Defenders Mindful of Seahawks Receivers

Without 2005 league MVP Shaun Alexander lining behind Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle on Sunday, the Vikings expect a heavy dose of the Seattle receivers, whom they call ‘explosive' and ‘playmakers.' See what else defensive backs Darren Sharper, Fred Smoot and Ronyell Whitaker had to say, along with linebacker Napoleon Harris.

Despite the fact the Seattle Seahawks have only average ratings on offense, they could be the Vikings' stiffest test to date, especially in the passing game.

So far, the Seahawks have proved to be every bit the "spread the wealth" kind of passing offense that the Vikings have shown. Darrell Jackson is the leader in Seattle's three major receiving statistics – catches (26), yards (387) and touchdowns (4) – but behind him is a solid three-deep corps of receivers. Bobby Engram is next in catches (18) and yards (198), but he might not play on Sunday because of a thyroid condition. Deion Branch has two touchdowns on 11 receptions in an expanding role since being acquired from the New England Patriots, and former Vikings receiver Nate Burleson has seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.

"With the defense we play, we're not worried about the receivers they have, where they are or if there is a star receiver," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said. "We don't do any types of coverages in which we double a guy up, we just let our defense do what it does – play solid around the board.

"They have a lot of different receivers they get the ball to, so you have to be aware that (Matt) Hasselbeck is not necessarily going to be locked in on one guy. If you pretty much play your techniques pretty well and cover the whole field, you should be able to slow down a team like this."

Maybe, but Seattle is a team that has blown hot and cold in its first five games on its way to a 4-1 record. The offense struggled to score nine points in a three-point win over the Detroit Lions in the season opener. In the Seahawks' three wins, they have scored 21, 42 and 30 points, but sandwiched in between was a 37-6 crushing at the hands of the Bears.

The Vikings clearly expect quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to spread the ball around to his numerous offensive options. To hinder him, the Vikings will rely on their film work, said cornerback Fred Smoot.

"Just taking away what he likes to do. We go in and study film and see what people like to do. Everybody's got tendencies. We just try to break those tendencies and that's how we get them uncomfortable," Smoot said.

Those tendencies may change, however, without the MVP security blanket that is running back Shaun Alexander, who will not play Sunday while he continues to recover from a broken foot. As the reigning league MVP and last year's touchdown leader, Alexander undoubtedly has the Vikings' respect, even if they won't be facing off against him.

"I just think Alexander and what he brings to the table – just being a guy that can go 25 times – he can pop a good one and is good for 100 yards, he's good in the red zone, is the touchdown-record holder. What they do with the running game won't change with him not being in there," Sharper said.

While Smoot acknowledged that Morris is a good running back, he thinks Seattle will miss that "Shaun Alexander magic." Coupled with the Vikings' fourth-ranked rushing defense, most defenders are expecting a heavy dose of Hasselbeck's passing game.

Within that is a dangerous new weapon in Branch.

"He does everything. He can come on the reverse, trick plays, he can throw the ball a little, of course run, he can catch the ball. He's got the Super Bowl MVP, so he can do a little bit of everything," cornerback Ronyell Whitaker said of Branch.

"Their passing game really didn't need too much improvement because they were already throwing it all over the place. With him added to the offense, of course there is going to be an improvement because he's a great player. We've just got to go out and try to contain him, play smart within our scheme."

Shaper seems to agree with Whitaker's take on Branch.

"(Branch is) an explosive guy, a guy that has made a lot of explosive plays in the past. He's a big-game playmaker, so you have to be leery of what he can do – he can stretch the field, he has good speed and does a great job of running with the football after the catch," Sharper said. "You just have to know that when he does get the ball in his hands, you have to get him down. He can make a small play into a big play."

No matter if Engram plays or not, or if Burleson is off to a slow start, the weapons in Jackson and Branch alone are enough for the Vikings' 16th-ranked pass defense to contend with.

"I think it's definitely going to be one of our biggest tests to date," linebacker Napoleon Harris said. "They have a talented bunch in their receiving corps as well as tight ends. Matt Hasselbeck is a proven quarterback who knows how to spread the ball around, good accuracy and he knows how to play the game."

Whitaker summarized it succinctly.

"I think they're going to go to their weapons, and right now their weapons are at receiver," he said.

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