DENVER – Greetings from Invesco Field at Mile High, where some of the Seahawks already are on the field preparing to face the Denver Broncos.
The Seahawks have not played their old AFC West rivals here since 2006, and they came away with a rare victory in the rarified air, 23-20. It was only the Seahawks’ fifth win in 25 trips to Denver, and the others came at old Mile High Stadium – in 1995, 1988, 1984 and 1982.
But before coach Pete Carroll confiscates this computer to remake the same point he has been hammering home to the players all week, none of that matters. Neither does the fact that the Seahawks have won only three games on the road the past two seasons, with two of those coming against the woeful Rams in St. Louis. Nor is the fact that the Broncos have won 10 consecutive home openers.
The only thing that matters today is what the Seahawks are able to do today.
And the environment for this game will be completely the opposite as it was for the season opener at Qwest Field last week. It will be unnervingly noisy at times when the Seahawks have the ball – especially in passing situations – which likely will prompt quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to go with silent snap counts. The defense, meanwhile, will not have the advantage of the din generated by the 12th Man crowd at Qwest to assist in getting off the ball quickly against opposing offensive linemen who are having a difficult time hearing the QB’s cadence.
But the Seahawks’ goals remain the same:
Use the short passing game as efficiently as they did in upsetting the favored 49ers last week, when Hasselbeck completed 78.3 percent of his passes while throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third.
Find a way to get the running game going – after rushing for 77 yards against the 49ers, when 32 of them came on one fourth-quarter run by Justin Forsett. And, get the zone-blocking scheme cranked up in the city where the Broncos made it famous – and ridiculously, not to mention consistently, productive – under former coach Mike Shanahan. The Seahawks will attempt to do it with Tyler Polumbus, a former Bronco, starting at left tackle for injured first-round draft choice Russell Okung; and just-arrived Stacy Andrews stepping in at right guard for Max Unger, who sustained a season-ending toe injury in the opener.
Carroll admits that the running game is a work in progress, and will remain so at least until Okung gets back in the lineup. But he also stresses it is a commitment – a philosophy, even.
Shanahan compares it to playing the stock market.
“If you’re going to get a stock, what are you going to do?” he told the Denver Post recently. “You’re going to look over the last 15, 20 years and see what’s No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and usually if you’re going to invest your money, you’re going to invest in something that’s been done, that’s performed at the highest level over that time, for those 15 years, and say, ‘Hey, that has a chance to keep on going.’ And that hopefully it will. I believe it will.”
For Shanahan’s money, that’s the zone-blocking scheme, and Carroll agrees.
On defense, the Seahawks have had to prepare multiple game plans this week because the Broncos will come at them with multiple looks, formations and personnel groupings. All teams do that, but the Broncos do it more – and better – than most.
But the best way to combat all the things the Broncos can do is to take away one, and force them to try and beat you with the other – as the Seahawks did against the 49ers last week by shutting down Frank Gore and pressuring Alex Smith into some poor decisions.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on today:
Colin Cole. Nose tackles usually don’t get much recognition, but today the Seahawks’ nose will be in the face of J.D. Walton, the Broncos’ rookie starter at center. And, Cole is coming off an effort in the opener against the 49ers that Carroll called “the best he’s played for us.” In the Broncos’ opener, 40 percent of their running plays went for no gain (three carries) or 1 yard (six). So Cole could be a notable nose again.
Lawyer Milloy. The Seahawks’ strong safety will start his 200th regular-season game, but only his second for the Seahawks. In an odd coincidence, Broncos free safety Brian Dawkins also will make it 200 regular-season career starts today.
Leroy Hill. The Seahawks’ linebacker was scheduled to return, but is listed questionable with a heel injury. He won’t start at weak-side linebacker; David Hawthorne will. But Hill is slated to play on special teams and in a situational role on defense. He admitted this week that he can’t wait to hit somebody, but he may have to wait.
Golden Tate. The Seahawks’ second-round draft choice was inactive for the opener, but the rookie wide receiver got plenty of snaps with the Seahawks’ offense in practice this week. If he gets a chance to play, Tate needs to make the kinds of plays he did during training camp.
Kyle Orton. The Broncos’ QB passed for 295 yards in the opening-day loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville – with Eddie Royal catching eight passes for 98 yards and former 49er Brandon Lloyd catching five for 117 yards. Orton has taken to the offense being run by Broncos coach Josh McDaniel, after being taken for granted by the Chicago Bears.
We’ll be back in awhile with the inactive players.