RENTON – They’re coming.
With Seattle coach Mike Holmgren officially ruling out quarterback Matt Hasselbeck for Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, there’s little doubt that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will bring the heat against backup Seneca Wallace.
Two weeks ago, against Tampa Bay in his first start of the season, a hobbled Wallace wilted against the pressure brought by Tampa Bay’s defense in a 20-10 loss to the Bucs.
This time, Wallace said he’ll be prepared for the pressure.
“They’ve got a lot of different fronts and different things they do,” Wallace said. “We have to really be on point as far as picking up the blitzes this week. We know them. We’ve played them several times in the past, so we’re really confident about it.”
Wallace is confident because Seattle has successfully handled Philadelphia’s pressure in the past, defeating the Eagles, 28-24, last season and 42-0 in 2005, both in Philadelphia.
However, in those games against the Eagles, Seattle had an experienced quarterback at the helm. With Hasselbeck out, Wallace needs to make sure he communicates with center Chris Spencer and the rest of the offense so the pass protection is shifted to the side Philadelphia is blitzing.
“When you’ve got guys that bring it like they do, we’ve got to be quick and precise,” Spencer said. “We’ve got to be able to recognize things. And you know we’ll change it up a little bit. We’ll change up the snap count. Being able to go on two and making them show things is going to be key for us.”
Johnson worked for the Seahawks as the linebackers coach when Dennis Erickson was in charge. During that year the Seahawks scored 10 touchdowns on defense, including eight interceptions for touchdowns, the second-most in league history.
After Holmgren was hired in 1999, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid went after Johnson because of the success Johnson had against Brett Favre and Green Bay when Reid was coaching with the Packers and Johnson served as the defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.
“They weren’t too good, but their defense was phenomenal,” Reid said about facing the Colts defense coached by Johnson. “They came out and blitzed us like crazy. They destroyed Brett. Just killed him.
“We didn’t have a lot of answers that day, and in the back of my mind I said, ‘If I was ever a head coach, I would like to hire that guy.’ ”
Philadelphia’s defense is effective because everyone can get to the quarterback, from the defensive linemen to defensive backs, creating uncertainty from the offense on which guys will blitz and which guys will stay back. Further, Johnson does a good job of disguising the blitzes, often going against his tendencies and keeping his schemes unpredictable.
Earlier this year against Pittsburgh, the Eagles had nine sacks and held the Steelers to 179 yards in a 15-6 win in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia ranks seventh in the league in total defense, and gives up just 19.6 points a contest. The Eagles rank fourth in sacks with 23 and have a plus-seven turnover margin.
“You won’t see the same blitz back-to-back, you won’t see the same blitz series by series,” said Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb about his team’s defense. “He (Johnson) changes it up. He gets his guys involved.
“I think that’s kind of his MO of picking out what type of players he wants on his defense that first of all can stop the run, cover well in pass (situations), and can be big in our blitz packages, to get to the quarterback and get some tackles and some losses on sacks.”
Seattle defensive coordinator John Marshall said Philadelphia’s defense is another example of the change the league has gone through from more of an old-school, read and react defense to a more aggressive, attacking style that began with the implementation of the 46 defense by Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in the 1980s.
“Now the talent is such that you’ve got to do something,” Marshall said. “You just can’t sit there and let a quarterback be comfortable.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437
Seahawks coach’s corner
Highlights from Mike Holmgren’s weekly Wednesday news conference:
• Holmgren has been in a much more pleasant mood this week after the Seahawks defeated San Francisco. But Seattle will face a tough test at home in Philadelphia. Holmgren talked about the evolution of blitzing defenses.
“It gives the appearance of man coverage, but it’s really zone, and it disrupted people’s hot throws and different things, the way you used to traditionally handle a man blitz. The second thing is, teams are more likely now to empty the post. Everybody comes, and there’s no free safety in the middle of the field. You can still have a blitzing package and have a free safety in the middle of the field to back up long throws. Often times – and we’ve done it too, and we’ve been hurt this year a couple times by it – teams are willing to come after you with the ranch. If you get home, it’s a wonderful play. If you don’t get home, usually it works the other way.”
• Holmgren explained why Philadelphia’s defense is so difficult to handle.
“They do a nice job of disguising (blitz). Is the overload coming this way, or this way? (If the) quarterback sends protection one way, and he guesses wrong, or sees it wrong, he’s going to get hit. And then they get you thinking so much about all that stuff, your concentration level on actually executing the play, you lose some of that.”
• Even though Seattle got a win against San Francisco, the running game still struggled. Holmgren said Seattle will focus on fixing that Sunday.
“Thirty-eight yards – you didn’t like that? I didn’t either. We’ve go to (fix) that. It’s a big chore. These guys are good and they’re very physical up front. Their defensive line is outstanding. I’ve said it a million times: I’m going to do what I have to do in the game to try and move the football. But we have to run the ball better than we did last week.”
• Holmgren also addressed the question of whether or not his team’s home-field advantage has eroded with his team starting the season 1-2 at home.
“I don’t think so. We still have an advantage at home, absolutely. Our crowd gives us an advantage. Now, are we good enough to take advantage of the advantage? We’ll see. But no, it’s still a difficult place for an opponent to play. That will never change. I think our fans at Qwest, I suspect it will always be that way. Our fans take a lot of pride in that. That’s part of who they are now. That’s a good thing.”
• Even with his team at 2-5, Holmgren believes Seattle is in the playoff hunt, two games behind division leader Arizona.
“Until we’re mathematically eliminated, that’s how we think. Everyone got a little jump-start from the (49ers) game, and winning the game is fun and I was happy for the players because they worked very hard and they should be rewarded with something once in a while. We know we’re running uphill. Everyone’s aware of the situation in the locker room, but we’re going to keep playing, playing hard, and see what can happen here.”
Eric D. Williams, The News Tribune