[Seahawks] Locked on Sports: Seahawks secondary must step up vs. Rams
By DAVID LOCKE
SPECIAL TO THE POST-INTELLIGENCER
The Seahawks' secondary had better be ready to soar Saturday.
The Rams will come in ready to torch the Seahawks again. In two games this year, Seattle has found no answer for coach Mike Martz's St. Louis passing game.
This time, someone had better make plays. We are going to find out if Marcus Trufant, Ken Lucas, Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware are ready for the spotlight.
The Rams' offense finished the regular season third in the NFC in yards per game and third in passing yards per game, and that's despite Chris Chandler playing in place of Bulger for two weeks.
Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce caught 94 and 89 balls this year, respectively, placing them both in the top five of the NFC.
Bruce and Holt run the best deep in-routes in the NFL. Unlike the traditional in-route, they run a speed-cut, which allows them to get deeper into the secondary.
Furthermore, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald, both of whom ripped the Seahawks' secondary in the fourth-quarter collapse of October, complement Bruce and Holt.
According to Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, there is a blueprint to slow down the Rams.
"Teams that have done well against them are teams that have been able to get to the passer," he said. "If you can't get to the QB, it is tough.
"If we could get home with a (four-man rush), that would be ideal. But the Rams use a lot of seven-man blocking schemes. It is a huge challenge for our secondary. They send out Bruce and Holt and let them go."
Therein lies the problem for Seattle. There is no chance the Seahawks will be able to get to Bulger with a four-man rush. With Chad Brown playing on fumes and Grant Wistrom doubtful for the game, the Seahawks' pass rush will be absent.
So it all falls on the young secondary.
The Seahawks have invested heavily in the secondary. Trufant is a first-round pick, and the others are second-round picks.
They must make plays, because there is nothing left for Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes to do scheme-wise against the Rams.
When he sat back and did not blitz in their earlier meetings, the Rams torched the Seahawks. When he blitzed, they made him pay.
In the fourth-quarter collapse, when the Rams trailed by 17 with 8:42 left but rallied to tie the score, the Seahawks did not blitz on 12 pass plays. In their second matchup, the Rams opened with six consecutive passes on their way to a 71-yard touchdown drive. Again, the Seahawks did not blitz.
But the dilemma of whether to blitz is tough, because the Seahawks are a bad blitzing team. When they do blitz, it exposes the secondary.
The best two examples of this came against the Rams. In overtime of the first meeting, the Seahawks blitzed, only to be beat by a Holt slant route for 13 yards.
The Rams' game-winning play also came on a blitz. The Seahawks sent seven rushers after Bulger. The Rams had only six blockers. But cornerback Bobby Taylor took a bad route to Bulger, and the quarterback found McDonald for a game-winning, 52-yard touchdown.
It all comes down to making plays. It would be nice to believe that someone on the defensive front will make them, but that isn't going to happen.
It is up to Trufant, Lucas, Hamlin and Boulware to make a statement.
It is worth noting that Boulware, a converted linebacker from Florida State, is new to the starting lineup since the last meeting with the Rams.
"He has made a difference. For a young player he has great ball skills. He is just a special kid," Holmgren said. "If I were to end my coaching right now, coaching him for this one year would be something I would remember. He is a very special kid. He is a bright star."
Boulware has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. His interception won the Miami game.
On the other hand, Hamlin, despite all his highlight plays, has a propensity for being out of position. That was the case on Bulger's 41-yard touchdown to Curtis to bring the Rams within three points Oct. 10. Mistakes like that Saturday will end the Seahawks' season.
Saturday, Trufant and Lucas must show a lock-down part of their game that has been absent. They will need to be physical with Holt and Bruce.
A 5-yard illegal contact penalty or two may have some value.
A message hit on Holt could disrupt his flow. Bruce traditionally slides away from contact in the middle of the field.
Saturday's game will be the secondary's biggest challenge. Matched up at the line of scrimmage with no cushion. Face to face with one of the best receivers in the NFL, without help, as blitzing players try to reach Bulger.
Those are the plays you have to make to win NFL playoff games.
David Locke hosts "Locked on Sports" from 7-10 p.m. weeknights on Sports Radio 950 KJR-AM. His column appears Wednesdays in the P-I. You can e-mail him at Davidlocke@clearchannel.com.