By Mike KahnSeahawks Insider
There was little doubt after listening to Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren discuss the sluggish starts of the offense in the first two games this season that he isn't worried. He's just ready to get it going.
Following a 20-6 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs in the opener and a 23-20 loss at Arizona on Sunday with a bizarre broken play/fumble in the final two minutes that killed a drive, it is quite apparent there is still work to be done.
And with the high-scoring Cincinnati Bengals coming to town this week, this is a good week to get it going.
"Well, we take a great deal of pride in starting the game fast, if possible - scoring on our first drive, and things like that," Holmgren said. "I thought we had a good start in Arizona, and then all of sudden we can't get off on the snap count. That's hard for me. And that killed that first drive. Otherwise, we started the game and had three straight completions, bang, bang, bang- and then all of a sudden we can't do anything. That set the tone a little bit, and that also allowed field position to factor into the first quarter."
There was marked improvement by the middle of the second quarter, however, starting a series of four consecutive drives in which they scored to take a 20-17 lead after falling behind 17-0. And just as they were about to put the game away with a first down on the Arizona 36 and less than two minutes left, several of the players got confused by the play call, Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck collided, and the fumble took them out of the game as the Cards went down and scored.
There was considerable rhetoric over whom or what caused the confusion, but it really is irrelevant now. And Holmgren made it clear he expects both of his former Pro Bowl stars to have exceptional seasons. He also told Hasselbeck calling audibles in those situations should be kept to a minimum. Keep in mind over the past two-plus seasons, Hasselbeck has the best quarterback rating in the NFL in the final two minutes of the halves, and is currently eighth in the NFL this season in quarterback rating.
"We had a nice talk yesterday," Holmgren said. "He really played a good football game. He played very well. That's just a shame on the last play. I wanted him to know that. If he plays like he did last Sunday, and he's healthy, we're going to be fine. With the really bright guys that I've coached over the years, especially the off-the-charts bright guys, to me, it's football. It's not brain surgery. I've said that before. The real bright guys absolutely, have to do little things.
"In football sometimes, you don't have to do that. And to convince somebody that is absolutely sure, which is why I love him, absolutely sure his way is right. That's my challenge. I'm not saying that's what happened on the last play, but he's a bright guy and if he continues to play the way he played Sunday, he'll have a great year."
Alexander still has the brace on his left hand, but nobody considers it serious. And he is on pace to rush for 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Hasselbeck has a 102.3 quarterback rating, completing 65 percent of his passes, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. With youngsters Chris Spencer and Rob Sims becoming more comfortable all the time at center and left guard, respectively, prospects of rapid improvement are high.
"I think it was a little more problematic last year when we had all those changes up front," Holmgren said. "The coordination of something like that also involves the center and the calls. That's part of the tempo. I think last year we were out of synch just a little bit that way, understandably. You know, we have new guys in there, young guys, it's not going to be quite the same. We'll get to the point, if we haven't gotten there already this season, where I'll be happy with the tempo. We're getting close with that."
Meanwhile, the defense has given up just 14.5 points a game, but the way they allowed the Cardinals to run the 17-point lead and move the ball all over the field on big plays did cause Holmgren to pause. Considering they were 1-1, it shouldn't be surprising exactly 2 yards separate the total offense of the Seahawks (713) from their opponents (715) in the two games.
Nonetheless, Holmgren says improvement is a necessity as the season progresses.
"I was concerned after I saw the film, yeah," Holmgren said. "I didn't think we played very well, to be honest. Did I expect more … absolutely. For all the reasons you mentioned. I expect improvement. We have good guys over there. We should be better. I was not happy with how Arizona did that during the game. I talked to the team about it. I've addressed certain players. I did what I had to do. But, yes, I expect more. Absolutely I do."
The 'backer is back
After missing last week – including the game – outside linebacker Leroy Hill was back at practice Wednesday. And he made it clear if it were up to him, he would have played last week.
"I felt real good – felt 100 percent with a little tape job," Hill said. "I was a little surprised I didn't play. But it was the kind of thing where the foot just needed a week to calm down. They decided to hold me out, so I had to do it.
"You want to play every game. It's hard sitting on the couch back home watching your team play – especially against Arizona watching your team start off slow. That's how it is and hopefully I'll be back for the next 14 games."
Fortunately, Hill hasn't had any more serious injuries. But he has been nicked up enough with knee, shoulder and ankle problems to miss seven out of a possible 34 games since he was a third-round draft pick out of Clemson in 2005. But to accentuate his value, Hill led the team in tackles during the last three games of the regular season and the playoffs, and third overall in tackles.
"It's the little injuries, not the big injuries," Hill said. "I haven't gotten anything that will keep me out for three or four weeks. I get stuff that will keep me out for a week or whatever. It is frustrating, but it's football. It's hard sitting on the couch when my team's playing and I feel like I can be out there."
Bengals effusive wide receiver Chad Johnson on jumping into the Dawg Pound in Cleveland last week after scoring a touchdown:
"That was cool. A dude threw a beer on me. I didn't like that. The beer was kind of cold and it messed up my uniform the rest of the game. I smelled very bad. Other than that, (it was) something different, pushing the envelope. It's never been done before. No one ever jumps in the opposing team's stands. Actually, they embraced me other than that one person that was drunk."
This and that
The non-practice crew didn't alter much, except for the return of Leroy Hill, as D.J. Hackett (ankle), Mo Morris (hip) and Ben Obomanu (hamstring) are still out. Also bowing out early on Wednesday were Bennie Joppru (ankle) and Sean Locklear (sore knee). The latter two were not expected to be anything serious. Obomanu were working with the training staff on the back field running various drills. … The focus on cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings is enormous this week with the dynamic passing game of the Bengals, featuring quarterback Carson Palmer, with receivers Chad Johnson andT.J. Houshmandzadeh. And both Trufant and Jennings had good practices – of course having already been under the gun last week with the tough Cardinals duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. … This is the first of four games against the AFC North, with Baltimore coming here on Dec. 23, while the Seahawks travel to Pittsburgh on Oct. 7 and Cleveland on Nov. 4. Following Sunday's game, they travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers on Sept 30, and then head to Pittsburgh the following week. This is the 17th game between the Seahawks and Bengals with each team winning eight games, and the Bengals won the last meeting – 27-24. Former Seahawks quarterback and Tacoma native Jon Kitna quarterbacked the Bengals to the win.* *