THE BELIEF Playingin a weak division will help the Seahawks make the path to the Super Bowl gothrough their noisy house again. Though Seattle lost the game's best guard,Steve Hutchinson, in a costly free-agent gambit, premier left tackle WalterJones and a combination of guard replacements-Pork Chop Womack and ChrisSpencer, most likely-will continue to pave the rushing lanes for reigning NFLMVP Shaun Alexander. And pricey free agent Julian Peterson completes a terrificset of linebackers boasting Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill, who combined for 111/2sacks as rookies last year.
THE REALITY Thisseason will be a referendum on the importance of a guard to an NFL offense.With Hutchinson and Jones forming the league's most potent left-side wall,Seattle had a league-high 29 touchdowns on the ground, was second with 153.6rushing yards per game and tied for second with 4.7 yards per carry. Theoft-injured Womack and converted center Spencer will try to fill Hutchinson'sshoes, but the offense will miss his brain too. Hutchinson often suggestedplays for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to request from coach Mike Holmgren. SaysHasselbeck, "His calls were always smart."
Luckily for theSeahawks, Alexander has a devil-may-care attitude and doesn't sweat suchthings. One day in training camp, running a sideline route under coverage byTatupu, Alexander turned on the jets and started laughing, loudly. He gatheredin Hasselbeck's long spiral and was still chuckling as he scored. "We justdon't know who'll line up at left guard," says Alexander, who'd smile evenif you told him it would be the equipment man. "But it's not unrealistic tothink we can run the ball as well as we did last year."
Don't count on it.Seattle's ploy-putting the transition tag on Hutchinson rather than thefranchise tag, which would have made it more costly for another team to signhim-was penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Seahawks had the cap room to keepboth of their big free agents, Hutchinson and Alexander (whom they signed to a$62 million contract in March), and you just don't lose a top player in hisprime.
The off-season waskinder to the defense. Punishing safety Ken Hamlin recovered from a head injurysuffered in a nightclub fight last October, and Peterson signed a seven-year,$54 million contract. "It's like we got two major free agents, because Kenhas come back healthy," says Holmgren. "Our defense was fast last year,and now it should be much faster." Though Peterson didn't become theall-world pass rusher the 49ers hoped he would, he should make Seattle's frontseven, which combined for a league-high 43 sacks last year, even moreformidable. "Offenses game-plan for Julian because he's so hard to singleblock," says Tatupu. "Now, with LeRoy and Julian both coming off theedge, how are you going to figure who to concentrate on?"
And Qwest Fieldshould indeed help confound the visiting teams. Says Holmgren, "After webeat Carolina in the NFC Championship Game, I went out to dinner with [wife]Kathy downtown, and the ma√Ætre d' and our waiter were totally hoarse. They'dbeen at the game and yelled themselves silly." Whether they'll be doingthat again come January depends on the outcome of the Hutchinsonreferendum.
10 at Detroit
24 N.Y. GIANTS
1 at Chicago
15 at St.Louis
29 at KansasCity
6 OAKLAND (M)
12 ST. LOUIS
19 at SanFrancisco
27 GREEN BAY(M)
3 at Denver
10 at Arizona
14 SAN FRANCISCO(T)
24 SAN DIEGO
31 at TampaBay
(M) Monday (T)Thursday
NFL rank T29
Opponents' 2005winning percentage .457
Games againstplayoff teams 4
AN OPPOSING TEAM'SSCOUT SIZES UP THE SEAHAWKS
> I don't likeShaun Alexander's toughness, and without Steve Hutchinson, I wouldn't besurprised to see his rushing total drop 500 yards.
> There-signing of Rocky Bernard was essential to what they do defensively. Therearen't many 295-pound tackles who can get you nine sacks and neutralizepowerful guards.
> The marriageof Mike Holmgren and Matt Hasselbeck shows what happens when a smart coachmeets a determined quarterback. They could go to two more Super Bowls ifHolmgren hangs around.
> This team isin big trouble if Jerramy Stevens misses more than a couple weeks with the kneeinjury he suffered in camp. Forget those drops in the Super Bowl. This guy'severy bit the receiving threat that Baltimore's Todd Heap is.
I love LeroyHill's ability to rush and cover. He's strong and elusive-ask any tight end whohas to block him.
Signed in thetit-for-tat free-agent spat with the Vikings after Minnesota put acontract-guaranteeing clause in the $49 million deal for guard SteveHutchinson, Burleson should finally reach his potential with the Seahawks afterthree so-so seasons in Minnesota. He runs a 4.4 40 and will be a dangerous deeptarget for Matt Hasselbeck. "We didn't have a receiver like Nate when itcame to running after the catch," says Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren."He should be a difference-maker."
COACH MIKEHOLMGREN (138-86 in NFL), eighth season with Seattle
NATE BURLESON --NEW ACQUISITION
SACKS 7 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
SACKS 8 1/2
JULIAN PETERSON-- NEW ACQUISITION
RYAN PLACKEMEIER(R) -- NEW ACQUISITION
KELLY JENNINGS(R) -- NEW ACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL)
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