SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks started this season with a quartet of veteran wide receivers — Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, D.J. Hackett and Nate Burleson — that promised to be one of the best in the National Football League.
On Sunday, in Week 11 of the 2007 NFL season, the Seahawks finally had those same four players actually start and finish a game. And, by no coincidence, Seattle’s now-healthy passing game played a big part in the team’s 30-23 victory over the Chicago Bears at Qwest Field.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, in one of his most effective outings of the season, completed 30 of 44 passing attempts for 337 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The 30 completions matched the second-most of Hasselbeck’s career. It was also his 15th career game with 300 or more passing yards and his third of this season.
Nine of Sunday’s receptions were made by Hackett, who was playing in his third game after suffering a high ankle sprain in the Sept. 9 opener against Tampa Bay, an injury that kept him out the next six games. Another four catches were made by Branch, who was returning after missing four games with a foot injury suffered against Pittsburgh on Oct. 7.
“We went a long spell without Hackett and without Deion … and it was tough,” Hasselbeck said. “The more guys you lose, the tougher it is, so (it’s great) having those guys coming back.
“Whether or not they’re 100 percent yet, I don’t know, but as teammates your really appreciate that guys are willing to lay it on the line and give you what they got. And having Deion back (on Sunday) was obviously good for our team.”
Two years ago, the Seahawks reached the Super Bowl on the strength of their rushing offense, led by 2005 NFL Most Valuable Player Shaun Alexander. This season, though, Seattle’s running game has been mostly mediocre, so head coach Mike Holmgren switched the team’s offensive philosophy.
Led by Hasselbeck, who is having perhaps his best pro season, the Seahawks now have a pass-first strategy and it was evident against the Bears — Seattle had 48 passing plays (44 attempts, two sacks and two QB scrambles), with just 20 rushing plays (excluding a Hasselbeck kneel-down in the final seconds).
“I don’t want to make too much of this,” Holmgren said, “because we’re going to continue to do what we think we have to do to move the ball. … Like anything else, if it works it’s pretty good. And if it doesn’t, try something else.”
Hackett and Branch both admitted they were not 100 percent on Sunday — “To be honest, everybody in this locker room is hurting some,” Branch said — but they were still a handful for the Chicago defensive secondary. Hackett, in fact, had career highs for receptions and yards, along with his second straight 100-yard receiving game.
“(Hackett) is our starting split end right now and he’s making plays,” Hasselbeck said. “And if you make plays, you’re going to continue to get the ball.”
Seattle’s depth of receiving talent is an obvious dilemma for opposing defenses. Particularly when the Seahawks put all four veteran receivers on the field at once, as they did often on Sunday.
“When we’ve got four receivers out there, it’s just trouble,” Hackett said. “Who are you going to cover? … Deion’s still not all the way back, but when we get him fully way back that’s a deep corps we got. We’re deep, so (opposing teams) just have to pick and choose.”
“We have a ton of talent,” Burleson agreed. “With as many threats as we have, we can make it very difficult for any team to guard us. It’s going to be hard for teams to watch film and really come up with a game plan for how to stop us.”
The irony, Burleson added, is that “we can still do so much more. It seems like each week we’re getting better. I don’t see a ceiling right now, and I’m not just talking about the receiving corps. I’m talking about the offense. There’s no reason why we can’t have a couple of hundred-yard receivers, a hundred-plus yard rusher, and Matt throwing for three, four or five touchdowns. We have that type of team, that type of talent.
“I think the sky’s the limit for us,” he said. “We have the ability to control any game in any manner we want to.”
Most football coaches, Holmgren included, would prefer more balance between running and passing. Plenty of coaches, in fact, would tip the scales in favor of a strong, steady and clock-consuming ground game.
But, as Engram pointed out, “right now we’re passing the ball very well. We can use the pass to set up the run easily in this offense. So I just think you ride your strength and right now that’s what we’re doing.”