Neither will take any chances, though, when the Seahawks try to match the best six-game start in franchise history on Sunday as they host the Minnesota Vikings.
Alexander, the 2005 league rushing leader who suffered a cracked bone in his left foot last month, is likely to miss a third straight game on Sunday and at least one additional week.
The Seahawks (4-1), with replacement Maurice Morris struggling, could have benefited from Alexander’s return as they face the Vikings (3-2), who are allowing 74.4 rushing yards per game to rank fourth in the NFL.
“I suppose some people have put players out on the field a little earlier,” Holmgren said. “In Shaun’s case, because he is a running back and because we can’t afford to have him re-injure that if we can avoid it, we are going to try to err on the side of caution.”
Despite Alexander’s injury, the Seahawks enter this week going for a 5-1 start, something only the 2003 team has accomplished since the franchise came into existence in 1976. Seattle opened 2-2 last season before winning 11 in a row en route to the Super Bowl.
Morris has been limited to 109 yards on 34 carries in two starts since replacing Alexander. Morris lost a fumble at St. Louis’ 7-yard line with 2:48 left last Sunday, allowing the Rams to drive for a go-ahead score, before Seahawks kicker Josh Brown made a 54-yard field goal as time expired in Seattle’s 30-28 road win.
“I kind of gave the team a heart attack,” Morris said. “I put us in a situation that we shouldn’t have even been in.”
Alexander wasn’t doing so well when he was healthy, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and failing to have one 100-yard game.
One reason the Seahawks often have struggled in the ground game and pass protection—they’ve allowed 17 sacks—is because Steve Hutchinson is no longer part of the offensive line.
Seattle has sorely missed the All-Pro guard, who makes his return to Qwest Field on Sunday. The Seahawks did not match the seven-year, $49 million offer the Vikings made to Hutchinson during the offseason, and he’s ended up becoming part of a Minnesota offensive line which has surrendered only seven sacks.
“It’s hard for me to be too mad at him, because he’s one of my favorite guys of all time, but I was surprised and disappointed,” Holmgren said of Hutchinson’s departure.
The Seahawks responded to that signing by giving a deal—for the same money and number of years—to receiver Nate Burleson to leave the Vikings. Burleson is off to a poor start in a Seattle uniform with seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown this season, and he had no catches last week.
Seattle surely would like to see Burleson step up for its injury-depleted receiving corps. While receiver Bobby Engram (thyroid condition) will probably miss a second straight game, tight end Jerramy Stevens (knee) has not played this season and his status for this week is uncertain.
The absence of those targets did not seem to negatively affect Matt Hasselbeck last week as he threw for a season-high 268 yards and three touchdowns by completing 19 of 34 passes. Receiver Deion Branch had his best game since the Seahawks acquired him on Sept. 11 in a trade with New England, finishing with six catches for 76 yards and two TDs.
“We can build on a win like this,” said Holmgren, whose defense contributed six sacks. “It was a very, very important game.”
The Vikings come off their bye week looking to duplicate the defensive performance from their most recent game, a 26-17 win over Detroit on Oct. 8. Minnesota scored two defensive touchdowns in a 23-0 fourth quarter and allowed a season-low 217 yards of offense, including 16 rushing on 11 carries.
Minnesota’s defense has scored three TDs this season, one fewer than the Vikings offense.
“Everytime we take the field, we try to score or get the ball back,” defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said. “That’s our personality. That’s how we play defense.”
The game also saw Chester Taylor rush for 123 yards on 26 carries. He’s run for 324 yards in Minnesota’s three wins, compared to 97 in its two losses.
The Vikings’ two defeats have been by a combined eight points.
“Right now it’s about that time where the playoff race starts to become more true,” linebacker Napoleon Harris said. “Weeks 6-10 basically shows the face of the teams that are pretenders and contenders.”
The Vikings lost 27-23 to the Seahawks on Dec. 12, 2004, in the most recent meeting, and are 3-6 in this all-time series. Minnesota’s only win in five trips to Seattle came on Nov. 18, 1990.