Lesson learned? Washington's stingy, hard-hitting defense has the Seahawks' attention
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
SEATTLE - Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's eyes widened. His eyebrows raised. His head shook slightly.
He seemed impressed.
Not because Seattle is two wins from the Super Bowl. Or because the Seahawks are hosting a divisional playoff game at Qwest Field for the first time today.
It was the punishing Washington Redskins defense that had Hasselbeck's attention.
"They're a physical defense," Hasselbeck said. "They're going to hit you. They're going to make you pay."
Washington's defense knocked out both of Seattle's starting receivers in October. The Redskins were one of only five teams to hold league Most Valuable Player Shaun Alexander under 100 yards rushing.
"That was a tough game," Hasselbeck said of an overtime loss at Washington on Oct. 2.
And Hasselbeck has had enough tough games over previous years to know one - and to thoroughly enjoy this year's emergence as the often-unflappable leader of the NFC's top seed.
The cost of the October loss to Washington for Seattle was a pittance compared to what's at stake today. A defeat would devastate a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game since 1984 but enjoys its best postseason position ever.
It would also devastate a region that has seemingly invested three decades of hope, waiting for the Seahawks to play in their first Super Bowl.
The Redskins want to smash those hopes - and some ball carriers and receivers.
"Being physical, that's going to be the key for us," Washington safety Ryan Clark said. "They are going to take those 2-yard and 5-yard passes ... But when a guy catches a 2-yard pass and they hit them in the mouth, they don't like that.
"That will make a receiver go back to the quarterback and say, 'Hey, if you see 53 (linebacker Marcus Washington) or 21 (safety Sean Taylor) around me, you might not want to throw it right there."'
Hasselbeck said the Redskins don't just hit. They also trick. He said Washington is great at disguising "exotic looks" such as blitzes, fake blitzes and combination coverages.
Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the brains behind the operations, recently received a three-year contract extension reported to be worth almost $8 million.
But Alexander said the Seahawks should thank the Redskins for their bullying tricks. The loss to Washington helped change Seattle's offensive schemes, Alexander said. That, in turn, led Seattle to a team-record 11-game winning streak and the NFC's top playoff seed.
"That was an eye-opener game for us," said Alexander, who finished the season as the league rushing champion with 1,880 yards and an NFL-record 28 touchdowns.
The Seahawks defense may have had a hard time keeping its eyes open watching Washington's offense slog to just 120 yards of offense last week at Tampa Bay. That was the lowest output for a winning team in the playoffs. The Redskins won because their defense scored one touchdown and set up the other in a 17-10 victory.
Clinton Portis is the man Seattle needs to stop.
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren called the Redskins running back "a little package of dynamite." Portis set a franchise record with 1,516 yards rushing, fourth-most in the league.
The last time Seattle faced a premier runner - aside from a one-quarter cameo of Indianapolis' Edgerrin James in a meaningless game - Tiki Barber of the New York Giants romped for 151 yards on Nov. 27.
But Portis had just 53 yards, on 16 carries, against the top-ranked Buccaneers defense last week. He also pinched nerves in both shoulders.
Yet he said he is fine now. He's even ready to go back to hitting opponents, just like his defense.
"I'm going to hit them or they're going to hit me," Portis said. "I want to come out with the better end of that."
The Redskins also have the potential to hit big plays with wideout Santana Moss, whom veteran quarterback Mark Brunell loves to find on deep routes. Marcus Trufant, the Seahawks' best cover cornerback, will likely cover Moss most of the day.
Trufant, who is returning from a lower back bruise, expects to see "a whole lot of Portis."
"Oh, yeah," Trufant said. "They've been doing that all year."
Seahawks Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones will see plenty of his former teammate, Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels. Daniels one of the best seasons of his 10-year career with eight sacks - including four in one game last month against Dallas.
Clark said Daniels has allowed the formerly blitz-dependent Redskins to keep more defenders in pass coverage.
Jones was just named to his sixth Pro Bowl. Daniels has never been to one. But that didn't keep Daniels from semi-joking that he is Jones' mentor.
"He knows me. I'm his teacher. I taught him everything he knows," Daniels said.
Ultimately, the Seahawks must slow that punishing Redskins' defense.
"They made us mature in some areas," Hasselbeck said.
Today's game will prove how much they've grown up.
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