Keys to Week 9 at Seattle

Posted Nov 6, 2009

After a home loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Lions will head to Seattle to face the 2-5 Seahawks at Qwest Field. In one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, the Lions’ offense will be taking on more than just the Seahawks’ players—they will have to contend with the 12th man.

Since 2005, Seahawks opponents have false-started 89 times in 36 games, for an average of 2.47 false starts per game. That total is 13 higher than the second place Minnesota Vikings, who play indoors at the Metrodome.

Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, who visited Qwest Field multiple times as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams, is familiar with the effect that the raucous crowd has on the Seahawks’ play.

“We know they’re a team that is really geared up,” he said. “They play extremely well at home. They really feed off the crowd.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who made his return from injury last week against St. Louis, also acknowledges the challenge the 12th man will bring, but relishes the opportunity to play in that atmosphere.

“Obviously they’re a loud stadium and it’s going to be a challenge for us,” said Stafford. “But it’ll be fun and a good opportunity.”

While the crowd can have some impact on the game, the real foe for the offense will be the Seahawks’ defense.

This defensive unit boasts a mix of veteran players and young talent, but has been affected by injuries this season. One of their key playmakers, linebacker Lofa Tatupu, was placed on injured reserve October 30 after suffering a torn pectoral.

Although the injury was a significant blow, Linehan sees the Seahawks as a deep team with plenty of talent beyond Tatupu.

“Regardless of their injuries, or guys that aren’t in there, they’ve got a really good roster of really good players on defense and they have the ability to play extremely well,” he said.

Helping to fill the void left by the injury to Tatupu will be rookie linebacker Aaron Curry, who will have to pick up his production at the outside linebacker position. Since being taken with the fourth overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft, Curry is second on the team in tackles with 39. He also has 2.0 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Linehan says he has been particularly impressed by Curry’s all-around ability.

“He’s got great instincts and really understands the whole game. Usually you see guys like that getting out of position in the pass game, but I think he really understands the pass defense part too,” he said.

“He’s a very dangerous player—he’s going to be one of those players you’re going to hear about for a long, long time in this league.”

Fellow rookie Stafford spoke highly of Curry as well.

“He’s aggressive, active, all over the field. He’s making tackles all over the place, never quitting on plays and doing a good job,” he said.

Seattle’s defense will also be helped by the return of cornerback Marcus Trufant.

Trufant, a Pro Bowler in 2007, missed the first six games of the season before returning last week at Dallas. He is expected to start on Sunday, reinforcing a secondary already filled with veterans like Ken Lucas and Jordan Babineaux.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who is still not certain to play in Seattle, commented on the importance of having Trufant back on the field.

“He’s their best player in the secondary over there,” said Johnson. “He has good ball skills, so it definitely boosts the whole group as well as the team’s confidence just to have a guy like that back.”

Johnson also noted that the Seahawks prefer to play one-on-one coverage, which shows faith in the skills of their corners. He believes aggressive play by the Lions receiving corps could counter that.

“It’s our job to go out there and try to exploit that by being aggressive with those guys,” he said. “We’ve got to establish that kind of identity as a receiver group, being a physical, aggressive group of receivers that will go up and make plays on the ball.”

In order to allow the receivers to make plays on the ball, the Lions will have to give Stafford time in the face of a talented pass rush. Defensive ends Patrick Kerney and Lawrence Jackson are tied for the team lead in sacks this season with 4.0.
Tackle Gosder Cherilus says those players are part of a defensive line with impressive résumés.

“They’re tough and they’ve got a lot of big-name guys, a lot of Pro Bowlers,” he said. “They’re really good at what they do, they really like to get after the quarterback and when it comes time for them to play the run they do what they’ve got to do to stop the run.”

For the offense, the key to a successful game against the Seahawks—and their fans—will require the Lions to execute well against the talent on the other side of the ball.

As Linehan said, “The biggest challenge is they play extremely well at home. I think that’s going to be our challenge. They can only put 11 out there and we can only put 11 out there, but we’ve got to execute against a very, very good defense.”

The Lions will go up against another veteran Pro Bowl quarterback when they face the Seahawks’ Matt Hasselbeck, and they are looking to build off last week’s performance when they held Marc Bulger to a passing rating of 51.6 and no touchdown passes. 

Hurt ribs have hampered Hasselbeck all season, causing him to miss two games, but he has still thrown for 978 yards with nine touchdowns with only three interceptions.

“Hasselbeck doesn’t waste any time in the pocket,” safety Louis Delmas said. “He doesn’t sit back and hold the ball. He gets the ball out and if you aren’t there, he’s going to complete it.”

Because of this, sacks will be hard to come by for the defensive line. This means, like last week against Bulger and the Rams, they’ll need to get their hands up and try to bat down passes.

“You have to take the quarterback out of rhythm, batted balls are a big thing on the line of scrimmage because it’s the same thing as a no-loss sack,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said.

Along with a quick delivery, Hasselback is accurate, and it’s a large reason why the Seahawks’ passing game is the muscle of their offense.

It has accumulated 1,665 yards and 12 touchdowns compared to the run game’s 621 yards and two touchdowns. Since the pass game is their strength, they may be throwing on first and second down.

“If they’re throwing early then we need to adapt,” defensive tackle Landon Cohen said. “We need to bring it, so we can put whatever kind of pressure on him to disrupt the timing of those routes.”

If Hasselbeck is unable to play on Sunday, the defense will see Seneca Wallace, who has the capability to hurt teams with his feet.

“He makes plays out of nothing and that’s what scares me the most: when a play breaks down,” Cunningham said. “There’s no strategy. It’s just more about poise.”

The Seahawks run a version of the West Coast offense, a system that looks to complete short passes with the intention of turning them into big plays. 

“The thing about the West Coast offense is they’ll throw a three-step slant on 3rd-and-15, complete it, and go up the field for a huge gain,” Delmas said.

Hasselbeck’s favorite target most of the season has been Nate Burleson, who ranks 4th in the NFC with 39 receptions and 9th in receiving yards with 487. Burelson is the premier West Coast receiver because he can run after the catch and turn a short pass into a long gain.

“As a secondary, we’ll need to break down when a receiver catches the ball,” cornerback William James said. “Burleson probably has the most speed out of their receivers, so we’ll need to be conscious of him.”

Along with Burelson is nine-year veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who might be Hasselbeck’s most reliable target.

“He’s the type of guy who can catch the ball when he’s covered, like Tony Gonzales as a tight end, so we’ve got to battle him and try to get the ball out of his hands,” Cunningham said.
Also eager to get on track this season is Deion Branch. The former Super Bowl MVP missed the first two games of the year with a hamstring injury and has only 15 catches in the five games for which he's been active.

An effective pass game is the story of a West Coast-style offense, but Seahawks’ Head Coach Jim Mora still likes to run the ball and the defense’s main priority will be stopping it. 

“I think a lot of defenses play to stop the run,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “If you don’t do that, it doesn’t matter who is back there. You can have a Pro Bowler back there running for 200 yards or you can have mediocre back running for 200 yards. You have to stop the run regardless.”

The defense will look to contain Julius Jones, who should see most of the carries with Edgerrin James being cut earlier in the week. Jones leads the team in rushing with 346 yards, but hasn’t hit the 100-yard mark since Week 1.
“Jones is capable of breaking the big ones, so you always want to be gap-conscious and just play sound defense against these guys,” Cohen said.

Behind Jones is Louis Rankin, who was signed from the team’s practice squad October 28 while Justin Forsett, averaging 5.7 per carry, will likely handle third-down duties.