Holmgren, Hasselbeck Ready for Rebound Game

It certainly wasn't the outcome Mike Holmgren wanted, though it might not have been too much of a surprise. Several issues that had been brewing came to the fore in the Seattle Seahawks' 21-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. The "Super Bowl XL Rematch" was completely one-sided, as Pittsburgh demolished Seattle's passing game by putting as many as eight men in coverage.

Still, with all that background activity, and the absences of nose tackle Casey Hampton and strong safety Troy Polamalu due to injury, Shaun Alexander could only manage 25 yards on 11 carries. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, stifled by the early loss of receiver Deion Branch to a foot injury, completed only 13 of 27 passes for 116 yards. The one interception he threw, to Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, could have been the third of three first-half picks had Taylor not dropped two other goatballs.

Seattle’s fast and slightly undersized front seven had seen success against the run for the most part this season, but Najeh Davenport’s 45-yard run in the second quarter benefited from five broken or missed tackles. The Seahawks pass rush was active, but not always effective – Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fought off at least three potential sacks for completions.

Holmgren explained the loss very succinctly on Thursday. “You have games like that. That game last week? We couldn’t do anything. Literally anything very well. We had a couple of chances and we didn’t execute very well. Pittsburgh started that way too. The game started 7-0 at halftime and (there was) really only one play of significance for either team in the first half. Every once in a while you will have a game like that. Two defenses are cranked up, they have a good plan and it’s working for them. The important thing is you don’t allow your team to loll around and you continue to believe in the system and explain that you have been doing this a long time and be honest as to what happened in the game.

“The toughest thing for players and coaches to do is to be honest. Start with yourself. How could I have done better? I don’t start with Matt Hasselbeck. I start with myself, I ask the players to do the same thing, don’t start with the guy next to you, or in front of you or whatever it is, look at the film and start with yourself, how could you have been a better teammate and most of the time if you have a good group of guys they figure out what happened and you’re anxious to fix it."

After such a meltdown, especially early in the season, there’s only one thing for the 3-2 Seahawks to do – shake it off as Roethlisberger would Craig Terrill and move on. On the surface, it would seem that Seattle’s next opponent, the 0-4 New Orleans Saints, would be ideal fodder for a rebound game if this New Orleans team didn’t have “Trap Game” written all over them. Last year, the Saints finished with a 10-6 record after enduring one of the most remarkable off-field stretches in team history. And while the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina continue to show themselves in the Ninth Ward, the remnants of that miracle season seem to have disappeared.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw only 11 interceptions all season in 2006, has already thrown nine in 2007. With Deuce McAllister out for the year, the rushing attack is one-dimensional. The offense has no real deep threats, and even if it had, the offensive line wouldn’t give Brees enough protection to make those developing plays. The defense, this team’s Achilles’ heel in the playoffs, is still a major problem.

Both Holmgren and his quarterback have seen enough to know that when you’re struggling behind your signal caller, it’s tough to get anything going. "If he has more interceptions then he is prone to throw, nine times out of ten he is trying too hard,” Holmgren said. “He is trying to do more then humanly possible in some instances. I know that’s been the way with my quarterbacks over the years. You just have to explain to them, there's only one Superman in the world and you are human, and trust the system a little bit and trust me a little bit. Do what you are supposed to do and two or three times a ball game maybe do something real special and we win the game. You can’t win the game by yourself. Usually when the numbers are a little bit funky like that, that’s one of the reasons.

For Hasselbeck, who’s enjoyed perhaps his best season to date (the Pittsburgh debacle notwithstanding), it’s a collective issue, good or bad. "It’s a team sport. Kind of like if you are a baseball player and you have a bad batting average. Quarterbacks, so much of what we do relies on our teammates, so when our numbers are good, it usually means the guys around us are playing really good. When our numbers are bad, it is usually not just one guy that is bad. The quarterbacks get a lot of credit and a lot of blame, it's part of the position, it's tough. When you get in a rhythm or a zone as an offense, it is a lot easier to have that swagger as a quarterback and to really get into a rhythm and have a good feeling for how you want to play the game.”

Holmgren has seen these kinds of struggles before, working with some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks as he has. "Yeah, I can go back to Steve Young in one of our early games together at BYU, threw six interceptions against Georgia, and we had them beat, and they won the National Championship, it would have been a great win. So obviously I called him in and said we can’t be doing this a lot because I have kids to feed.

“With Brett (Favre) in our early years in Green Bay, he was more prone to be a little reckless. Matt Hasselbeck when he was learning the system here when we got him from Green Bay, early on he probably tried to do a little too much. It took a little bit of new learning to get things right, but it takes some time to get it, particularly when you are in a new system.”

Two years ago, the Seahawks demolished the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game and represented their conference in the Super Bowl. Since then, the franchise has put up a 12-9 regular season record, and they’re one of many examples of an NFC that seems to be a breeding ground for inconsistent inter-conference punching bags. The Saints and Chicago Bears met in last year’s NFC Championship game, and they’re now a combined 2-7. Why do teams have so much trouble following up those great seasons?

"It can happen,” Hasselbeck said. “One year here I think we started off 0--5. I am not sure what the reasons are, but it is tough and this is a tough league. The Rams have not won a game yet this year either and that was a team we targeted and wanted to figure out a way that we could beat them, to win the division. This team is good when you look at them on defense they have had some bad bounces. Teams have sort of lucked into some calls on them, but they have looked good on defense, especially up front. They have four guys that can really play the run and get after the passer. It is surprising with all the expectations as to how the season has started for them. In no way does that mean that is how the season is going to end."

Holmgren said that the Saints’ current predicaments make them a potentially dangerous opponent – desperation can be a very effective motivator. "We know that they are a better football team than the record shows, the world knows that. They were in the Championship game last year. They are a good football team, with good players; they have been a little unlucky, for one thing. Regardless of who we are playing right now, we have to get better ourselves.

"Sean (Payton) is a good man and a good coach. We had a chance to visit this year in the off season and what he did with that team last year and what that team accomplished and meant to the city, all those things, it was remarkable. I am a Sean Payton fan. He is going to be fine and the Saints will be fine. Do you go through bumps in the road? Absolutely, everyone does. He’s not the Lone Ranger, everyone does.

“You just hang in and believe in what you are teaching, you believe in your philosophy and keep plugging away."

That could be a balm for both teams, locked in different shades of struggle as they are.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Feel free to e-mail him here.

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