Subtle blocking fixes equal huge changes for streaking Seahawks


Matt Hasselbeck shook his head, marveling over Panthers' quarterback Vinny Testaverde, still in the game at age 44 as the Seahawks get ready to play at Carolina this weekend.

"I don't know if I'm going to live that long," Seattle's 32-year-old quarterback said with a smile.

Testaverde missed practice Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., and coach John Fox declined to name a starting quarterback for Sunday's game. Fox said the veteran QB had no particular injury, "just the wearing of the game."

Three weeks ago, Hasselbeck was being roughed up regularly &

and painfully.

The St. Louis Rams were swarming, shifting and blitzing Hasselbeck from every corner of the Edward Jones Dome on Nov. 25. Will Witherspoon dumped Hasselbeck two times on the first three plays of the game. Three first-half sacks left Seattle down 19-7 and Hasselbeck's already strained ribs and oblique muscle throbbing.

"That bordered on the ridiculous," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Wednesday.

At halftime of that game, Holmgren summoned his offensive coaches. He junked the complicated line calls that mainly fell onto Hasselbeck's plate. He simplified blocking schemes on the fly. Seattle rallied to win 24-19.

The subtle changes have been life-preserving to Hasselbeck and season-saving to Seattle.

The Seahawks (9-4) are suddenly playing like they did in 2005, their only Super Bowl season. They have won five consecutive games entering Sunday's trip to Carolina (5-8). They just won their fourth consecutive NFC West title and are now trying to improve on the No. — seed in the conference playoffs.

Hasselbeck, now less distracted with self-preservation, is playing as well as he has in his career. He's completed 63 percent of his passes and has 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions during the winning streak.

"We had to do something after the Rams' game," Holmgren said. "What that game did &

and blessings come in all sizes and packages &

it forced us to take a hard look at how we were doing things and then come to the realization that it doesn't matter how smart we are, the players have to be able to handle it."

Seattle essentially returned to fundamentals and away from fancy, intricate blocking audibles. Hasselbeck is making fewer calls for blocking before plays. Center Chris Spencer, tackles Walter Jones and Sean Locklear, right guard Chris Gray and alternating left guards Rob Sims and Floyd Womack are making more.

"We tried not to give the quarterback so much to do," offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said. "He's trying to see where the safeties are. He's trying to see where the linemen are. He's trying to see where the linebackers are. You can't play the game like that. So we simplified it ... it frees up Matt's time, so it's better."

As Hasselbeck said: "The onus is on everybody."

Holmgren then took away some practice time that used to be for individual position drills and made that into time for the offense to work exclusively with the new, simpler pass-blocking plan.

"Sometimes as coaches we overload them," Holmgren said. "I can't let that happen."

Sunday, more than ever, Seattle's linemen will be pointing like traffic cops before plays to clearly delineate to themselves and to their backs what defender they are taking.

"I used to coach special teams," said Haskell, who began coaching at Southern California in 1978. "We pointed. The personal protector pointed, 'I got 55.' The next guy said, 'I got 44.'

"When I came from college to the pros, they said, 'We can't do that, everyone will know who we're blocking.'

"I said, 'Yeah, so will we.' Shoot, is that nice!"

Before St. Louis, two blockers often thought they had the same guy, leaving at least one defender free to crunch Hasselbeck.

"As 11 guys, we weren't all on the same page," Hasselbeck said. "You look like you don't know what you are doing. And that's what we looked like in that (Rams) game."

That's also what it looked like when Pittsburgh sacked Hasselbeck three times in Seattle's 21-0 loss in Week 5. And when New Orleans dumped him five time in a 28-17 Seahawks defeat the following week.

Since the scheme change, Seattle has held the blitz-crazy Eagles to two sacks on 36 pass plays and Arizona, another blitz-heavy defense, to one sack in 34 pass plays.

Spencer noticed that as the Seahawks' 42-21 rout wore on last weekend, the Cardinals blitzed far less.

"Once you pick up some of their blitzes, it kind of scares teams out of blitzing so much," he said.

That, in turn, makes life much less scary for Hasselbeck. And much smoother for the soaring Seahawks.

Share This Story