Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers/Seahawks, Part II

In Part 2 of an exclusive four-part series, Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar and SFIllustrated.com's Craig Massei continue their back-and-forth interaction with five questions from Craig to Doug. Have the recent string of injuries destroyed Seattle's offense, how will the running game hold up without Maurice Morris, and what role does the Seahawks' front office have in the offensive decline?

Craig Massei, Editor-in-Chief, SFIllustrated.com: Sorry to hear about Nate Burleson. How much is losing him for the season going to affect the Seahawks not only in their passing game, but also in their return game? How much was Seattle counting on Burleson to be a top weapon this year now that he has had a season to learn the system there and get with the program? Was there expectations he was headed toward a breakout season?

Doug Farrar, Editor-in-Chief, Seahawks.NET: Nate was going to be the #1 until at least the Week 4 bye, due to a confounding hit of receiver injuries that started in the playoff loss to Green Bay and Deion Branch's ACL injury. Branch is still working on getting back, but I wouldn't expect to see him against the 49ers. He did participate in 11-on-11 drills Wednesday for the first time since the injury, but he's not quite there yet. Then, when Bobby Engram cracked a bone in his shoulder in the preseason opener, all bets were off. When healthy, Burleson is a miscast #1 -- more a decent slot guy and great return man. At this point, though, he'd look like Jerry Rice compared to what they have. The 49ers' secondary will be facing the Murderers' Row of Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne, Samie Parker and Billy McMullen. I'm sure Nate Clements and Walt Harris are shaking in their cleats.

Craig Massei: What's the status now of Deion Branch and Bobby Engram? If both are a no-go against the 49ers, as it appears, what are the Seahawks going to do at wide receiver? Are they totally screwed there now that Burleson has gone down? In retrospect, was it a mistake for the Seahawks not to bring in more veteran insurance at WR before the season began, considering Branch and Engram both weren't ready for the starting gun?

Doug Farrar: Neither Branch nor Engram should be expected back before the bye. Are they totally screwed? Perhaps. Was it a mistake not to bring in some veteran talent? Without question -- even re-signing D.J. Hackett for what would have amounted to a minimum salary would have made sense. I've thought for a long time that the front office is putting too much stock in Branch's recovery and what kind pf player he'll be when he gets on the field again. That issue has been exacerbated by team president Tim Ruskell's insistence that a group of young receivers with minimal game experience in this complex offense can step in and make it go.

It makes little sense. One of Engram's greatest assets is his ability to get and stay on the same page with Matt Hasselbeck no matter what. That takes time, and familiarity with the timing of the plays. This is an offense in which receivers are expected to be in a zone with split-second timing, because the ball's going to a zone as much as it's going to a player. We saw problems with that against the Bills -- the kids has timing trouble, and would break off the wrong route more than once. Ruskell's seeming inability to recognize the value of offensive continuity at several key positions is a longstanding problem for this team. Parker and McMullen were signed just to fill out the roster.

Craig Massei: What happened in the season opener against Buffalo? What were the primary things that went wrong for Seattle in a 24-point defeat? Was it a case of a frisky home team jumping on a good opponent and the game snowballing on the Seahawks from there? Or was it an indication of things to come for Seattle, and an indication the four-time defending NFC West champions have some real issues that need to be addressed?

Doug Farrar: What went wrong? What didn't? The Seahawks got served by a tougher team in every possible way. Buffalo plays some of the best special teams in the business, and 20 of their 34 points came from special teams. That was the main problem. The Bills' underrated defense made trouble for the Seahawks' fragmented offense, and Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards, more famous for dinking and dunking, became a friend of the go route and hit his receivers deep. It was a thorough whipping, and the team had best learn a few important lessons if they wish to avoid getting washed away. 

Craig Massei: What's the situation at running back? How do you feel about the Seahawks starting the season with Maurice Morris as their lead back? What are your impressions of the new guys, Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett? Are they going to help, or are there reasons evident why other teams discarded them? The Seahawks were 20th in the NFL in rushing offense last year, are they headed for a better season in that department, or worse?

Doug Farrar: Couldn't be much worse than last season, but there are issues here, as well. Maurice Morris, the team's feature back since Shaun Alexander temporarily exited the NFL, is out with a knee sprain, and he might not be back until after the bye. There's an interesting group left: Julius Jones can catch the ball out the backfield, but his dash-and-dive running style hasn't yet proven effective. T.J. Duckett is a short-yardage bruiser with the ability to break one long once in a while, and rookie fullback Owen Schmitt, nicknamed "The Runaway Beer Truck," has a bit of agility despite his brick outhouse build -- he was a good fir in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense at West Virginia.

Honestly, I can't tell you what to expect out of any of these guys, because they're all new to the system.

Craig Massei: We have a lot of respect for Matt Hasselbeck as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, but is it getting to a situation where he's the last man standing in that offense? The Seahawks were ninth in the NFL in total offense last year, but the weapons around Hasselbeck don't appear to be as impressive as they once were. How much help is he getting now on that side of the ball? What did the offense look like this summer and during the exhibition season? What are the expectations this season? Is Hasselbeck still at the top of his game or on the decline?

Doug Farrar: Hasselbeck himself is still a high-quality quarterback, but you know how football works -- you're only as good as the guys around you, and that's the great unknown. With a starting-quality offense around, Hasselbeck's a ruthlessly efficient field general with excellent mobility and complete confidence in his ability to run the offense. Can he pull a pre-Moss Tom Brady and go deep into the postseason with questionable targets? We can but wait and see.

Make sure to check back on both SFIllustrated.com and Seahawks.NET as Craig and Doug continue their back-and-forth interaction


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