Not long after
joining the Seahawks last month, Deion Branch felt comfortable enough to start
showing some leadership. As the team wrapped up a practice, the five-year vet
called fellow wideouts Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson together
to thank them for making his first few days with Seattle easier than he had
expected—everything from Burleson's recommending a barber shop to Engram's
staying after practice to help him learn the Seahawks' version of the West
Coast offense. "I just appreciated them embracing me," says Branch,
whose holdout had prompted New England to trade him, "because it easily
could've been a different story."
If the Seahawks
(3--1) didn't recognize the value of such cohesiveness before last week, they
certainly understood it by the end of Sunday night's 37--6 loss to the Bears.
Chicago dismantled a Seattle offense that was playing without Pro Bowl running
back and 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, who'll miss at least two more weeks with
a broken bone in his left foot. The Seahawks gained only 230 yards, including
153 through the air, and didn't score a touchdown; Matt Hasselbeck completed 16
of 35 passes and was sacked five times. Without its big back, Seattle needs the
passing game running on all cylinders—as it was in a 42--30 win over the Giants
on Sept. 24.
In that game
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren used four-receiver sets 17 times, and Hasselbeck
threw five touchdown passes (tying a franchise record) to four players: Jackson
(two), Burleson, Engram and tight end Will Heller. But the Bears' relentless
pass rush prevented the Seahawks' aerial game from taking off. "We just
couldn't get into a rhythm," Burleson said after the game. "We're still
searching for our identity and trying to figure out how to use everybody. It
might take a while, but we'll get it going."
starter-quality wideouts, the Seahawks don't lack for weapons—or experience.
Jackson is in his seventh season with the team, and Engram has been around for
six, so they're schooled in the disciplined route-running Holmgren demands.
Burleson, a lanky, deceptively fast Seattle native who spent three seasons with
the Vikings, was an off-season pickup. The addition of Branch, who played four
season with the Patriots and is the most explosive of the four, creates a
strategic challenge for Holmgren: how to divvy up the touches on offense.
Ideally, all four
receivers would rotate at different positions—each is comfortable playing
flanker, split end or in the slot in Holmgren's offense—and that versatility
should confuse opposing defenses while enabling Hasselbeck to determine the
best mismatches. In the Week 3 win over the Giants, the Seahawks kept New York
off balance by using various four-wide combinations, which forced the Giants
into nickel and dime defenses far more often than they wanted. The Bears,
however, were able to counter Seattle's wide-open attack by pressuring
Hasselbeck with four down linemen and clogging the throwing lanes with seven
defenders dropped into coverage.
won't soon face a unit as fierce as Chicago's (following a bye this weekend,
they visit St. Louis and then host Minnesota), so they can work on making their
aerial game more consistent. Branch is keen on maintaining harmony—"I'm not
here to take 10 or 15 balls away from anybody," he says. Adds Burleson,
"We had a lot of receivers in Minnesota, and there was enough food on the
table for everybody. We have the same attitude here."
receiver Jerry Porter has asked his agent, Joel Segal, to do whatever it takes
to get him out of Oakland before the Oct. 17 trade deadline, even if it means
Porter (right) must give back part of his signing bonus. Porter, who is feuding
with Raiders coach Art Shell, hasn't dressed for a game this season. Shell is
even playing third-year receiver Johnnie Morant, who has one career reception,
ahead of Porter.... Bills quarterback J.P. Losman's turnaround (64.9 passer
rating in '05; 90.6 this year) is partly thanks to better footwork. "We
wanted him to slow down once the ball was snapped," says Buffalo
quarterbacks coach Turk Schonert. "He was overstriding when he dropped
back. His stride is shorter now, and his feet are underneath him."... Chad
Pennington's interception in the end zone during the Jets' 31--28 loss to Indy
was his first on a red-zone possession in his seven-year career.
Chadiha's Inside the NFL at SI.com/football.