Countdown to kickoff

CLEVELAND – Greetings from Cleveland Browns Stadium on a sunny October afternoon along the shores of Lake Erie, and just a few Jon Ryan punts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Some of the Seahawks already are on the field preparing for today’s game. Not many are giving the Seahawks a chance in this one, but you have to wonder why. Yes, the 2-3 Browns are playing at home, but their victories have come against the Colts and Dolphins – who are a combined 0-11. Yes, the 2-3 Seahawks are playing in the Eastern time zone, where they traditionally have had problems with the 10 a.m. West Coast start – but they also have won two of their past three, including the pre-bye week upset of the New York Giants in the Meadowlands.

This game is oozing with storylines, and they go well beyond former Seahawks coaches Mike Holmgren now being the Browns president and Jim Mora being in the booth as the analyst for the Fox telecast.

For starters, there’s the starter at quarterback for the Seahawks – Charlie Whitehurst. He came on in the third quarter of the Giants game after Tarvaris Jackson strained the pectoral in his right shoulder and led the come-from-behind 36-25 upset. Jackson is better, but not enough to play.

If body language is any indication, Whitehurst is ready for the third start of his NFL career – more so than he was for either of the starts he got last season for an injured Matt Hasselbeck. Whitehurst has looked the part this week, when he got all the starter reps in practice. And there are words from coach Pete Carroll to match Whitehurst’s body language.

“Charlie just assumed the quarterback position and kind of took it over,” Carroll said Friday after practice. “He did a very good job of that. He made everybody feel really comfortable about what he brings to the huddle. If you were to talk to our guys they don’t feel like anything is different with Charlie in there or Tarvaris.

“The communication is really sharp. He’s very comfortable. He’s way more in command than he was a year ago. He just seems more assured and just stronger at the position. So when he popped in last (game) and jumped in the game, there were a couple plays in there just to get us going, but we didn’t really feel like we had to skip a beat. This week he just took it over. He just assumed that this was his job. It gave a lot of people a good feeling. The players, they don’t feel like anything is missing right now.”

The flipside to the Seahawks’ QB situation is the Browns’ Colt McCoy. The Seahawks talked all week about how dangerous McCoy can be when he breaks from the pocket. But the talk back here is that McCoy has not done enough – in or out of the pocket – to help the Browns win. They have scored more than 17 points only once, and that was against the Colts.

The Seahawks likely will find out which it is, and quickly, because Montario Hardesty is expected to start at running back for Peyton Hillis, who injured a hamstring in last week’s loss to the Raiders. The Seahawks are allowing a best-in-the-league average of 3.1 yards per carry. The Browns are averaging 3.3 yards per rushing attempt, which ties for the second-lowest in the league.

So the Seahawks should be able to put McCoy in situations where he’s passing because he has to, rather than because he wants to.

That brings us to the next situation to monitor in this game – Walter Thurmond stepping in at left cornerback for Marcus Trufant, who was placed on injured reserve this week because of a disc problem in his back. While the defense losses Trufant’s experience, it gains Thurmond’s speed and quickness. Thurmond started for Trufant against the Giants, but now it’s a fulltime gig. The defensive backs where on it all week in practice, intercepting several passes and breaking up even more. They need to carry that over to the game.

One more thing to watch: Lemuel Jeanpierre. He’s No. 61 and he’ll likely be in the middle of the Seahawks’ offensive line because Max Unger is not expected to play after injuring a foot against the Giants. Jeanpierre will be tested in his first NFL start, because the strength of the Browns’ No. 7-ranked defense is the tackle tandem of 335-pound Phil Taylor and 330-pound Ahtyba Rubin, who rank 3-5 in the league among D-linemen in average tackles and have combined for 4½ of the Browns’ 13 sacks.

One of these teams will emerge from this afternoon 3-3. This is one of those games the Seahawks need to win, even if it is in the Eastern time zone and after their bye week – they’re 6-16 in games following previous byes.


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