Our man John Morgan over at Field Gulls has a packed schedule this week, so I went outside the SB Nation family for this week's opponent Q&A. Today we've got Brian McIntyre, the editor-in-chief of NorthWestFootball.net, the Scout.com Seahawks site. For our Football Outsiders fans (myself included), Brian helps chart games for FO. Thanks to Brian for taking a few minutes to answer some of our questions.
NN: Let's cut to the chase. Last weekend's 28-0 win over the Rams: How much of that was the Seahawks rebounding from last year, and how much of that was the Rams being the Rams?
Brian: The Rams being in the early stages of a rebuild helped, but the majority of that win can be attributed to the Seahawks being a better football team than they were a year ago. If I were to place a percentage on it, I'd say it was 65%-35%, Seattle rebounding from last season.
NN:The second big question is about injuries. Injury reports out of Seattle have become second nature and it's hard to tell what the truth is. I know Leroy Hill is definitely out. What's the status of Walter Jones, Deion Branch and others I'm sure I'm missing?
Brian: The Seahawks policy, it seems, has been to be more upfront regarding their injuries than the league requires them to be. As you mentioned, Leroy Hill (groin) is out for this week, and the club would be well within the rules to have left it at that. Instead, head coach Jim Mora announced that Hill would be out until after the bye week (earliest return is November 1), went into great detail explaining the injury, and mentioned that surgery remains a possibility.
Lofa Tatupu left the Rams game midway through the 3rd quarter with a left hamstring injury. He landed awkwardly on his leg, and while he finished out that particular series, he was held out the rest of the way. He is expected to play on Sunday. The other big injury on defense is cornerback Marcus Trufant, who injured his back and is presently on the PUP list and ineligible to return until November 1. Trufant has a disc issue, and it has been described as being similar to what Matt Hasselbeck dealt with last season, but the medical staff is confident that they diagnosed it in time to prevent it from costing Trufant the entire season.
Offensively, left tackle Walter Jones is recovering from having his knee cleaned out. He's pain-free, but this will be the first week he's done any on-field work. Center Chris Spencer had a quadriceps injury in the preseason finale against Oakland and is expected to return to practice this week, but he may have been Wally Pipp'd by Steve Vallos. Wide receiver Deion Branch strained his left hamstring during practice last Monday and missed the season-opener. They hope to have him back this week, but it's unlikely that Branch, Jones, or Spencer plays this week.
After the jump we look at the Seahawks receiving threats, how the 49ers offense can have success on Sunday, the Seahawks rushing attack, and of course the QB options in the Pacific Northwest...
NN: Should the 49ers be more concerned about Carlson or Houshmandzadeh? Or is Nate Burleson actually returning to form?
Brian: With an experienced quarterback like Matt Hasselbeck, the 49ers should be equally concerned with all three. Houshmandzadeh is new to the offense, but he already has his quarterback's trust, as evidenced by Hasselbeck throwing into tight coverage on the opening drive against the Rams on Sunday. That play was designed to go to Burleson, with Houshmandzadeh serving as a decoy on the play, but Hasselbeck threw into tight coverage because he trusts that Houshmandzadeh will make a play on the ball. Meanwhile, Carlson was flat-out ignored by the Rams defense and it resulted in 6 catches, 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He and Hasselbeck are still getting on the same page, but people in Seattle are really excited about Carlson's ability, which many feel will result in a few Pro Bowls before all is said and done.
Burleson is coming off a torn ACL, and while he played well last week, he did make a few mistakes. He lost a fumble midway through the first quarter, and part of the blame on Hasselbeck's second interception can be placed on him for not coming back to the ball. But he is the team's best deep-threat, and if San Francisco blitzes their corners the way St. Louis did, Hasselbeck and Burleson have the ability to make them pay with a quick hitch, and then it's just a one-on-one with a defensive back, and if Burleson wins, it'll go for a big gain. Another receiver who should be more involved in the offense this week, especially if Branch can't go, is rookie Deon Butler, who has legit 4.3 speed and solid hands, he just needs more opportunities.
NN: If the 49ers wanted to have success on offense against the Seahawks, what would be the best way to attack them this Sunday, particularly given the loss of Leroy Hill?
Brian: The Seahawks' run defense got a lot bigger over the off-season with the additions of Corey Redding, Colin Cole and Aaron Curry to the front seven, but with Leroy Hill out, Lofa Tatupu likely at less than 100% and it being Curry's second NFL start, I'd expect Jimmy Raye to stick to a ground attack. Third-year linebacker Will Herring will start for Hill, and while he's technically sound and assignment-correct, he's not the dynamic, physical presence that Hill is.
NN: Are we going to see 100+ yards from Julius Jones every week? In general, with the addition of Edgerrin James and the Seattle man-crush on Justin Forsett, do you think the Seahawks rushing attack is in good shape? Or again, was last weekend's success due in large part to it being the Rams?
Brian: Julius Jones will be the featured back and the plan appears to be to give him 15-20 carries per game, with Edgerrin James subbing for a series or two each half and Justin Forsett coming in on third downs, but the strength of the offense is still Hasselbeck and the weapons he has in the passing game. Seattle is using the zone-blocking system this season, but with the only starting offensive lineman currently playing where he was projected to start is Rob Sims at left guard, I'd say the Seahawks' rushing attack is still very much a work in progress and Jones probably won't run for 100+ yards every week.
NN: What kind of confidence do Seahawks fans have in the QB position? People seem to like Seneca Wallace, but if the brittle Matt Hasselbeck goes down, can Wallace hold down the fort for a significant chunk of time?
Brian: A lot of this depends on Hasselbeck's season. If he stays healthy, and plays at the Pro Bowl-caliber level he's accustomed to, at his age (turns 34 next Friday) there's absolutely no reason to think that he couldn't play another 3 or 4 years at or near the same level.
Because Hasselbeck has missed stretches of games in two of the past three seasons, Seneca Wallace has gotten a chance to play. He's short (5-11), but he's got a strong arm, makes good reads, has the running ability to keep defenses honest. For the most part, he's played pretty well, but he's not an elite-level quarterback and if he has to play for a four-game stretch, 2-2 is really the most you can hope for. Ever since the 2005 NFC Championship Game, though, fans love seeing Wallace on the field. He's arguably been the team's best athlete, but because he was also their number two quarterback, Mike Holmgren was reluctant to use him as a receiver or punt returner.
The latter option is still ruled out, but last week Greg Knapp called a "Wildcat"-type play, where Wallace took the shotgun snap, threw out to Hasselbeck, who was split wide to the right. Hasselbeck then threw the ball back to Wallace, who ran for 24 yards and the crowd ate it up. It'll be interesting to see how much Knapp uses Wallace in this fashion, because unlike the majority of "Wildcat" package that are being used league-wide, Wallace has the best combination of speed, elusiveness and passing ability.
Seattle used their sixth-round pick this year on Mike Teel (Rutgers). He's relegated to modeling Reebok's latest fashion and carrying a clipboard, but he made enough of an impression during the preseason to have some questioning whether or not the Seahawks need to use one of their two first-rounders next year on a quarterback.