Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-Packers, Part 2

In the second part of our divisional playoff series, Todd Korth of Packer Report asks Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar several questions about Seattle's football team. Why has Marcus Trufant improved so much this season, can the Seahawks run the ball on Green Bay's defense, and could this be Mike Holmgren's last hurrah?

Todd Korth: Mike Holmgren began his head coaching career in the NFL in Green Bay in 1992, and may end it in Green Bay if the Seahawks fall to the Packers. Do you feel that Holmgren may be coaching his final game on Saturday? If so, why does he want to call it quits?

Doug Farrar: While there have been rumors to that effect here and there, I don’t see it happening. I think that Holmgren will finish out his current contract, which runs through the 2008 season. The Seahawks are, in my opinion, one good running back and one or two offensive line pieces away from a trip back to the NFL's elite after a frustrating 2006 season and an interesting 2007. It's a different team than the one he took to Super Bowl XL, but it's potentially a better contender to go all the way with those tweaks on offense because the defense is so stout right now, and so many of the players are so young.

If the 2007 Seahawks didn't look better than the 2006 version, with its inconsistent defense and paper-thin margin for error between victory and defeat, I think he might call it a day. In this case, though, I think Holmgren knows that he's got something potentially special here. There is still an aura of unfinished business.

TK: Brett Favre’s toughness has seemed to rub off a little on Matt Hasselbeck. From watching the game on Saturday, it sure appears that Hasselbeck’s right wrist is bothering him when he throws the ball, though, he’ll probably never admit it. Do you feel that wrist injury is affecting his play?

DF: Hasselbeck's been tough for a long time. He had to learn in the job early on in Seattle, through doubts and getting booed and people chanting for his backup, Trent Dilfer. He once got in Rodney Harrison's face and talked some serious on-field smack (something about "hitting like a girl…"), which is reminiscent of Favre's verbal battles with fellow tough guy Warren Sapp when Tampa Bay was in the Norris Division. He may look like a software geek, but he plays with pain and guts it out for his team.

The wrist injury is affecting his mechanics to a point, but I honestly felt that both interceptions against the Redskins were more about his brain than any part of his throwing arm. Especially the second pick by LaRon Landry in the Redskins game -- Hasselbeck rolled out, his fourth receiver was covered, and he should have thrown the ball away. It was just a bad decision. Part of his maturity, however, is that he's now better able to shake off those mistakes and move on.

TK: Seattle racked up 235 yards rushing behind Shaun Alexander in Seattle’s 34-24 win last year in Seattle. Do you feel that is the Seahawks’ best option to score points against the Packers on Saturday?

DF: Not at all. If you look at Seattle's offensive line and the running game over the last two seasons, both aspects of the offense have been incredibly inconsistent. I don’t think the Seahawks can rely in their running game at this point anymore than Green Bay could before Ryan Grant broke out. In the second half of the season, Holmgren put the ball in Hasselbeck's hands and went away from his preferred balanced attack. That's the primary reason the Seahawks got back in the playoffs. Were Holmgren relying on Shaun Alexander and the people who block for him, he'd be home for the postseason.

If there's a slippery track at Lambeau, that might favor the run. Otherwise, the smart money's on Hasselbeck flinging the ball 40-50 times.

TK: Who do you feel has to have big game Saturday in order for the Seahawks to move on to the NFC Championship Game?

DF: I don't think that the Seattle front four will have a problem containing Grant -- they're really good against the run right now. Therefore, the Seahawks' ends will need to put pressure on Favre despite his quick release, and their linebackers will have to drop into coverage, because Green Bay's receivers are yards-after-catch monsters. End Patrick Kerney had what might have been the game of his life against Washington last week. He was blowing up double teams all day, and it got to the point where the Redskins were trying to double him with an offensive AND defensive tackle.

Didn't work.

Outside linebacker Leroy Hill and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu are the keys to the coverage, as is strong safety Deon Grant. Greg Jennings is obviously a deep threat, but it's the defenders covering the short and intermediate routes that I think will make a big difference in this game.

TK: How much do you feel Deion Branch’s return to the lineup will spark Seattle’s offense? Who has benefited the most with Branch out recently?

DF: Hard to say, The offense has been dynamic without him in the second half of the season as he's recovered from various injuries, and I don’t know if he'll be ready to go at full speed in this game - he ran on the sidelines Tuesday but didn't officially practice. He saw some practice Wednesday and says he'll play Sunday. We'll have to wait and see....

Bobby Engram has benefited in Branch's absence, but we already knew how great the NFL's most underrated receiver can be when he's asked to pick up the slack. Third receiver Nate Burleson has really stepped up lately, and he's become a reliable outlet for Hasselbeck. Burleson's a big reason the Seahawks haven't missed Branch as much as they might. When D.J. Hackett's healthy, as he was against the Redskins, it's a great group of receivers.

TK: What has led to Marcus Trufant’s big season this year? With his slew of interceptions between the regular season and postseason, do opposing offenses still not respect him?

DF: A few things changed. Trufant moved back to his preferred left side this season. New secondary coach Jim Mora was a big improvement over Larry Marmie in his ability to get everyone assignment-correct and in his level of motivation. The acquisition of veteran free agent safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell made a big difference, though Russell hasn't always been what I'd call effective, because Seattle's corners used to suffer from a real lack of safety help -- Trufant and Kelly Jennings aren't man-press guys like Charles Woodson and Al Harris. Grant has been a huge addition, and I think he was a much more deserving Pro Bowler than Roy Williams. You can credit the pass rush, but that's been very good for a few years now.

Because Trufant plays in zones a lot, I don’t think it's about a lack of respect as much as it is that he's become a lot better at being in the right place at the right time. The more cynical among the Seahawks faithful would say that his contract year also factors into his improvement, but we can't exactly codify that. Let's just say that Trufant has had a lot to play for this year.

TK: Packers fans are familiar with players like Shaun Alexander, Patrick Kerney, Marcus Trufant and Matt Hasselbeck, but who are a few of the unsung heroes on the Seahawks roster that Cheeseheads can keep an eye on Saturday afternoon?

DF: The aforementioned Leroy Hill has enjoyed a career year, but he doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves because so much attention is deservedly paid to Tatupu and Julian Peterson. Fullback Leonard Weaver is a threat in short-yardage situations with the run and pass. Defensive tackles Rocky Bernard and Brandon Mebane have been stellar in the middle of that defense. Mebane is a great rookie. Their stability is what allows everything else to happen with that defense. And Nate Burleson is probably better than people think right now, because he's become a complete receiver in addition to his return duties. And speaking of special teams, Niko Koutouvides, Tatupu's backup, is the pointman for Seattle's return defense. He probably won't practice too much this week (knee) but he's expected to play.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of our Behind Enemy Lines series on Friday!


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