Holmgren, Martz share personalities with offenses
By CLARE FARNSWORTH
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

KIRKLAND -- Mike Holmgren and Mike Martz have been to the passing game what Rowan and Martin were to comedy.

The offensive-minded head coaches of the Seahawks and St. Louis Rams have borrowed from others, thrown in some innovations and come up with schemes that, well, others have borrowed and tweaked.

That's where the similarities exit stage right, however, as will be apparent tomorrow at Qwest Field when the Seahawks play the Rams for a third time this season, in a wild-card playoff game.

Each team relies on rhythm and timing, not to mention the accuracy of quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Marc Bulger. But the Rams use more seven-step drops by Bulger, and also keep extra bodies in on pass protection, to allow receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt to develop their routes farther down field. The Seahawks feature shorter drops by Hasselbeck, more receivers to spread the field and quicker throws.

Which works best?

That's like asking if you prefer mad or methodical; blondes or the brunettes; Rossi or Gregoire.

"It's totally different," said Trent Dilfer, the Seahawks' backup QB. "They are much more vertically focused in the passing game. They're not trying to move the chains by throwing the ball. They're trying to get chunks of yardage. We tend to move the chains with our passing game."

"It comes down to what you like."

The play-callers behind these diverse approaches could be forced into incompletions while trying to adhere to their pass-first philosophies tomorrow, for two very different reasons.

First, the forecast is calling for snow -- at a stadium where it has not rained for a game in three seasons.

Also, neither of these defenses has had much success stopping the run.

The Rams have been trampled for 150- and 176-yard rushing efforts by Shaun Alexander this season, and gave up 153 yards to the Jets' Curtis Martin last week -- the eighth time a back has gone for at least 100 yards against the Rams. Not surprisingly, they rank 29th in rushing defense, allowing an average of 136.2 yards per game. Even worse, they are allowing 4.5 yards per carry, which ties for second highest in the league.

The Seahawks have been only marginally better, allowing an average of 126.9 rushing yards to rank 23rd, and they also are allowing 4.5 yards per carry. They have yielded 17 rushing touchdowns, second most among the 12 teams in the playoffs. The Falcons' Warrick Dunn ran for 132 yards last week, the seventh 100-yard rushing performance against the Seahawks this season.

The combination of weather and weathered run defenses could alter the game plans, but if Holmgren and Martz have their druthers, the air space over Qwest Field will be filled with pigskin as well as snow flakes.

Here's why:

--The Rams -- Martz didn't get the nickname "Mad Mike" for being philosophically conservative, and his Super Bowl team in 2001 wasn't dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf" for its run blocking.

These Rams aren't those Rams, but Martz still wants Bulger winging it. In the past two weeks, since his return from missing almost three games with a sprained shoulder, Bulger has completed 74 percent of his passes (49 of 66) for 635 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. The Rams needed every one of his 450 passing yards to outlast the Jets in overtime last week and earn a playoff berth.

The teams that have been successful at disrupting the Rams' passing game have gotten pressure on Bulger, if not sacks. It's not easy, because tight end Brandon Manumaleuna weighs 288 pounds, fullback Joey Goodspeed checks in at 247, and they're used primarily as extra bodyguards for Bulger.

Or as Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown puts it, "The tight end is a sixth offensive lineman and the fullback is as big as a tight end. So the guy that draws single blocking has to get there."

The rest of the equation is playing man-to-man coverage on Bruce and Holt, as well as Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald in the three- and four-receiver sets, to provide an extra defender or two to blitz Bulger.

Even that can be hazardous, especially when you've blitzed as ineffectively as the Seahawks this season.

"We haven't missed a blitz pickup between myself and the receivers all year," Bulger said. "We practice it a lot. I think I missed so many last year that I used them all up for my career."

--The Seahawks -- The idea behind Holmgren's hybrid of the West Coast offense is a simple one: It's much easier to complete a 6-yard pass than it is to break a 6-yard run.

The all-important back half of that is running after the catch to turn short completions into longer gains.

When Hasselbeck is in a groove, the passing game is precise and efficient. Down the stretch, Hasselbeck compiled a 110.9 passer rating and completed 72 percent of his passes to earn NFC offensive player of the month for December. In four games, Hasselbeck spread the ball to 10 different receivers and the longest pass play was a 37-yarder.

Since Hasselbeck takes shorter drops and gets rid of the ball more quickly, the attack point in piercing the precision of the passing game is to be physical with the receivers off the line and not allow them a free path to the ball.

Those quick passes also help set up the running game that features Alexander, the NFC rushing champion, who in turn helps create opportunity in the passing game.

"They are very consistent," Martz said of the Seahawks' offense. "The one thing they have always done, Mike has always run the ball so well and had the big-play opportunities in the passing game."

Just like Rowan and Martin could get you to laugh with slapstick or their biting wit.