Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins

One day away from the biggest Seahawks game in twenty years. Gavin and I were two years old when the Seahawks last won a playoff game, so suffice it to say this is the biggest game we can remember as fans. The Seahawks are 13-3. They are the #1 seed in the NFC, and they are facing, at home, the #6 seed in the NFC in the Washington Redskins. They have the MVP in the league in Shaun Alexander. They have the best quarterback in the NFC in Matt Hasselbeck. And yet..... there is still some doubt as to the outcome, as the Redskins beat the Hawks in Week 4 of the regular season 20-17 in overtime. The staff of Crushed Optimists will take this day to discuss this game in a back and forth dialogue, working our way through our own key questions and matchups. Feel free to join us through comments. We'll work those into our own free-flowing exchange as well. Heck, I'm excited enough to start this dialogue early. It's still Thursday night! But, Gavin, I'll open things up with a discussion of my biggest fear. We've brought this stat up before, but in the aforementioned Week 4 loss, the Hawks managed perhaps my least favorite statistic of the regular season in allowing the Redskins to convert 13 of 18 third downs, many of them 3rd and long. I mean, these weren't four yard pickups. Many of them were 3rd and 8 or 3rd and 11. Same defense. Same offense. Why won't it be the same result?

Gavin: That was one ugly stat. I was watching NFL Network for the first time in Gavin recorded history for the opportunity to get more previews, and they showed some of those third down conversions. It lay in a wide open middle. We were so afraid of letting Santana Moss burn us deep one week after the Dallas comeback that we didn't leave much of anything underneath to stop the short routes (Chris Cooley) or even Mark Brunell scrambling (like in the overtime). Now Brunell is injured and definitely not going to be very mobile. Still, we have shown third down weakness during the regular season except in the red zone, as the underneath routes are still problems. I think our defense is strong enough with the home crowd to not allow such a sizable percentage (basically, allow five first downs before a score). Therefore, we should be more concerned with big plays than short patterns. The key to this will be stopping the running game, you think?

Reader Pirata Morado (whatever that means) Comments: Well, Colin, I really saw nothing on the Redskin offense last saturday, they couldn't move the chains, so if you ask me, I guess the Redskin offense is more likely to resemble the one of last saturday rather than the one in week 4.... Good point Pirata, although Seattle's defense will never be confused with Tampa's. Still, we should be able to get similar pressure on the quarterback and defend the run.

Reader thewizone (A Redskins fan! Alright!) Comments: I was at the Skins-Hawks game and the third-down conversion success by Washington was really impressive (for us Skin Fans). It was also somewhat of an aberration--the Skins haven't been as successful on third and long recently... Aberration is a word we like to see. Kudos to thewizone for also bringing up Seattle's 50+ sacks, a stat we will be revisiting today.

So Colin... the third down success could be an aberration, but I still think the best way to beat it is to stop Clinton Portis. How will the Hawks be successful in that?

Colin: Stop Clinton Portis, eh? Well, the Hawks didn't exactly suck at that last time these two hooked up, holding him to 90 yards on 25 carries. That's not too shabby. This time Clinton is even a tad banged up, having stingers in BOTH arms to deal with, though he claims complete health heading into this game. I mean, he didn't run with as much authority last Saturday against Tampa, seeming to go down easier and not blast through the hole. By the way, I have been extremely impressed with his resurgence. It really seems like Gibbs and Portis finally found the same page, and the running attack was much the better for it. As for this week, our defense has been vulnerable to rushers who pound the rock, not rushers who go outside. However, Marcus Tubbs has been huge recently, and the middle of the Redskins line is their weak point, especially 43 year old guard Ray Brown. So I don't see us stopping Portis, but I do see us containing Portis to the point that there will be plenty of 3rd and longs for the Redskins to convert. What do you think, and do you think that I'm expecting too much from our rookie linebackers, who obviously have no playoff experience?

Gavin: Portis loves to run in gaps, which means that Marcus Tubbs has to fill up the space (remember, many of our worst rushing defense performances were when he was hurt) and the linebackers have to stay disciplined. Judging from what I've seen this year, that shouldn't be an issue. Lofa Tatupu is already better than most middle linebackers in the league and it is becoming more apparent each week what a special talent Leroy Hill is. While neither can hit hard enough to aggravate Portis' injuries, they are fast enough to find the gap, and elusive enough to avoid lumbering blockers like the aforementioned Ray Brown. A fascinating stat is that the Hawks have only allowed 4 runs of 20+ yards this season. That is a testament to our discipline, and there is no reason why those rookies fade now. We should also remember that rookies play worse on the road in big games. The adrenaline of the home crowd should help stimulate Tatupu and Hill. I would actually say that DD Lewis is probably the weak link in there. What would you say our top three goals have to be on defense?

Colin: Top three goals? 1. Get third down stops early and often. 2. Control Clinton Portis. 3. Don't let Santana Moss beat us. You?

Gavin: 1. Stop the run. 2. Don't give up big plays. 3. Shut down third down. Sounds pretty similar, huh? Probably because the Redskins aren't that imaginative on offense...

Colin: They don't need to be imaginative on offense, they do what they do best with their personnel. Now, is Brunell injured or is that just a figment of my imagination?

Gavin: Brunell says he's fine, but that's all talk. Mark Brunell normally prides himself on his mobility, but he was able to do nothing against the Bucs, even when there were open running lanes. His knee is hampering his release point as he missed some wide open receivers, and he was unable to plant to gain enough velocity on the ball. This could lead to costly interceptions. He is a smart QB, however, and if we give him short passes he'll take it. Does that mean Chris Cooley has a big game?

Colin: Let's put it this way. Chris Cooley is money. M-O-N-E-Y. However, the rest of the NFL has finally woken up to this fact as well, if a tad late. Last time we played the 'Skins, our defensive scheme didn't seem to account for Cooley. You can be darn sure that it will tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised if, even in our zone schemes, a linebacker was specifically told to guard Cooley. That's the problem with the 'Skins offense right now. You have Moss, you have Cooley, and you have no one else to throw the ball too. It's hard to run a consistent passing game with only two threats, a bum knee, and, by the way, a pretty darn good pass rush, as brought up earlier. Do we get to Brunell?

Gavin: To answer that question we have to think about blitzing. Washington's tackles, Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels, are too good for us to think that we will be able to pressure Brunell with Bryce Fisher and Grant Wistrom alone. There will be some weakness up the middle, which is where Tatupu and Hill (not to mention Rocky Bernard) excel. So if we think DD Lewis is covering Chris Cooley, Marcus Trufant and Boulware/Manuel are covering Moss, we have plenty of extra defenders to blitz to our heart's content. Blitzing up the middle also works into our strength... stopping the run. Your thoughts?

Colin: My thoughts? Just about the same. I don't see a lot of pressure coming from the outside unless we use our corners for blitzing, which we basically NEVER do (and for good reason). It will help that Brunell's mobility will be limited, but the coverage downfield will make sacks happen before the pass rush does. I see the Redskins trying to use max-protect schemes and just sending out Moss, Cooley, and maybe Thrash, and that's what we'll have to try and work with. Enough of the defense, though. I'm tired of that. As I head into the first section of my comprehensive testing for my master's degree (back in a few hours!), I want to know.... Does Shaun Alexander come to the table? He hasn't showed up the last two playoff games. Does he this time?

Gavin: I'll get to your question later, since you're gone for a couple of hours (good luck!) I thought I would post the national predictions from the main websites.

From ESPN.com we have Seth Wickersham, who predicts a 27-20 Hawks win. He has an interesting quote about Mark Brunell's "regression" and as well is the only pundit this week to mention that the Hawks might be irritated about being picked by very few people to reach the Super Bowl. We also have Bill "Did I mention he was from Boston?" Simmons, who FINALLY for the first time this year has some respect for Seattle, predicting a 30-6 blowout. His reasoning is fairly sound... basically if we face the same offensive team from a week ago, we win huge.

From CBSSportsline.com we have a link to a page with 6 different predictions. Unfortunately, these are against the spread, so they don't help us out too much, since we are favored by 9.5. Four of the six pundits have Washington beating the spread, which really won't be that hard to do. We do know that Petey Prisco does think Seattle will win.

FoxSports.com has nothing, which is why I almost never go there.

CNNSI.com has a page with six picks. Don Banks has us winning 23-16 with just enough offense. Jeffrey Chadiha has us winning 20-7 on the back of Shaun Alexander. Nunyo Demasio is the one nay-sayer, saying Washington wins 13-10. The other experts (Peter King, Michael Silver, Dr. Z) all have us winning by scoring at least 20 points. It is interesting that only one pundit picks the Redskins to score even 20 points. Let's be honest. They will have to score 20 points.

Gavin: The Crushed Optimists' father makes an appearance! Dad comments on something new that "One factor I haven't seen discussed: the incredible pressure on the team for a playoff win after all these years. The atmosphere at Qwest Field will be electric, and will help us only if the emotion doesn't get into players' heads (read esp. Hasselbeck and Trufant) and cause stupid penalties and turnovers." I agree. The atmosphere will be electric, and I will be part of it. Hasselbeck has had problems keeping his emotions under control. We need to make sure he stays disciplined in his checkdowns. Stupid penalties on defense (Trufant's one major pass interference call per game) will keep drives alive, and we can't do this Redskins team any favors. Dad also makes the correct point (in what Colin and I will be discussing in more detail) that our offense just has to execute to score enough to win this game.

Gavin: Just read that Ken Hamlin will raise the 12th man flag tomorrow. That'll be crazy.

Anyways, back to Colin's question, since he'll be getting out of his test any second now. Does Shaun Alexander show up? I think he does. I think that because he almost had 100 yards the first time around when our passing offense was in shambles due to the losses of D-Jack and Bobby Engram. I think that because our offensive line is better than the last couple of years. The Redskins can be run on... Cadillac Williams had some lanes last week, and LaDanian Tomlinson went for 180 just a few weeks ago. More than all that, I think Shaun shows up because he's proved us doubters wrong all year. He's blocked, he's run for third-and-one. Why doubt him now? I guess a better question is... do we pass to set up the run or vice versa? We know the Redskins will be keyed on him, do we try to burn them on play action early?

In the meantime, reader jswatz (trusted friend, lady killer) Comments: "What do you make of Trufant's condition (is he still semi-injured?) and do we expect him to cover Moss all afternoon? Will Boulware/Manuel have to have a grand day to slow Moss down?" I do not think Trufant will be 100% for this game. I would put him at 85%, which means we cannot leave him on an island against Moss. Trufant has always been susceptible to the deep ball anyways. This does mean that Boulware/Manuel will have to step up. Luckily, due to the extreme lack of other weapons Washington has to offer, we can double-triple team Moss every play tomorrow and still have plenty left to take out Cooley/Portis. All our secondary has to do is what they've always done... avoid the big play.

Colin: Well, well, well. I'm back! The test went ok, one question, two hours, 11 pages. Rock on! Hopefully I did alright; I'll find out when my committee grills me about it in a couple of weeks. Back to the game! Actually, before we get back to the game, just know that Ray Allen was suspended for three games. Keyon Dooling for five. Oh, and count Jeremy Green another ESPN analyst picking the Hawks. As to whether we pass to set up the run, I say..... absolutely. Mike Holmgren seems to be the type of coach that will see the Redskins geared to stop Shaun and will say, "Well, haha! Here's...... Matty!" I expect to see Hasselbeck early and often, setting up Shaun to go off later in the game. Remember, Hasselbeck played pretty well against the Redskins earlier this season, moving the ball efficiently and scoring 17 points in only 7 possessions. He has also performed extremely well in the two previous playoff games. The reason we lost both of those certainly was not because of Hasselbeck. I predict at least 200 yards through the air from Matt. Doable?

Gavin: Good news on Allen... I was thinking since it went into the stands he might be facing 10 games. I think we pass too, but with a caveat. In the first game against the Redskins, we abandoned Shaun early for much of the first half, and stalled in the process. In the second half we unleashed him to better success and had the long drives that led to us tying the game. The lesson is that by himself Hasselbeck will not win us this game. I do see us starting with those short passes to Jackson and Engram that Matt could throw in his sleep before unleashing Shuan off the left side. As long as they get a body on Cornelius Griffin and run at the replacement to the departed Renaldo Wynn we should be okay (even though that's actually the right side). Matt will definitely have 200 yards passing. Heck, he had 242 in Washington with a beat-up receiver corps. Going back to something I just wrote, this is the first week in forever where Sean Locklear won't be facing the best pass rusher of the opposing team. He will be facing a third string DE. Philip Daniels gets to be this week's contestent in the "Walter Jones Disappearing Act". Because of that, how will Washington be able to get pressure on Hasselbeck (the only way they get the turnovers needed to win)?

Gavin: Speaking of experts, every NFL expert in this ESPN matrix picked the Hawks, the only game that no one disagreed on. Nice.

Colin: The answer as to how Washington will get turnovers is.... only if the Hawks let them. Think Engram fumbling against the Giants. Think Hasselbeck against the Packers two years ago. Think Jimmy Williams against the Cowboys botching the punt. Our turnovers will come if we make crucial Seahawk-ian mental mistakes. This is the X-Factor. Will the Seahawks do like they have in seasons past and make several key mistakes over the course of the game or will they play up to their potential. If they do, no way the 'Skins force turnovers or really pressure Hasselbeck with any consistency.

Gavin: I agree, the Redskins are talking tough about getting to Hasselbeck but I don't see how they do it. Not when you're missing a starting DE and you have to worry about Shaun Alexander. Frankly, Matt is too good right now at the dump off pass in the face of blitzers, and is even more dangerous when paired with Darrell Jackson. So the turnovers would have to be all on the Hawks, not because they were forced to do so. I am concerned about Jimmy Williams and Josh Scobey, both of whom have had costly fumbles. Special teams in general have to avoid the big penalties.

Colin: My goal for our special teams is for them NOT to cost the game for us, because you sure know they won't WIN the game for us. You got us some Tom Rouen and 10 yard punts will soon follow, Josh Brown who has had to remember that missed kick all week, Josh Scobey who loves to run right into a crowd and fumble, Jimmy Williams, who is just terrible at punt returns, and our general special team formula of returning to the 25 with a holding penalty and subsequently allowing the other team to always return the ball to the 35. Whoo hoo! How about the Redskins special teams? Anything there?

Colin: Well, Gavin's off to the chiropractor, so I'm left to fend for myself a few times before I head off to dinner. What I want to briefly discuss is our wide receiver depth. So you got DJack and Engram matched up against Springs and Carlos Rogers (rookie, by the way). But what about Jurevicius? Who's matched up against him? Walt Harris? A linebacker? The spitter? Any way you take it, there is going to be a mismatch. Think about Stevens! Who's guarding him? I really like our matchups in their secondary. That should be something for Hasselbeck to exploit early and often.

Gavin: The back has been cracked and it is time to reup with this preview thang. There isn't anything that special about the Redskins' special teams, especially since John Hall himself has some injury problems. That's good news for our own beleagured squad. Now on to the wide receiver depth. The injury to Renaldo Wynn is huge for this. Because Sean Locklear will be taking a young player on, he shouldn't need much help. That means we can leak Jerramy Stevens out in passing routes instead of putting Ryan Hannam in to block. So even if Mack Strong is in the backfield we can easily have three receivers out in the field. Can an injured Shawn Springs really stay with D-Jack? Even a bigger question... can a rookie slow down Bobby Engram? He was having a great game last year before his injury. If we truly believe the Redskins won't get pressure on Hasselbeck without blitzing, this could be a rather large mismatch.

Colin: I guess Engram might get free for a big game, but it all depends on Hasselbeck getting time in the pocket. Sorry, everyone, but it's movie time! Go Seahawks!

Gavin: Movie time... whatever. Stay with us folks.. we'll be doing this up to game time (or at least up until I leave for game time.)

Colin: Gavin's busting my balls to post something more on this, so I watched Trey Wingo's stupid EA Sports thing over at ESPN.com. Supposedly Shaun will definitely get his 100 yards unless Shaun Taylor and Levar Arrington both go absolutely off, but that defense really is banged up. The more that we have written about this game today, the more I am convinced that this really is the Seahawks game to lose. We haven't yet made our predictions yet for how this game will go, so here is my take. I see both teams starting out slow as we feel each other out and the Hawks work through early-game jitters. By the end of the first half, the game will be close, perhaps 10-7 Hawks. But the second half will be all-Seahawks, all the time. Final score: 24-13, Seahawks. Go time. Victory. I will cry. You, Gavin?

Gavin: Colin's right on. We will shake off the bye-week rust in the first half, relying on our defense to get things done, but by the end of the day we'll have a 27-10 victory.

Colin: TWO HOURS TO GO!! GAVIN HAS ALREADY RECEIVED AUTOGRAPHS FROM JACOB GREEN, CURT WARNER, AND...... THE STEVE LARGENT!!! WE ARE PUMPED!!

posted by colin_hesse @ 7:22 PM  4 comments

4 Comments:

At 6:27 AM, Blogger TheWizOne said...

Whow, Colin--you must get up early out on the west coast. Probably all that coffee you guys drink.

I was at the Skins-Hawks game and the third-down conversion success by Washington was really impressive (for us Skin Fans). It was also somewhat of an aberration--the Skins haven't been as successful on third and long recently.

The two stats that concern the people here in DC the most are Seattle's league-leading 50 sacks and their healthy plus 10 turnover margin. Wash may need to max-protect which will require Santana Moss (and H-Back Chris Cooley) to find openings and make big plays. The Skins don't have a reliable second wideout.

 
At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Pirata Morado said...

Well, Colin, I really saw nothing on the Redskin offense last saturday, they couldn't move the chains, so if you ask me, I guess the Redskin offense is more likely to resemble the one of last saturday rather than the one in week 4.

 
At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Gary Hesse said...

The bottom line for this game (and reflected in the point spread): the game is Seattle's to lose. Head to head, the Seahawks have the more talented squad, especially on offense. The Seahawks have the luxury of not needing to add Pittsburgh-type trick plays to the playbook in order to succeed; they just have to execute.

I would expect, because of Alexander's usual slow starts, for Hasselbeck to come out firing on the first possession. I suspect the Redskins are going to key on stopping the run and force us to beat them in the air.

One factor I haven't seen discussed: the incredible pressure on the team for a playoff win after all these years. The atmosphere at Qwest Field will be electric, and will help us only if the emotion doesn't get into players' heads (read esp. Hasselbeck and Trufant) and cause stupid penalties and turnovers. If Washington wins, I think it will be due more to these simple factors than all the schemes Holmgren or Gibbs can devise. Nothing fancy: protect the ball, play smart, and it should be enough to move on to next week.

 
At 1:20 PM, Anonymous jswatz said...

What do you make of Trufant's condition (is he still semi-injured?) and do we expect him to cover Moss all afternoon? Will Boulware/Manuel have to have a grand day to slow Moss down?

 

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