NFL Preview - Jacksonville (2-2) at Seattle (1-3)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The 2009 season would appear to be sliding downhill for the injury-ravaged Seattle Seahawks.
Their opponent at Qwest Field on Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars, will look to keep that mudslide going, as their own 2009 campaign nears a measure of high ground.
A Seattle team that was decimated by injuries during the miserable 4-12 campaign of 2008 has not been able to distance itself from that situation in its first year under head coach Jim Mora.
Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (rib) could miss his 12th start in the past two years, and third straight, after being injured in a Week 2 loss to the 49ers. Seneca Wallace, who dropped to 5-9 as a starter all-time with last week's 34-17 loss to the Colts, would start if Hasselbeck, who is questionable, is unavailable.
Meanwhile, along the offensive line, former Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones (knee) has been ruled out until November following a pair of surgeries, fellow OT Sean Locklear (ankle) is also expected to miss Sunday's game, and guard Rob Sims (ankle) is questionable.
For the Seattle defense, end Patrick Kerney (groin), linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring) and cornerback Josh Wilson (ankle) are question marks, and linebacker LeRoy Hill (groin) and cornerback Marcus Trufant (back) remain out.
Given the above list, the Seahawks' three-game losing streak and their weak performance against Indianapolis should hardly be surprising.
The Seattle running game was non-existent against the Colts, generating just 49 yards on the ground, while the defense failed to keep the Seahawks in the contest.
Indy's first four scoring drives of the day went like this: 10 plays, 89 yards (TD); 9 plays, 90 yards (TD); 9 plays, 78 yards (TD); 12 plays, 80 yards (TD). At the conclusion of the last of those marches, which came at the 8:02 mark of the third quarter, the game was an out-of-hand 28-3 in favor of Indianapolis.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, posted a happier Week 4 result, extending their winning streak to two games with a surprising 37-17 blowout of the defending AFC South champion Tennessee Titans.
Just two weeks ago after hearing calls for him to be benched in a walkaway home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, quarterback David Garrard looked like a Pro Bowler, completing 27-of-37 passes for 323 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a triumph that pulled the Jags even at 2-2. Six different Jacksonville players caught three or more passes in the win, most notably the blossoming Mike Sims-Walker (7 receptions, 91 yards, 2 TD), tight end Marcedes Lewis (4 receptions, 76 yards, 1 TD) and rookie Mike Thomas (5 receptions, 31 yards).
If Garrard can keep the good times rolling, Jacksonville may have the ability to go from also-ran to playoff contender in a few short weeks. The Jags' next four games are against the Seahawks (1-3), Rams (0-4), Titans (0-4) and Chiefs (0-4), and more performances such as the one displayed against Tennessee would undoubtedly keep the team's sudden momentum going.
Seattle holds a 3-2 edge in its all-time series with Jacksonville, but was a 26-14 road loser when the clubs last met, in Week 1 of the 2005 campaign. The Jaguars won the previous meeting, a 24-15 affair at home in 2001 and a game that marks Jacksonville's lone trip to the Pacific Northwest to date.
Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio is 1-0 against the Seahawks as a head coach, while the Falcons' Mora will be meeting both Del Rio and the Jaguars for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Though his numbers told the tale in large part, there should be no question that Garrard (941 passing yards, 5 TD, 1 INT) looked more comfortable in the offense against the Titans than he had in previous weeks. Part of that must be attributed to an offensive line who did a terrific job of protecting the burly quarterback, allowing just two sacks on the day after Garrard had frequently been under fire over the season's first three weeks. Garrard also rediscovered the scrambling element (8 rushes, 38 yards) that made him so dangerous during Jacksonville's most recent playoff season of 2007, helping to cover up what was a sub-standard day for No. 1 running back Maurice Jones-Drew (296 rushing yards, 5 TD, 16 receptions). Jones-Drew had 40 yards on just nine total touches, including a nine-yard first quarter touchdown run, for the day. The game also saw a contribution from rookie seventh-round back Rashad Jennings (55 rushing yards), who carried nine times for a team-high 53 yards in the victory. Sims-Walker leads the team in catches (19), receiving yards (278), and touchdown catches (3), with Lewis (11 receptions, 2 TD) and Torry Holt (15 receptions) serving as semi-frequent contributors as well. The Jags rank a respectable 10th in NFL total offense (360.2 yards per game) as Week 5 commences.
With Kerney (12 tackles, 2 sacks) at less than 100 percent and the secondary in dire straits, a Seattle defense that showed very little ability to stop Manning last week should continue to see a large number of passes to defend. The team's best option at corner at the moment would appear to be cornerbacks Ken Lucas (14 tackles, 1 INT) and Travis Fisher (5 tackles), who had four tackles each last week as well as an interception from Lucas. Safeties Jordan Babineaux (28 tackles) and Deon Grant (15 tackles) will have to be very good in support, and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (10 tackles, 3 sacks) will bear major responsibility in getting to Garrard. Tatupu's (16 tackles, 1 sack) possible absence would not be fatal to the Seattle front seven, as David Hawthorne (23 tackles, 1 INT) has previously done a nice job of filling in there and linebacker Aaron Curry (22 tackles, 1 sack) and nose tackle Colin Cole (13 tackles) are also capable against the run. The Seahawks limited the Colts to 78 ground yards on 22 carries last week (3.5 yards per rush), though Indianapolis rushers Joseph Addai and Donald Brown both found the end zone in the contest.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
The shame of the Seahawks' struggles along the offensive line is that the team has a number of talented targets, if only Wallace (645 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) and/or Hasselbeck (376 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) could get time to look down the field to throw to them. Wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh (22 receptions), Nate Burleson (24 receptions, 1 TD), and Deion Branch (8 receptions) are all legitimate NFL talents, and tight end John Carlson (20 receptions, 2 TD) is one of the promising players in the league at his position. Houshmandzadeh had his best statistical day as a member of the Seahawks last week, when he hauled in eight balls for 103 yards, and Branch added six grabs totaling 49 yards. Burleson continues to lead the team in receiving yards (260), and Carlson is third on the team in that category (208). The Seattle running game has been extremely hot-and-cold, as backs Julius Jones (251 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 3 TD) and Edgerrin James (59 rushing yards) have had trouble finding running room behind the banged-up Seattle line. Jones was limited to 11 carries for 25 yards in the blowout against the Colts, and James had four totes for 16 yards against his former team. The Hawks are 14th in NFL total offense (338.5 yards per game) at the moment.
Whether Hasselbeck or Wallace plays QB for the Seahawks, the team will want to take some shots downfield against a Jacksonville defense that ranks tied for last in the league against the pass (282.7 yards per game) and dead last in sacks (3). The Jags come off their best playmaking day in the secondary, as cornerback Derek Cox (21 tackles, 2 INT) and safety Gerald Alexander (13 tackles, 1 INT) both had interceptions of Tennessee's Kerry Collins a week ago, while safety Reggie Nelson (25 tackles) had a fumble recovery on a day in which top corner Rashean Mathis (10 tackles, 1 INT) did not have a tackle. The pass rush has a chance to get well on Sunday given the state of the Seattle offensive line, and former first-round end Derrick Harvey (8 tackles) and fellow second-year man Quentin Groves (9 tackles) will be counted on for production as well. A Jacksonville run-stopping group that currently ranks 12th in the league (98.8 yards per game) gave a nice effort in preventing the big play from Tennessee rusher Chris Johnson last week. Johnson had 83 yards on 16 carries. Linebackers Justin Durant (35 tackles) and Daryl Smith (30 tackles) are 1-2 on the team in stops, and John Henderson (11 tackles) is the club's best space-eater up front.
Though both of these teams have had their moments offensively, most of the fantasy options here remain risky. On the Jacksonville side, the spectacularly hyphenated Jones-Drew and Sims-Walker look like steady plays, and Lewis has emerged as a decent tight end option. But don't be looking for another 300-yard day from Garrard, who has never topped 300 on back-to-back weeks in his career.
For Seattle, Houshmandzadeh, Burleson, and Branch all figure to get their touches, but figuring out who is going to nab the most targets from week-to- week is akin to playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. Carlson has been somewhat disappointing since catching two touchdown passes in Week 1, but caught six balls last week despite having to help out quite a bit in the blocking game. Best to avoid Jones or any other Seahawks rusher unless you're desperate.
The Jaguars have seemingly resurrected their season with impressive division wins over the last two weeks, but they're still mighty hard to get an accurate read on. It's important to remember that this is still a very young team with holes in a few key places, particularly on defense, and expecting Jacksonville to make one of the NFL's longest trips and to play its best football is risky thinking indeed. The Seahawks, meanwhile, look to be going nowhere due in large part to their many injuries, but still have a terrific homefield advantage and enough offensive weapons to help them compete against the Jags. If they can keep the big plays from the Jacksonville offense to a minimum, look for Seattle to end its troubling losing streak in a contest that figures to be a tight one down the stretch.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 19, Jaguars 16
10/08 17:00:02 ET