I re-watched the Seahawks' first three games and meticulously counted every play in which the team had four wide receivers on the field at the same time. There were a couple plays in the Detroit game where it was hard to tell whether it was a receiver or running back lined up out there. I had no such problems in the Giants game because it's still on my DVR in high definition. That allowed me to count 24 four-receiver sets in that game (up from four against the Lions and six against the Cardinals). I noted that Matt Hasselbeck completed six of his first seven passes from four-wide sets before throwing those two late interceptions from the formation. Seattle ran the ball 15 times from four-wides, gaining 67 yards (including that 17-yard run by Mack Strong late in the game). The resulting story is below.
By Mike Sando
The News Tribune
KIRKLAND - Darrell Jackson hasn't smiled this much since the last time his Seattle Seahawks used 24 four-receiver sets in a game.
As in, never.
The seventh-year wideout has but one request for coach Mike Holmgren and the offensive staff: to remove the tight end and running back from the offense entirely, allowing for five-receiver sets on every play.
Jackson was merely mouthing every receiver's fantasy, but the way things are going in Kirkland, it can't hurt to ask.
The Seahawks have traditionally set up the run with the pass under Holmgren, but never have they spread the field to the extent they did against the Giants. Expect more of the same as Seattle faces life without MVP running back Shaun Alexander.
"The four-receiver offense is fun," Jackson said following Seattle's 42-30 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday. "A lot of defenses can't cover that. It's kind of like pick your poison."
Holmgren hasn't ditched his familiar West Coast offense for the run-and-shoot. It only seems that way. The Seahawks have changed the NFL's highest-scoring offense (in 2005) because they saw no choice.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens remains sidelined by injury. His replacement, Itula Mili, has also been hurt. The team added receiver Deion Branch after the first game, and Jackson has made a full recovery from offseason knee surgery.
With Alexander slowed by a foot injury that, barring divine intervention, will end his 99-game playing streak, Holmgren was running low on options.
"You have choices to make, and part of it is not having Jerramy Stevens," Holmgren said, "because you weigh the value of having three wide receivers, a tight end and a back.
"With Jerramy, it gives you much more of a run threat, while still having a good passing game because you have a good target at tight end."
Stevens caught 45 passes last season. Alexander averaged 117.5 yards rushing per game. Stevens hasn't played a down this season. Alexander has averaged 62.3 yards per game.
Jackson, Branch, Nate Burleson and Bobby Engram have become the focus of the offense. Seattle used about five four-receiver sets per game this season before using 24 against the Giants. Part of that had to do with exploiting a struggling secondary.
"The circumstances surrounding this game, it all made more sense to pull a little more emphasis in a certain direction," Holmgren said. "But we've always had it in (the playbook), and we'll always have it in. Maybe we won't do it quite as much as we did Sunday, but we'll have it in now because we've got to put the 'Fantastic Four' on the field."
Jackson holds the franchise single-season record for receptions. Branch is a former Super Bowl MVP who caught 78 passes for New England last season. Engram led Seattle in receptions last season. Burleson was a 1,000-yard receiver in Minnesota before joining Seattle this season.
"If you look at the four wide receivers that we put on the field (Sunday), we have a mismatch somewhere, sometimes everywhere," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "That's an exciting thing."
Playing four receivers at a time means choosing whether to play a running back or tight end, but never both. Defenses respond by replacing linebackers with defensive backs.
Holmgren perceived the Giants as having a powerful front seven. The four-receiver set sometimes left New York with only one linebacker on the field, down from the usual three.
The Giants had trouble pressuring Hasselbeck because the Seattle quarterback generally found an open receiver quickly. Hasselbeck wasn't sacked for the ninth time in 71 regular-season starts.
"Every time he dropped back, it was 2.5 seconds and the ball is gone," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said.
Jackson, Engram, Burleson and Branch finished with 18 catches for 184 yards and four touchdowns.
"We push Coach to go to four-wide and stay in four-wide the whole game," Branch said.
By unofficial count, Hasselbeck completed six of his first seven passes for 48 yards when Seattle had four receivers on the field. He was intercepted on his final two passes from four-receiver sets as Seattle struggled to run out the clock after building a 42-3 lead.
Lining up with four receivers doesn't mean a team has to throw the ball every time. Seattle ran the ball 15 times for 67 yards, a 4.7-yard average, with four receivers on the field.
That included a late 17-yard run by fullback Mack Strong after Hasselbeck checked out of a pass play at the last moment.
"One of the things we wanted to do was to spread them out and run it, and also to get in our I-formation and throw it," Hasselbeck said. "We were able to do both."
He won't get any complaints from the receivers.
"As long as we throw the ball around like that in the four-receiver set, it's not about the catches," Jackson said. "It's about having an opportunity to make a play and when you get the ball, make a play.
"You have a chance to beat your man and make a long gain, so it works out better for everyone."