The Seattle Seahawks had unprecedented success during their 10 years under Mike Holmgren, but the coach’s tenure ended on a sour note with an injury-plagued 2008 season.
Though his team is already dealing with injuries to key players, first-year coach Jim Mora expects Seattle to do a better job of withstanding them in 2009.
The Seahawks look to bounce back from their first losing finish since 2002 as they try to continue their recent dominance of the NFC West rival St. Louis Rams in both teams’ season opener Sunday.
Seattle advanced to the playoffs a team-record five straight years from 2003-07, a streak that included the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance after the 2005 season.
The run ended in Holmgren’s final year at the helm in 2008, when the Seahawks went 4-12 in large part because of injuries to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck(notes), receiver Deion Branch(notes) and the entire starting offensive line.
That line is banged up again. Seattle released starting left guard Mike Wahle(notes) at the start of training camp after the two-time Pro Bowl selection failed a physical following shoulder surgery. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones(notes) (knee) and starting center Chris Spencer(notes) (quadriceps) won’t play in the opener but could return for next week’s game at San Francisco.
Seattle’s patchwork line for the opener includes Sean Locklear(notes) at left tackle, Ray Willis(notes) at right tackle, Steve Vallos(notes) at center, Rob Sims(notes) at left guard and rookie Max Unger(notes) at right guard.
“I’m comfortable with the starting five. I think that they will perform very, very well,” said Mora, who also will have former Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant(notes) sidelined for the first six games with a back injury.
The holes in the line aren’t ideal for protecting Hasselbeck, who played in a career-low seven games in 2008 because of a bad back. But the three-time Pro Bowler is coming into the season healthy and showed he could take a hit during the preseason.
Houshmandzadeh, a Pro Bowler in 2007, caught 92 passes for 904 yards and four touchdowns in 2008 in a weak Cincinnati offense that lost quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) early in the season. He’s caught 372 passes over the last four seasons, most in the league.
Mora said during the preseason he could see a bond forming between Hasselbeck and his new No. 1 receiver.
“My observation is that it’s certainly growing,” Mora said of the trust between the two. “Watching it, it looks like he feels pretty good about throwing the ball to him. … It seems like they’re doing well.”
Hasselbeck is 23-10 against NFC West rivals since Seattle joined the division in 2002. He’s helped Seattle win all eight meetings with St. Louis over the last four seasons by an average of 10.5 points. In 2008, the Seahawks cruised to a 37-13 home win over the Rams on Sept. 21 before pulling out a 23-20 comeback victory in St. Louis on Dec. 14.
The Rams lost a franchise-record 14 games last season, including all six within the division. They totaled 232 points, fewest in the NFC and the franchise’s lowest mark since 1993.
First-year Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo doesn’t expect to change that overnight, but he does like the team’s mental approach heading into the opener after finishing preseason play with a 3-1 record.
“I think we got a bunch of hungry guys. I think it’s good to be hungry,” he said. “… (The preseason) doesn’t matter now. We’re moving on. I’m perfectly aware that all of this is a honeymoon period. The real challenge is upcoming.”
The Rams will likely be better prepared for that challenge if starting quarterback Marc Bulger(notes) can be healthy in time for the opener. Bulger took direct snaps Wednesday for the first time since breaking his right pinkie in practice. He said he’ll be ready to play and won’t use the injury as an excuse.
Steven Jackson is the other key to the Rams offense. Despite missing four games to injury last season, he topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fourth consecutive season.
Jackson has rushed for at least 100 yards 16 times in 69 career games, but he hasn’t reached the century mark in nine meetings with Seattle.