CB: The Seattle offensive line is seemingly in shambles, and Matt Hasselbeck is already hurt. What is the latest on Hasselbeck's status for Sunday, and can the Seahawks win if Seneca Wallace has to take all the snaps again?
DF: Hasselbeck has practiced this week and will likely play. Given the current state of the offensive line, I almost wonder if it wouldn't be better for Hasselbeck to stay on the bench until one of the starting tackles can come back. But Walter Jones is out until at least November (and it's starting to look like much longer), and Sean Locklear will miss the Jacksonville game with a high ankle sprain. The Seahawks currently rank 10th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate statistic (sacks plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent), but that doesn't tell the tale. In truth, Wallace has had to bail out on just about every play. Hasselbeck is a fairly mobile guy when healthy, but that rank might be 30th without someone with Wallace's speed.
CB: Jacksonville is on a mini-streak and is playing some "us against the world" football. Will the Seahawks use the formula that Tennessee used, to load up the box to stop Maurice Jones-Drew, and let Garrard try and beat them with his arm, or will they play a more straight-up game?
DF: The Seahawks could stack the box, but I doubt they will too often. Not only has Torry Holt killed Seattle defenses for a decade, but the Seahawks currently rank 31st in Defensive DVOA against #2 receivers, and Mike Sims-Walker is on quite the hot streak these days. They need to focus on Jones-Drew without a doubt, but if they tweak their focus too hard in that direction, David Garrard has enough talent -- and enough targets -- to make him pay for it. Tennessee's pass defense has been terrible this season, and I think their approach against the Jags is an instructive example of what not to do.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson (81) is tackled on a punt-return in the third quarter during an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
CB: The Seahawks are in the top half of the league in offensive yards per game, but they are only tied for 23rd in the all-important category of scoring offense. Is it red zone difficulties that are keeping them from scoring more, and if so, what is the major malfunction?
DF: The major malfunctions are in power and explosiveness. The Seahawks currently rank 15th in Red Zone DVOA -- worse in passing than in rushing -- and they're actually worst from the opponent's 39 to their opponent's 21. When Jim Mora went off on kicker Olindo Mare for missing two field goals in a Week 3 loss to the Chicago Bears, he didn't happen to mention the four other drives that ended in successful field goals. This offense simply doesn't have the kind of power needed to sustain drives, nor the consistent ability to stretch the field needed to get ahead of opposing teams.
CB: Nate Burleson of all people is leading the Seahawks in receiving. Burleson is a fairly talented guy, but far from a Pro Bowler. What do you make of his resurgence, and can he keep up this type of production?
DF: Nate's a decent player; he just happens to run the kinds of straight, simple routes that Wallace finds easy to read and throw to. He has fairly explosive speed (his primary skill may be as a punt returner; he's one of the NFL's best), though his route-running is somewhat nebulous. Had Hasselbeck been in there all season, I think the recently acquired T.J. Houshmandzadeh, or tight end John Carlson, would be the team's leading receiver. If Wallace plays a great deal of the season, I suspect that Nate will have more than his share of targets.
CB: Julius Jones is on a 1,000 yard pace, which may be tough for many to believe. Can Jones be the missing ingredient in a running game that's struggled since Shaun Alexander became ineffective?
DF: I think that Jones in an ingredient, but I haven't seen anything from him that tells me he's on the verge of being a great running back. Had he stayed with the Cowboys, I believe he would have been their fourth-best running back, behind Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice, and I don't think it makes any sense to build your running game around a replacement-level player. Having said that, the ineffectiveness of the offensive line prejudices any real analysis of the running game, and that's been the case since 2006.
CB: The Seahawks have one of the best linebacking corps in the league when healthy, but Leroy Hill is obviously missing from that. How much have they missed Hill?
DF: They've missed Hill a great deal for several reasons. He's the most talented proven linebacker they have. I think that Lofa Tatupu's sheer physical talents have regressed a bit on the last two seasons, though he's still a fine player. Rookie Aaron Curry probably has more raw talent than any linebacker in the NFL, but that talent needs to be shaped and formed until it works well in an integrated defense. As with the offensive line and the offense in general, continuity has been demolished with the rash of injuries the team has dealt with over the last two years. Hill is by far the team's best run-stopping linebacker, and aside from tackle Brandon Mebane, he's Seattle's best defender against the run overall. Against a team line Jacksonville, where the convention is to play smashmouth and feature the run, Hill's absence will be felt.
CB: Would you care to give a score prediction for Sunday's game?
DF: Seattle has two intangible advantages coming into this game -- they're playing at Qwest Field, which provides perhaps the finest home field advantage in the league, and at 1-3, they're pretty much playing for the season on Sunday. I don't think there's enough available talent on this roster to come back from a 1-4 start and make any postseason noise. That said, the Jaguars are simply a better team right now -- they have enough talent and depth to win their Week 4 game without their starting offensive tackles, while the Seahawks roster is eroding from within. Last time these two teams matched up, it was the 2005 season opener, and the Seahawks were "out-physicaled" in a loss they used to springboard to a Super Bowl season. This time, I think a loss to the Jags will lead to the beginnings of a very necessary evaluation of the front office, and how close the franchise is to a major rebuild. The Jaguars are playing a team facing too many issues to succeed in the long term without major changes, and I think they can take advantage in a close (say, 27-21) victory.