloppy play that led to 11 penalties.
KEY INJURIES: Seahawks: CB Josh Wilson (ankle) is out. Steelers: WR Hines Ward (knee sprain) might return; SS Troy Polamalu (abdomen) and NT Casey Hampton (hamstring) are expected to play; nickel CB Bryant McFadden (high ankle sprain) is out; TE Matt Spaeth (bruised thigh) will play after missing two games.
The Seahawks have 11 new starters since their loss in Super Bowl XL. ... The Steelers have not allowed a first-half touchdown this season.
--CB Kevin Hobbs was signed off the practice squad to add depth at the position with Josh Wilson out with an ankle injury.
--RB Maurice Morris was held out of practice Thursday as he continues to nurse a hip injury. His availability for the Pittsburgh game will be decided later.
--LB Will Herring returned to limited practice after taking a day off with a sore knee.
--DT Rocky Bernard eased back into action Thursday; he missed part of Sunday's game against San Francisco with an ankle injury.
--QB Ben Roethlisberger went through a full practice for the first time this week on Thursday and should be fine for Sunday. He was limited in practice Wednesday after his left foot was stepped on last week.
--WR Hines Ward again did not practice Thursday, but hopes to do so on Friday. Ward missed last Sunday's game with a sprained knee and coach Mike Tomlin described his status this week as questionable.
--NT Casey Hampton, who left last Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, has not practiced this week but plans to on Friday and to start Sunday.
--SS Troy Polamalu, who left last Sunday's game with a rib cartilage injury, has not practiced this week but plans to on Friday and to start Sunday.
--CB William Gay moves up to No. 3 this week with Bryant McFadden out (sprained ankle). Gay has moved ahead of four-year veteran Ricardo Colclough.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Seahawks rank 17th in the NFL in rushing, but that area has been an area of disappointment for head coach Mike Holmgren, who has seen several drives this season stalled for failing to convert third-and-short rushes.
Holmgren said the rushing game was going to be a focal point during practice the week before the Pittsburgh game. But the timing is difficult considering the Steelers have the league's No. 2-rated defense.
"I supposed you'd like a different opponent to try and feel better about stuff, but we can only control what we can control," Holmgren said.
The Seahawks average 104.5 yards a game, but leading rusher Shaun Alexander is getting only 3.9 per carry. And even that figure is inflated by several long runs that he's tacked on at the end of games.
The problem, Holmgren said, is not effort, but execution.
"We have had too many assignment errors," he said. "It's not necessarily the defensive scheme or the team we're playing against. We're making too many mistakes for what I would consider a pretty veteran group. These plays are not new plays."
Holmgren said that he "let them have it" before practice on Wednesday about being better about knowing assignments.
"Physical errors, that's football," he said. "But I will not tolerate assignment breakdowns like that."
This game marks the first time the Seahawks and Steelers have met since February 5, 2006. That game, Super Bowl XL, was taken fair and square by Pittsburgh, 21-10, though several suspect calls overshadowed everything on both sides. For Seattle, there was the frustration of wondering what might have been had the calls evened out – it seemed that all the calls came at crucial times for the Seahawks. For Pittsburgh, the irritation still arises from a game in which their own performances aren’t mentioned often enough.
Though beat writers have attempted to blow up the “Seattle’s still whining” story, the Seahawks have only responded to questions asked of them by the media, and generally with a forward-looking tone. The subsequent running to the Steelers’ side with a “Hey, did you hear what they said THIS time?” is more worthy of the worst high-school drama clichés than professional sports journalism.
An example of such fabrication
can be seen in this report:
The Seattle Seahawks come to Pittsburgh Sunday still complaining about their loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL, claiming the officials stole victory from them. Even their press release for the game this week states about that game, "Seattle out-gained Pittsburgh in various statistical categories but an uncharacteristic seven penalties and two Pittsburgh big plays aided to the final outcome."
The Steelers say it was folly then and even more humorous that they keep it up. "I thought it was comical," guard Alan Faneca said.
"They're not going to get our Super Bowl rings," safety Troy Polamalu said.
"Wow, they are still talking about that?" quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wondered. "We won. It's in the books. We got it."
Both teams could be contenders for the next Super Bowl. They enter the game with identical 3-1 records.
And that's where the focus should be - on the upcoming game.
"I think that some of the faces are the same, they have some new faces," Roethlisberger said. "They have proved it by the way they played that they are a very good defense -- exceptional talent in the secondary, great group of linebackers maybe one of the best middle linebackers (Lofa Tatupu) playing right now. Obviously their front four is very active, like to get in the backfield and cause disruptions in the pass game."
That's an area of concern for the Steelers after Roethlisberger was sacked four times and forced to scramble or throw the ball on the run many more times under a heavy Cardinals rush last Sunday in Arizona.
It's not something he necessarily wants to continue doing this Sunday.
"When a quarterback scrambles, it's hard on everybody," Roethlisberger said. "It's hard on linemen, it's hard on receivers. There are no rules. It's play football."