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TED SUNDQUIST'S WEEK SEVEN SCOUTING REPORTS: SEAHAWKS AT BUCCANEERS

[Editor’s note:  Former Broncos G.M. Ted Sundquist looks at Sunday night’s game between the stumbling Seahawks and the badass Buccaneers.] 
This is not where most people thought the Seahawks would be going into Week 7. Most preseason predictors and projections had Seattle atop the NFC West with anywhere between 9 and 11 wins. Now the Seahawks are more likely on pace for 6 wins and a high draft choice next April. Not the farewell season Mike Holmgren had hoped for. On the other side of the spectrum (and the country) Tampa Bay sits at 4-2 in what has become a tough race in the NFC South. The Bucs are fresh off a thorough plastering of the Panthers and have wins over both Atlanta and Carolina (tied at 4-2 as well). Their two losses are by a combined 7 points, and all the while juggling between QBs Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia. Now the Seahawks make the cross-country trek through three time zones to take on the Bucs Sunday Night, hoping to avoid the beginning of the end.
This is an offense that is so out of synch with its former self that it has to be wondering “Who is that strange bird?” when it looks in the mirror.  The root of Seattle’s problems rest in what has normally been a strength; the passing game. The Seahawks are 31st in net passing. Their inability to create anything downfield via the air has limited their 3rd down conversions (28th), big plays of 10 and 20+ yards (23rd & T-24th), time of possession (27:34 avg), long drives and quick strike scoring (none this year). The loss of D.J. Hackett to free agency, injuries to Bobby Engram and Deion Branch (heel), and late additions to bolster the depth have created nothing but instability in the WR corps. Only one player has double-digit receptions (16), and that’s TE John Carlson.
Adding insult to injury, starting QB Matt Hasselbeck has been scratched for a second straight week with back problems. Look for little sympathy from the Bucs’ pass defense as they try to tighten up to the standards set against Atlanta (158 yds) and Green Bay (171 yds).
KEY #1 for Seattle has to be the establishment of some sort of ground game vs Tampa. The ‘Hawks have found momentum from their rushing attack and rank 3rd in the League with 137 yards a game. Any big plays generated have come from the likes of RBs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. Jones has had a rebirth of sorts in chewing up over 400 yards at a 4.6 average through 5 games. Seattle looks to follow the blocking of LOT Walter Jones and then counter to the right behind OC Chris Spencer & ROG Pork Chop Womack.  Here the Seahawks have set the pace with over 5 yards per carry and they will need this production Sunday night to slow down the Bucs’ pressure on backup QB Charlie Frye. The inability to create anything down the field will certainly force Seattle to focus on the short passing game. Any 3rd down and long situations (as a result of struggling with the run on 1st and 2nd) will only exacerbate an already hampered offensive attack. Frye threw two picks in a loss to the Packers and was sacked 3 times. The ‘Hawks must get into 3rd and short situations where they excel 83% of the time (2nd in the League). Here’s the catch, Tampa is 2nd as well in stopping 3rd and short. Something’s gotta give.Seattle’s defense has been equally “befuddling” thus far as well. Rated 15th coming out of ’07, the Seahawks had hoped to improve upon what was viewed as a solid campaign and continue up the ladder towards being a Top 10 unit. Instead they’ve fallen to 27th overall, giving up on average 30 points per game, after only surrendering 18 last season. Their own inability to throw the ball is only magnified by their inability to stop the pass. The Seahawks are 22nd in the League overall vs. the pass, but are 30th in opponents’ QB rating (108.2). Seattle’s foes are striking deep both hard and fast. The ‘Hawks are 31st in defending passes of 21+ air yards. They have given up 18 such completions and have yielded 14 quick-strike drives (4 or less plays). 
KEY #2 must be to limit the damage of any downfield attempts by the Bucs at big plays. Tampa has had their own struggles in striking deep via the pass. Eliminate this option and force Garcia to progress through his routes. No one receiver has emerged downfield for Tampa Bay, so look for solid performances from safeties Brian Russell and Deon Grant (knee) in support of the corners as paramount to keeping this one close. The Bucs will attempt to use play-action to draw the 8th defender down in the box and then hit Ike Hilliard, Antonio Bryant, or the re-emerging Michael Clayton over the top. Tampa has stayed balanced over the course of the season on 1st down and then looked to open things up on 2nd and 3rd. Jon Gruden’s offense can’t help itself in wanting to go to the air, yet the running game continues to be his best and most consistent producer. First down efficiency is Top 10 in the League behind Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham. The Bucs are rushing at almost a 5 yard clip to start a series of downs, but are struggling to convert on 3rd with the same consistency.
KEY #3 will be first half establishment of the run. Let Dunn and Graham wear down a “travel weary” defense, suck up the secondary (as stated in KEY #2) and look for some big-play attempts in the 3rd and early 4th quarter. Most opponents have built early leads on the ‘Hawks and then closed them out on the ground in the 2nd half. Tampa has outscored their opposition 77 to 35 in the first half, but something tells me the 3rd quarter (Seattle outscored 52-3) will be ripe for the big play. In their previous two East Coast trips, the Bills and Giants struck the Seahawks for 24 points in the 3rd quarter (all 3 TD’s on passes of 19, 23, and 30 yards).
KEY #4 for Tampa will be the play of the front 7 versus Seattle’s running game. The Bucs’ Tampa 2 has just been smothering opponents vs. the pass. They have really put the limits on the downfield plays, forcing most to throw underneath the coverage and then swarming to the ball. For Seattle to create any offensive consistency, they will have to create a ground game on the legs of Jones and Duckett. This will be a classic “9 on 7″ drill. Most NFL practices feature “9 on 7″ to work through the kinks in both executing and stopping the run game. It should be a physical and pounding battle in the trenches. Seattle knows that it must control the ball and create 3rd and short. Tampa knows the very same thing. LB’s Derrick Brooks (hamstring), Barrett Ruud (knee) and Cato June will probably once again stack the list of leading tacklers for the Bucs. The “unsung” work of FB Leonard Weaver will play a big part in Seattle’s ability to pierce the second level and add to their 17 plays of 10+ yards via the run. The ‘Hawks need to break the 30-minute mark of possession time on the road. In their 3-point loss to San Fran and their win over the Rams, they did just that. Tampa lost to New Orleans giving up two extra minutes and was virtually tied with Denver (a loss as well) with around 30:00 on the clock.The net punt average of the Seahawks has been, well horrid. Seattle is ranked 31st at 32.8 yards per kick. The ‘Hawks have pinned opponents inside the 20 only 4 times, forced one fair catch, and have already allowed a return for a score. Opponents have averaged 14.3 yards per return. Teams that are struggling on offense need a weapon that can “flip the field” and take some pressure off their defense. KEY #5 will be Seattle’s punter Jon Ryan. Ryan took over in Week 2 and struggled with a blocked punt and 24-yard net, but has improved steadily ever since. He will need to be on his “A” game to bail out the Seahawks from negative field position.

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