SI Vault
 
The NFL
Jeffri Chadiha
October 09, 2006
Just in Time
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 09, 2006

The Nfl

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

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."

With four 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.

The Seahawks 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."

Dispatches

Raiders wide 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.

Read Jeffri Chadiha's Inside the NFL at SI.com/football.

1 2