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#HawksMailbag - January 8: Will the defense be able to shutdown Jimmy Graham?

Posted Jan 8, 2014

Answering your Twitter questions about the club on a weekly basis

Welcome to another edition of #HawksMailbag here on Seahawks.com, our weekly feature where we answer your Twitter questions about the club.

With the Seahawks readying for the sixth-seeded New Orleans Saints in a divisional-round playoff game this Saturday at CenturyLink Field, a lot of your questions centered around Saints All-Pro/Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, the status of wide receiver Percy Harvin, and how the club is approaching their next championship opportunity. Let's get to it.

The last time the Seahawks and Saints met, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham was held to just three catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. It's a pretty good stat-line for your average tight end, but Graham is anything but average. He finished the regular season with 86 grabs for 1,215 yards and an NFL-high 16 touchdowns. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound former basketball player is not only one of the game's best tight ends, but one of its best receivers. Needless to say, he's a matchup problem for any club.

The Seahawks used third-year linebacker K.J. Wright in coverage of Graham on Dec. 2. Wright, who measures 6-foot-4 and 246 pounds, sized-up and shadowed Graham most of the day, having what Pete Carroll called one of his best games of the year. But Wright will miss this game with a broken foot. So coach, how will you defend Graham this time around?

“How we do it? Hopefully really well," Carroll said. "But we’re challenged. KJ [Wright] had a great football game and we’ll miss him. Malcolm [Smith] has done a nice job stepping in his spot. But, that’s just part of figuring it out.”

Smith measures smaller than Wright, standing at 6-feet and 226 pounds. Linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. has said the defense of Graham this weekend will be a team effort.

Remember that 34-7 Seattle win over New Orleans that came in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football last month? Pete Carroll and the players don't. Or that's the hope anyway: To forget all about that first meeting between the two clubs when the Seahawks were firing on all cylinders and when nothing went right for the visiting Saints.

"It was the first thing I had addressed in our team meeting when we came back together," Carroll told reporters this week. "What has happened in the past doesn’t tell the story of what’s going to happen in the future. You have to have the discipline to do that."

A lack of discipline this week could lead the Seahawks to becoming victims of complacency. On Tuesday, wide receiver Doug Baldwin said forgetting the last result against the Saints goes against human nature, but noted the club has been in this situation several times before. This is where Carroll's treat-every-game-as-a-championship-game mentality comes into play.

"You’re going into it and it’s a completely different ball game," Baldwin said. "We’re in a playoff atmosphere. We’re playing against a very highly-talented opponent. We know about Drew Brees, and Sean Payton is a great coach. We’re not going to take this for granted because we know how talented those guys are on the other side of the ball."

The Seahawks have already been reminded that what happens in the past has no bearing on what happens in the present two times this season. In a three-week stretch in mid-December, the Seahawks dropped games to the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals - two divisional opponents Seattle had beaten handily earlier this season. It's a prime example of what one team is capable of on any given Sunday (or in this case, Saturday).

Sorry to disappoint you and every other Hawk fan, but we won't know the answer to that question until at least Thursday afternoon when we hear from Pete Carroll at the conclusion of the week of practice. Carroll could also take the decision all the way to Saturday's kickoff, but Friday's status report (whether or not a player is Probable, Questionable, Doubtful, or Out for the upcoming game) will shed some more light on Harvin's availability.

The good news is Harvin participated in two consecutive days of practice during the team's playoff bye and has followed that up with two consecutive days of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week - his first game-week practices since mid-November. On Wednesday, quarterback Russell Wilson had an encouraging endorsement on how Harvin has fared.

"He looks unbelieveable so far," Wilson said.

Sooner or later, we'll find out what that all means for Saturday's divisional playoff against the Saints.

Punt returns have been wide receiver Golden Tate's territory all season. Tate's done the job well enough (585 return yards and a 11.5-yard average) to earn punt-returner recognition as an alternate in this year's Pro Bowl.

Percy Harvin hasn't returned a punt in his career, but kickoffs are the 25-year-old's specialty. He's racked up 3,241 yards (28.2-yard average) and five touchdowns in five NFL seasons. If Harvin plays this Saturday against the Saints, Pete Carroll had this to say on whether or not Harvin would be the go-to-guy at kick returner.

"If he’s playing, in my mind he’s playing," Carroll said. "So we’ll do everything that we want to do with him and that he wants to do as well."

It's an interesting thought, and one I'm sure Pete Carroll and his staff have mulled over as they've witnessed the offense's production wane the past four games. The team averaged 263.0 yards and 19.2 points per game over the final quarter of the year, numbers that land below their regular-season average of 339.0 yards (17th NFL) and 26.1 points per game (T-8th NFL).

Harvin does demand increased attention from opposing defenses. You saw proof of that in Week 11 when the Minnesota Vikings slid a safety to Harvin's side of the field that allowed fellow wideout Doug Baldwin to beat his man one-on-one for a 44-yard grab from quarterback Russell Wilson.

At the same time, the Seahawks staff has been so careful with Harvin's return from hip surgery, taking every precaution along the way to make sure he does not suffer a setback that could damage his long-term viability. That gives reason to believe they won't bring Harvin back without him being close to 100 percent health. Carroll has said Harvin has only one speed, "Go." So if he plays, don't expect the coaching staff to hold him back.

You hit the nail right on the head. The scout team refers to players on the practice squad, or in some cases players down the depth chart on the 53-man active roster, who step in to act as key players from that week's opponent. Their primary responsibility is to emulate the opposition for the starting lineup, showing opposing tendencies and concepts that prepare the club for their next game.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times recently had a detailed feature on the importance of such players, and on how tough of a job it can be.

Barring an injury to running backs Marshawn Lynch or Robert Turbin, don't expect to see much more of rookie running back Christine Michael this postseason. He was inactive for four of the last five games of the regular season and when he was active in Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals, he did not play. Pete Carroll has stayed relatively steady on the subject, stating Michael's ability to read the team's zone-blocking scheme and his development in pass-protection need polish. More opportunities for Michael will come eventually. They just don't look to be coming in his rookie season.

To answer this one I'd need to get a little bit better idea of where you work. But even if you're on the job, don't you think you could sneak a peak at your cell phone every once in a while? Not only will we be giving you live updates from @Seahawks on Twitter, but depending on your television provider FOX Sports will be streaming Saturday's action online. And if you're a Verizon Wireless subscriber, you can catch the game on the NFL Mobile application.

Options are there for the working fan. You just have to be willing to take responsibility if your boss gets on your case and tells you something crazy like your priorities are out of order. Good luck.

That's quite the dilemma.

What are the wedding colors? If they're anything remotely close to Seahawks blue and green, I would say wearing your jersey underneath your dress shirt, blazer, suit, or whatever you've got going on is perfectly acceptable. That way you're representing your club while still showing some respect for your friend's special day. And assuming you'll be heading to a reception after the ceremony, the atmosphere there could lend itself toward revealing your Seahawks-swag in full force. It might not be what your 49ers-friend wants to see on his wedding day, but hey, we're talking playoffs here. You can't hold the 12th Man down.

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