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10 Questions with Shrug

Shrug runs the Seahawks blog here at SB.

With your help I sent him ten questions concerning the Bears/Hawks tilt this Sunday night.  Here are his answers.

Let's start with the obvious question.  How much is it going to affect you not having Alexander in the game?

It's obviously not our best-case scenario to have Shaun out, certainly not for any extended period of time. But it's kind of like we haven't really had him in these first three games, at least not in the way we remember him from 2005. We haven't had anything close to dominating yardage on the ground so far, and we've won three games. The Bears are the toughest team we're playing all season, so we'll see what kind of indicators that game brings up.

But as far as our game plan is concerned, it probably won't be much different from what we've tried so far this year. Maurice Morris and Mack Strong (when they decide to run him) are capable of at least maintaining the rushing pace as we've come to know it this season, which is sub-100 yards. Both have the potential to make big plays when they're needed. Whether we'll see any, I'm not sure. It's pretty obvious the Seahawks are building their early-season offense around the passing game, so right now the loss of Alexander probably won't change too much. Except that defenses will be covering the pass more than they have lately.

We don't want to have Shaun out for very long, though. The Seahawks seem to think that won't be the case.

I have been hearing all week the same three things about Maurice Morris, he is a better receiver, he blocks better and he gets to the line of scrimmage faster. John Clayton's man crush aside if Morris is so good why is he not starting?  Give me what we really should expect from Morris?

I like Clayton and appreciate his sentiment, but he's had a bit too much pixie dust this week. Mo doesn't work inside routes as well as Shaun can. He can get thrown by off-tackle routes, and it's hard to imagine him making goal-line plunges too often. Although like I said he has the ability to break for big gains, that's very dependent on how the line holds up. When he does manage to turn the corner, he can take off really quickly and dupe some defenses. He's a little too small for the starting job. It's true that Mo's got a bit more versatility than Shaun, but I think Holmgren prefers to build his offense on more specific role-players. Shaun's role with the Seahawks is very specific. He does a couple of things, but does them better than almost anyone else does in the NFL. When healthy. When he's clicking he's the most dangerous offensive weapon the team has.

It's hard to say what we'll see from Morris this week. The expectations of the running game have to be tempered a bit. Mack Strong will probably see more integration into the offensive game plan as well (he was our leading receiver versus the Lions in Week 1, which is a thigh-slapper). Frankly I'll be happy to see Mo and Mack maintain the running game we've had this year, particularly if they can maintain it against Chicago.

Maurice is a better receiver than Shaun, but... well, let's just say Shaun's not exactly Roger Craig in the all-purpose yards department. Love Shaun, but I wouldn't want to throw to him.

The use of this new 4 receiver offense is being attributed to the loss of TE Jermey Stevens. Stevens is a nice TE, but his stats don't back up the needing to completely change how you run your offense.  What is it about Stevens that necessitates the need to revamp?

Stevens had a breakout year in 2005 and became a big favorite of Matt Hasselbeck's in the West Coast offense. The stats didn't necessarily bear that out. Before last year there hadn't been much continuity in the tight end position. Stevens' backups on the depth chart, Itula Mili and Will Heller, are more of the blocking types of tight ends than Stevens, nowhere nearly as much as a playmaker. Another reason Stevens had more chances in 2005 was because injuries to our wideouts, Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram especially.

On top of that, our second-string TE Mili has had a few injury problems this season so far. They keep thinking Mili's injuries are bad at first, but they almost invariably turn out to be more minor than initially expected. Heller started against the Giants - and caught a touchdown pass, which literally made me laugh out loud at the game. So I think the whole uncertainty with our tight ends has necessitated the use of the 4-receiver set.

Deion Branch made his return last week to much fan fare, but as expected he is still getting back into game shape and learning the offense.  How much do you expect out of him this week?

Branch only made two receptions last week. I think he'll have more on Sunday. Hasselbeck is very big on developing rapport with his receivers; he's been working with Nate Burleson practically since his signing. I think part of how Branch does is tied into how well he's been working with Matt for the past couple days. Branch is a bit more naturally gifted than Burleson at this point, so I figure he'll have a step up or two on development. But I expect Branch's breakout game is probably going to be against a defense other than Chicago's, for right now. Hope I'm wrong.

It seems like any WR receiver you bring in is capable of playing in your offense.  Are the receivers you have brought in really that good or is it more your system and/or Hasselbeck?

Not to slight our receivers, but I'm inclined to say it's more Hasselbeck, who seems to be another notch in Holmgren's pretty impressive record in quarterback development. Like I just mentioned, Hasselbeck really believes in forming a bond with his receivers. You can tell he's more comfortable with being in control and calling the shots in the game. Matt's matured a lot since the whole "we want the ball and we're gonna score" incident. So far this year Darrell Jackson's been our best receiver, which on paper was how it's supposed to be (but rarely was). Branch was supposed to be to go-to guy for the Patriots this year, before, well, you know. Last year Joe Jurevicius got a lot of glory. When that happens across the board, I think you have to believe it's the system they're running. Branch might prove to be more of a star go-to guy down the road, but right now I think it's more the unity of the receiving corps and the way the offense has been executing as a whole.

The Seahawks new offense plays right to what the Bears strength is, which is rushing four and dropping as many as they need into coverage.  What type of numbers do you expect the offense to put up?

I'm trying to be reasonable in my expectations. We'll probably have to rely on our receivers nailing quick adjustments in their routes to have any success. That's something Burleson does well, and that Jackson can do well. I don't know about the other guys (I'm still not up on Branch's total game to offer an informed opinion about him). There will definitely have to be some sort of "finesse" aspect to our passing game in order for it to work. I suck at number-making generally, but off the top of my head I'll go with whatever we did in the Detroit game, minus a bit.

Like I said, the Bears are going to be our toughest opponents, by far. It's all downhill after Sunday. I'm now thankful we have a bye week after this one. I'll put it like that.

Continuing this line of questioning, how well do you think the Seahawks offensive line will do against a very aggresive and often dominate Bears front 4?

Very good question. Our offensive line is still in flux a little bit. We're already on our second replacement for Steve Hutchinson at left guard, a guy named Chris Spencer who was drafted last year as a center. Before that Holmgren tried out Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack, who's a good guy but very injury-prone. He was also not a very good guard.

The party line here is that Holmgren felt he owed Womack a chance to replace Hutchinson out of loyalty, but most onlookers at camp thought Spencer had out-performed Womack enough to earn the position. Womack, somewhat predictably, injured his knee in Week 2 against Arizona, and now the job is Spencer's, presumably for good, even when Womack gets back in about 6 weeks. My only concern is that Spencer really wants to play center down the line, but that's down the line.

In our first two games the offensive line was a mess. It was just ugly - Matt was in constant peril and our ground game was moot. When the Giants came to town it couldn't have been more different - Matt got excellent protection, was never sacked once, and had just a sick amount of time to throw the ball. I don't know if that was because of the upgrade at left guard, or what. But it was something of a relief. We have another injury concern with Chris Gray, our starting right guard, who had to leave the game Sunday. I'm not sure what his status is.

So I'm completely at a loss to predict how we'll handle the Bears' front line, strictly because it's hard to predict how our offensive line will shake down. I would think that our continuity problems would give the Bears an advantage. But that's exactly what I said about the Giants.

One thing that often gets lost in the talk of Seattle's offense is your defense, which is quite good.  I don't know much about it, what type of defense do you run?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of that defense? + One of my readers was impressed by Lofa Tatupu.  How good is he along with fellow linebacker Leroy Hill?

Thank you! I believe it's your standard Cover 2 with a few occasional flourishes. Before the season started, although we made a big upgrade with Julian Peterson, the primary concern about the defense was our susceptibility in medium-to-deep pass coverage. So far those concerns have been somewhat ameliorated. Our line has some playmakers like Rocky Bernard that bring a lot of force to the game. It's a very balanced attack in the front two tiers. The defense sacked Kurt Warner five times in Week 2, and each sack was credited to a different player each time.

Our main defensive strength has to be our linebacking corps, with Lofa, Hill and Peterson. They've been one of the units on the Seahawks about which there's been no concerns, yet. Lofa is tremendous, and has more or less been that way from day one last season. He's got enormous awareness for a second-year guy and seems to have picked up the sense of where a offense is headed before they do.

The linebackers have some physical characteristics that require them to play a smarter game more than a straight physical game. All three have been described as "undersized," for one thing, so they rely more on quickness and instinct than brute force. It's almost what you could call a finesse defense, if such a thing even exists. But all three, especially Lofa, have really made the most of their intellect for the game and their killer instinct. It's really surprising. I hope it lasts.

Finally, did it do your heart good to see Hutchinson get burned by Tommie Harris to cause the fumble that led to the Bears victory over the Vikings?

Well, I was too preoccupied watching Nate Burleson catch a touchdown pass to notice. Zing!

Stay Tuned, we will be running the reverse by the end of the week.