Countdown to kickoff

Greetings from a surprisingly dry and partly sunny Qwest Field, where the Seahawks are facing a Giant task today.

The opponent is the New York Giants, winners of four in a row and possessors of a 5-2 record coming out of their bye week. The storylines in this one have played out all week, as key players for the Seahawks have been falling like so many dominoes.

First, and foremost, Charlie Whitehurst will make the first start of his 4½-season NFL career for Matt Hasselbeck, because the Seahawks’ starting QB got a concussion while being sacked a career-high eight times in last week’s 33-3 loss to the Raiders in Oakland. The Giants already have knocked five quarterbacks out of games this season – the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, Bears’ duo of Jay Cutler and Todd Collins, Panthers’ Matt Moore and Lions’ Shaun Hill. For more on Whitehurst’s situation, click here.

The Seahawks also will have a new left side of the offensive line. Chester Pitts will make his first start for the Seahawks – and first since last September, when he tore up his right knee while playing for the Houston Texans. It was supposed to be at guard, because Ben Hamilton was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday after getting a severe concussion against the Raiders. But Pitts will be at tackle, because first-round draft choice Russell Okung is not ready to return from the sprained left ankle that has sidelined him the past seven quarters; and if Tyler Polumbus is able to play it will be in a backup role after he sprained a knee against the Raiders. So Mike Gibson will make his second NFL start at left guard. Pitts also missed practice on Friday to attend a funeral. He has quite a story, and you can read it here.

The best way to attack the Giants’ second-ranked defensive might be to run the ball, especially from passing formations. But the Giants have allowed an average of 47 rushing yards in their four-game winning streak, after yielding an average of 136.7 in their first three games. Another way to defuse a pass rush that has produced 24 sacks – eight from Osi Umenyiora, who will spend much of the game matched against Pitts – is to throw quick passes. But while Whitehurst throws a nice deep ball, he is not as accurate on the short and intermediate passes as Hasselbeck.

On defense, Kentwan Balmer makes his first start for the Seahawks at the five-technique spot for Red Bryant, who went on IR on Tuesday and had surgery on Thursday to repair a damaged ligament in his right knee. Balmer had started the past three games at the three-technique tackle spot for Brandon Mebane, who has a sore calf. If Mebane can’t play today, Craig Terrill will make the fifth start of his 6½-season career. The Seahawks also will have a first-time starter at nose tackle, where Junior Siavii steps in for Colin Cole, who is out with a sprained ankle. For more on Balmer, click here.

When the Giants pass, it has been a hit-or-miss proposition. Eli Manning has thrown 14 TD passes, but also 11 interceptions – and seven of that league-high total have caromed off the intended target. Leading receiver Hakeem Nicks has at least eight receptions in three of the Giants’ past four games. The Seahawks do get cornerback Kelly Jennings back after the starter on the right side missed the past two games with a strained hamstring. Nate Ness, who started for Jennings last week, was released on Tuesday.

Speaking of roster moves, the Seahawks made two more on Saturday. Zac Robinson was signed off the practice squad to serve as the backup to Whitehurst. So was tackle Breno Giacomini, to provide depth on the injury-ravaged O-line. Released were two players who had been signed on Tuesday – wide receiver Ruvell Martin, who isn’t needed because leading receiver Mike Williams is ready to play after getting a bruise just above his knee last week; and center Chris White, who was expendable because Gibson had replaced Hamilton as the backup to Chris Spencer at center.

As was stated at the top, this all adds up to a Giant challenge for the Seahawks. We’re all about to discover just how much magic the 12th Man crowd can wring out of Qwest Field, where the Seahawks are 3-0 this season.

Strange things not only can happen to visiting teams at Qwest, they often do. In 2005, the Giants came in with a 7-3 record and wilted under a barrage of 11 false-start penalties. The Seahawks won, but in overtime and with a much healthier team than they will field today.

He’ll back later with the inactives, which for the Seahawks will be dictated by the injury situation …

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