Blame Holmgren for Hawks’ poor ‘D’

  • Scott M. Johnson / Pro Football Report
  • Thursday, November 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

Sooner or later, the fingers will point toward Steve Sidwell. When you’re the coordinator of the league’s worst defense, eventually some blame comes your way.

But the culprit for Seattle’s porous defense this season might actually be on the other side of the ball. Mike Holmgren, not Sidwell, is to blame for the defensive woes. It was Holmgren who decided to transfuse his defense with younger bodies at the expense of some very serviceable veterans.

Just look at some of the defensive players Holmgren sent packing.

Sam Adams is a key member of the NFL’s top-ranked defense in Baltimore, and his addition has been a big reason why defensive end Rob Burnett is on pace to set a career high in sacks. Adams has also been a valuable run-stuffer for the Ravens – something the Seahawks have been missing this season.

Then there’s Brian Walker, who is the starting strong safety for Miami’s stingy defense. He was named the AFC’s defensive player of the week following a 17-7 win over San Diego three weeks ago. With the subpar play of Seattle’s safeties this season, Walker probably would have been an improvement at that position.

As for linebacker Darrin Smith, he moved into the New Orleans Saints’ starting lineup in Week 7, and the Saints have gone 6-1 since. Although he is playing out of position at middle linebacker, Smith is leading the team in tackles.

Defensive end Phillip Daniels has six sacks for the Chicago Bears, more than any Seahawks defensive lineman this season. And safety Darryl Williams ranks second on the Cincinnati Bengals in tackles and interceptions.

Daniels was the only one Holmgren wanted to keep, yet he and Williams are the only ones not playing for a playoff contender. To be fair, Holmgren’s decisions regarding Adams and Smith had more to do with personality than play on the field. And Walker spent all of 1999 trying to overcome a recurring hamstring problem.

But it’s still worth noting that the former Seahawks have moved on and are doing well. And their replacements aren’t.

Even though Holmgren has expressed regret over losing Daniels – quick to add, however, that the Seahawks didn’t have the cap room to pay the $25 million he received from Chicago – the defensive end is the only one who has been even adequately replaced. Second-year player Lamar King has been the Seahawks’ most consistent defensive lineman this season, even if he isn’t putting up Daniels’ sack numbers.

The other fill-ins are struggling. Middle linebacker George Koonce has been a warrior, but his best days are behind him. Safety Reggie Tongue, Holmgren’s prized free agent, has been so slow to pick up Sidwell’s system that he was benched in favor of Kerry Joseph. And Adams’ replacement, Riddick Parker, doesn’t have the size to demand double teams or stop the run.

Holmgren had the opportunity to get some defensive help in the draft, with BYU middle linebacker Rob Morris and Boston College defensive tackle Chris Hovan on the board for both of the Seahawks’ first-round picks. By the time Seattle addressed its defensive holes, the Seahawks had to settle for lesser-known players like Isaiah Kacyvenski, Tim Watson and John Hilliard.

Ask Holmgren, and he’ll tell you the team is generally better off in the long run for losing some of its defensive starters. And he’d point out that the offensive players drafted – namely Shaun Alexander, Chris McIntosh and Darrell Jackson – have shown promise.

Maybe the moves will pay off at some point. But for now, the current Seahawks will have to spend the postseason watching their former teammates on television.

  • Kickoff: 10:05 a.m. Sunday.

  • TV/radio: CBS-TV (Channel 7); KIRO radio (710 AM)

  • Stars to watch: Seahawks – One of the Seahawks’ constants this season has been Jon Kitna, who has played in all but one game despite being benched in Week 6. The most effective offensive player has been Ricky Watters, who needs 129 rushing yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth consecutive season. Watters needs 46 yards to become the 13th player in NFL history to surpass the 10,000-yard milestone for a career. OLBs Chad Brown (six sacks) and Anthony Simmons (110 tackles) have been the anchors on defense.

    Falcons – QB Doug Johnson is expected to make his first start, replacing Everett native Chris Chandler. RB Jamal Anderson is running behind a makeshift offensive line, but he’s still in position to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Anderson needs 179 more yards to get there. CB Ray Buchanan ranks third in the NFL with six interceptions, and he has been credited with 19 passes defensed. K Morten Andersen has scored at least one point in 266 consecutive games, an NFL record. He currently ranks third on the NFL’s all-time scoring list, with 1,916 points.

  • Breaking down the game: This could develop into the Jamal Anderson-Ricky Watters show.

    Both teams should rely on their running games. Atlanta will go with a rookie quarterback who is making his first start, while the Seahawks are probably better off testing the Falcons’ run defense instead of their big-play cornerbacks.

    To the Seahawks’ advantage is the play of their offensive line. The big guys up front have been opening up holes for Watters, who has taken advantage to the tune of 4.4 yards per carry – his highest average since 1993. Anderson, behind a young line riddled with injuries, has been held to 3.7 yards per rush.

    Both defenses will probably stack things up front and dare the opposing quarterback to beat them. For this week at least, the Seahawks have an advantage there with the relatively experienced Jon Kitna.

    Despite featuring two of the NFL’s bottom three defenses, this one might be light on offense.

  • Pick: Falcons lose, 10-9.

  • Injury report: Seahawks – QB Brock Huard (bruised kidney) is doubtful; DE Matt LaBounty (concussion) is questionable. Falcons – T Bob Whitfield (neck) is questionable; DT Ed Jasper (hand), S Johndale Carty (knee), WR Brian Finneran (back) and TE Reggie Kelly (knee) are probable.

  • Little-known fact: The last time Mike Holmgren was part of a coaching staff that lost nine games in a season, he was a 20-something assistant for Sacred Heart Cathedral High School in San Francisco.

  • Arizona (3-9) at Cincinnati (2-10), 10 a.m. Sunday: What’s more pathetic? The fact that Cardinal fans are happy to have Jake Plummer back or Bengals fans praying that Scott Mitchell’s knee can hold up? Although both these teams figure to pick among the top five selections in next spring’s draft, they’ll both pass on Drew Brees. Unfortunately for both cities, they’ve already invested too much in quarterbacks Plummer and Akili Smith. Too bad we’ll never know how good David Boston and Peter Warrick could have been. Pick: Cardinals lose, 9-6.

  • San Francisco (4-8) at San Diego (1-11), 1:05 p.m. Sunday: Smell a pattern here? That collective sigh came from the Southern California area, where the best football this season was being played by Cal State Northridge. At least the Chargers are off the hook following a win over Kansas City. And the 49ers are off the hook from becoming San Diego’s first victim. Welcome back to the loser’s bracket, Lightning Bolts. Pick: Chargers lose, 24-10.

  • Cleveland (3-10) at Jacksonville (5-7), 1:15 p.m. Sunday: By comparison, this Jaguars team is a Super Bowl contender. Oh, wait. They lost to the lowly Seahawks, didn’t they? The Browns are beyond lowly, in part because their quarterback is out for the season. Then again, they were pretty abysmal when he was healthy, too. Pick: Browns lose, 20-6.
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