DID YOU KNOW … … the Seahawks have won the NFC West division four straight seasons under head coach Mike Holmgren?
SCOUTING THE SEAHAWKS
Quarterbacks Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed 70.8 percent of his passes for 222 yards and tossed a touchdown en route to Seattle's 20-6 win over Tampa Bay in Week 1 of the 2007 season. The good news for the Bucs is Hasselbeck won't be playing vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday night due to a knee injury. The absence of their Pro Bowl signal caller has hindered the Seahawks' offense, which is ranked 27th in the NFL after finishing the 2007 ranked ninth overall.
With Hasselbeck and backup QB Seneca Wallace (calf) sidelined with injuries, the Seahawks have put the offense in the hands of Charlie Frye, who has been ineffective. Frye completed just 12-of-23 (52.2 percent) of his passes for 83 yards and tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions in a loss to the Packers last Sunday. If Wallace, who has good mobility, is unable to go again, Frye likely will get the start vs. the Bucs defense, which intercepted Panthers QB Jake Delhomme three times last week.
Running Backs The Seahawks are in their first season without Shaun Alexander, who was released during the offseason. Seattle's ground game still has been productive, averaging 137 yards per game behind Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. Jones, who was acquired in free agency, has carried the ball 90 times for 417 yards (4.6 avg.) and two touchdowns while catching seven passes for 48 yards. Duckett is Seattle's short-yardage and goal line back. He's averaging 3.9 yards per carry, but has three rushing touchdowns. Tampa Bay's front seven and safety Jermaine Phillips did an outstanding job of limiting Carolina RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who combined for 40 yards on 20 carries (2.0 avg.) last Sunday. With Seattle receiving inconsistent play from its quarterbacks and Hasselbeck out of the lineup, Tampa Bay likely will aim to stop the run and dare the Seahawks to pass on Sunday night.
Receivers Even before Hasselbeck was injured, he was struggling, evidenced by the fact that he had completed just 49.2 percent of his passes and tossed two touchdowns and four interceptions. That's because Seattle's wide receivers have been crippled by injuries. In fact, three Seahawks receivers are on injured reserve, including Nate Burleson. Deion Branch has also been banged up. He has a foot injury and could be held out of Sunday night's game in Tampa. As a result of the injuries, Seattle's passing game is in the tank and the offense is converting just 30 percent of its third down attempts.
Seattle's leading receiver is rookie tight end John Carlson, who has hauled in 16 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. The Seahawks' next leading receiver is Bobby Engram, who has just eight catches for 61 yards (7.6 avg.). Seahawks WR Bobby McMullen is a starter, but hasn't put up starter numbers – he's caught seven passes, but is averaging 17.7 yards per reception. The Seahawks recently brought back Koren Robinson and traded for WR Keary Colbert, but both players still are attempting to get comfortable in head coach Mike Holmgren's version of the West Coast offense. Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Phillip Buchanon and rookie Aqib Talib should not have any trouble limiting the production of Seattle's depleted group of wide receivers.
Offensive Line Seattle's offensive line, which has been a strength of the team for years, has not played well thus far, especially in pass protection, where this unit has surrendered 12 sacks through five games. Tampa Bay's defense has produced 11 sacks through six games, but some of the quarterback pressures have come from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's creative blitz packages. Cornerback Ronde Barber and linebacker Barrett Ruud each have a sack on the season.
Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones has shown signs of age. Jones will be involved in a key matchup with Bucs second-year defensive end Gaines Adams, whose pass-rushing skills are improving each game. Seattle's O-line has really struggled along the interior, where left guard Mike Wahle, center Chris Spencer and right guard Floyd Womack play. Wahle, who was added in free agency, likely will help Spencer double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan and backup Ryan Sims. Both Hovan and Sims have done a great job of defending the run and drawing enough attention from offensive linemen to free up other defenders. Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye and situational player Jimmy Wilkerson must take advantage of one-on-one matchups they receive with Womack, especially on passing downs. Seahawks right tackle Sean Locklear has not lived up to his $32 million contract. Bucs defensive end Greg White has, however, lived up to his new deal by notching a team-leading 3.5 sacks while rushing from both end spots. Veteran DE Kevin Carter has also been solid against the run and shown signs of the pass-rush ability he had during his prime. If Tampa Bay's defense can limit Seattle's ground game and get after the quarterback it should be able to dominate the Seahawks, who have never lost in Tampa Bay (4-0).
Defensive Line Although they might come out passing, Tampa Bay will attempt to run the ball quite a bit vs. Seattle's defense, which has been on the field too much this season due to the team's offensive woes. When Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia does drop back to pass, Tampa Bay's offensive line will have to protect him. Seattle sacked Tampa Bay's quarterbacks five times in Week 1 of the 2007 season.
Seahawks left defensive end Patrick Kerney notched 1.5 of those quarterback takedowns vs. Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who struggled vs. Denver but rebounded and played extremely well last week vs. Carolina. Kerney currently leads the Seahawks defense in sacks with four. Seahawks right end Lawrence Jackson is also a good pass rusher. He's notched two sacks through four games and will go up against Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, who did an outstanding job of holding off Panthers DE Julius Peppers last Sunday. Penn, whose strength is pass protection, must hold off Jackson on Sunday night. Bucs left guard Arron Sears has a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday's game. That's a significant injury since the Bucs' left guard, whether it be Sears or rookie Jeremy Zuttah, and center Jeff Faine, will spend quite a bit of time double teaming Seahawks nose tackle Rocky Bernard, whose sack production and run defense skills have declined over the past two seasons. Second-year under tackle Brandon Mebane excelled as a rookie and is playing fairly well against the run. He has just one sack on the season, though.
Seattle's defense is allowing opposing offenses to rush for 126 yards per game and convert 40 percent of their third down tries this season. That's good news for the Buccaneers, who are averaging 136 yards rushing per game and converting 37 percent of their third down attempts this season.
Linebackers While Tampa Bay would like to establish the running game early vs. Seattle, the Bucs likely will call on their running backs to help pick up the wide variety of blitzes the Seahawks are known to use throughout a game. The Bucs know this all too well after watching the Seahawks record five sacks in their Week 1 contest in 2007.
Outside linebacker Julian Peterson sacked Garcia twice in that game. The Seahawks have 13 sacks through five games, and three of those quarterback takedowns have come courtesy of Peterson, who is a freakish athlete. He plays the run and pass extremely well. Garcia and Tampa Bay's offensive backfield must account for Peterson at all times.
One of the problems the Bucs are facing is the fact that they are running dangerously thin at the fullback position. B.J. Askew (hamstring) and Byron Storer (knee) are both injured, and Storer is out for the year. Askew will attempt to play on Sunday night, but it's unlikely that his torn hamstring will allow him to return to action so soon. The Bucs used running back Earnest Graham as a blocking fullback vs. the Panthers after Storer was injured, and he did a great job en route to helping Warrick Dunn rush for over 120 yards. But Graham is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns, so head coach Jon Gruden would prefer to keep Graham at tailback. Gruden will also have to call on Dunn to help pick up blitzes, something he's done extremely well throughout the course of his career.
Part of Tampa Bay's passing game will involve tight ends Jerramy Stevens, who will have something to prove against his former team, Alex Smith and John Gilmore. The Seahawks linebackers — Peterson, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill — have tremendous speed, but their blitzing sometimes leaves the short-to-intermediate part of the football field open to pass plays for the running backs and tight ends. That's something Garcia, whose mobility should come in handy, will have to take advantage of on Sunday night.
Secondary The Bucs are hoping wide receiver Joey Galloway will find a way to play in this contest. He's been sidelined since Week 2 with a foot injury. Galloway's speed could really come in handy against a blitz-happy team like Seattle. If Galloway doesn't play, Bucs wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton will be challenged with the difficult task of getting open vs. Seahawks cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Marcus Trufant. Peterson and Trufant were the main reasons why the Seahawks had a plus-10 turnover ratio last year. Seattle shockingly ranks tied for 30th in the NFL with a minus-5 turnover ratio this season, and it's no coincidence that both Peterson and Trufant still are looking for their first interception. Despite having recorded 13 sacks, the Seahawks have just one pick in 2008.
If the Bucs can establish the running game it will prompt defensive backs coach Jim Mora Jr., who will succeed Holmgren as head coach after this season, to play safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell closer to the line of scrimmage, which could really open things up for Garcia and Co. in the passing game, especially if Galloway is able to play.
Special Teams Perhaps Seattle's most consistent offensive weapon has been kicker Olindo Mare, who is 10-of-10 on field goal attempts, including 2-of-2 from 50 or more yards out. Seahawks punter Jon Ryan is averaging 45.1 yards per attempt and has pinned two of his 19 tries inside the 20-yard line. Ryan will be punting to Bucs rookie PR Dexter Jackson, who is averaging just 5.2 yards per attempt and has made some poor decisions in terms of fielding the football.
Bucs K Matt Bryant is 12-of-13 on field goal attempts. Tampa Bay P Josh Bidwell is averaging 46.4 yards per attempt and having a Pro Bowl-caliber season in terms of average and placement. Bryant will be kicking to Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson, who is averaging 22.7 yards per return. Bidwell will be punting to WR Michael Bumpus, who is averaging 9.4 yards per return. Tampa Bay's kickoff and punt coverage teams will have to be on top of their games due to injuries suffered by fullback Byron Storer (knee) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall (hamstring), who are two key special teams contributors. FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 20 Seahawks 10