JC: We're still yet to hear whether or not Matt Hasselbeck is going to play Sunday, but if his injury is anything like Donovan McNabb's, the Bears are likely to see Seneca Wallace at quarterback. Assuming Wallace gets the nod, how does the play-calling get tweaked by the Seattle coaching staff?
|SAN DIEGO - AUGUST 15: Seneca Wallace #15 of the Seattle Seahawks throws the ball in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers during the preseason game on August 15, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)|
DF: The interesting thing about Wallace, beyond all his speed and agility, is that he was actually far more efficient than Hasselbeck last season. The numbers are tweaked and inconclusive given the team's injury situation in 2008, but Wallace finished ahead of Hasselbeck in DVOA and DYAR, plays, net yards, average completion, yards after catch, catch percentage, touchdowns, and few interceptions. I think people are a bit quick to assume that if Hasselbeck can't go for any length of time, all is automatically lost. Where offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has an advantage in scheming with Wallace is that he has worked with mobile quarterbacks in San Francisco (Jeff Garcia) and Atlanta (Michael Vick). Knapp is used to calling different option plays (the Falcons made their bones with the outside stretch option in the Dunn-Vick-Duckett era under Knapp), and you might expect to see some of those option read calls if Wallace is in there. Wallace does actually have a better deep ball than Hasselbeck, though he doesn't yet share Matt's ability to anticipate open targets. Hasselbeck has a timing common to the NFL's elite quarterbacks. Seneca will also focus too hard on his first (and sometimes second) read, making it easier for defenses to track what he's doing.
Right now, the word is that the Seahawks are hopeful that Hasselbeck can play, but are preparing for Wallace. I think Wallace presents the more likely scenario.
JC: Since the Bears entered free agency with major holes to fill at receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was atop the wish list for many fans here in the Windy City. But Houshmandzadeh ended up with the Seahawks, getting a ton of money to leave Cincinnati. Any chance he proves to be worth the price?
DF: If Houshmandzadeh stays healthy (always a big qualifier when someone comes to Seattle!), he just might. Five years and $40 million ($15 million guaranteed) is a lot to spend for a guy who will turn 32 in a few days, but Houshmandzadeh has always kept himself in great shape. He's not terribly reliant on seep speed, a quality that tends to fade with age – he's more of a yards-after-catch guy with the ability to take passes in tough situations and get first downs. He's got a much better shot at being worth his contract than the oft-injured Deion Branch, the last receiver team president Tim Ruskell dropped major bank on.
JC: Chicago has one of the best young tight ends around in Greg Olsen, even though he's gotten off to a somewhat slow start in 2009. Not getting nearly as much attention, John Carlson put together a terrific rookie season and could be a star in the Emerald City. Why is he still such a well-kept secret?
DF: Playing in Seattle doesn't help, nor does playing for a 4-12 team with an injury-stricken and unexciting offense. Plus, carlson's doing what he's doing in the er of the modern tight end (read: big wide receiver), when he is more the traditional tight end who can block and play the full requirements of the position. Carlson is excellent in all the intermediate routes, he had outstanding hands, and he's very tough in traffic. He'll be one of the most reliable targets for Hasselback, Wallace, and any other Seahawks quarterback for years to come..
JC: Since Matt Forte has been stymied so far and only averaged 2.2 yards per carry in two games, he has to be licking his chops after seeing what Frank Gore did to the Seahawks on the ground. Rarely do you see two touchdowns runs of that length in the same game. How did Gore manage to do it?
DF: Start with the injury losses of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane – basically, ask yourself what Gore would do to Chicago's front seven if Brian Urlacher AND Tommie Harris were out. The Seahawks stacked eight in the box on those plays, but gap control has been a problem for this defense through several different defensive coordinators. The isea is to get small, fast defenders to the ballcarrier in a big hurry, but the Seahawks can be undone by misdirection and power more than they should be. I'm not that impressed by Chicago's offensive line, but that's not to say that Matt Forte couldn't run wild on this front seven – he could, and he probably will.
JC: Mike Holmgren went out with a whimper last year instead of a bang, as Seattle didn't seem to care too much down the stretch of a 4-12 disaster. Injuries were crippling, too. Now that Jim Mora has taken over, what's been different about this team aside from a higher demand for smelling salt?
DF: I would dispute the notion that the team didn't care – down the stretch, they played very hard in games against the Jets and Patriots. The roster was just blown apart by injuries. I am not a fan of the injury excuse, but when you lose all your receivers, your entire starting offensive line ends the season on injured reserve, your starting quarterback misses half the year, and you have important defenders laid up with various injuries through the season, there's only so much you can do.
It was a shame the way Holmgren went out, going back to the February, 2008 announcement that Mora would take over the team after the '08 season. It was an embarrassment to a coach of Holmgren's status and an unnecessary power move by Ruskell. That said, we are where we are, and the differences are pretty widespread. First, there's an entirely new coaching staff more in line with Ruskell's "defense-first" philosophy, though how that presents itself on the field is still to be determined. From the first minicamp, it was obvious that the new staff wanted the players moving faster in drills, and even moving from drill to drill. The intensity's been ratcheted up. The playbook will change a bit – you'll see the West Coast offense, but with more offshoot calls than with Holmgren's more purist version. On defense, the Tampa-2 is the main plan, though the idea will be to get different formations going. There's a lot of excitement internally about Mora's dynamism, but he's no different than any other coach, If he wins, his methods will be sound, If not, he'll be facing an exit, and the Seahawks will be undergoing a rather large rebuild..
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Doug Farrar is the publisher of NorthwestFootball.net