Tonight, the Seahawks take on Minnesota in preseason game No. 3, also known as the most important of the games that don’t count.
But while this, like all preseason games, has no meaning when it comes to the end result, there are a few things Seattle would like to accomplish in the games that most teams treat as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The starters are expected to play into the second half tonight, then will play limited minutes in the final exhibition game, meaning tonight will provide a last glimpse at what the Seahawks might look like when the games start to matter next month.
So when they take the field against the Vikings tonight, here are the three most important things the Seahawks can accomplish in a game that doesn’t count.
1. Keep Matt Hasselbeck safe. Hasselbeck, a 34-year-old quarterback who has battled injuries the past two seasons, is the team’s most indispensible player. However, the Seahawks are down to their third option at left tackle, Mansfield Wrotto, because of injuries to Russell Okung and Ray Willis. And the Vikings led the NFL in sacks last season with 48, including 14.5 by All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen.
Now factor in that this is the one preseason game in which a starting quarterback usually plays into the third quarter and you’ve got a perfect storm brewing.
“Matt’s going to play into the second half,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said “That’s what the plan is. That’s what we have to do this week. Everybody is getting ready to play three quarters of football.”
Now Carroll says he wants to stick to that plan, but that doesn’t mean the Seahawks won’t take actions to minimize Hasselbeck’s chances of taking a hit. For starters, the Seahawks will likely keep a tight end on the line to give Hasselbeck an extra blocker. Also, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates will surely call plays that allow Hasselbeck to get rid of the ball quickly. Still, should Hasselbeck take a few shots early, Carroll may decide he has to change his plans and get Charlie Whitehurst in the game sooner.
2. Show signs of improvement on defense. The Seahawks made a number of changes to a defense that ranked 24th in total defense and 25th in points allowed last season. The defensive line has been overhauled, and a rookie, Earl Thomas, and a 36-year-old, Lawyer Milloy, have taken over as the starting safeties.
Yet in the first two preseason games, the starting defense has yielded yards and points much like it did last season. In the first game, Tennessee marched down the field on a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to on its first possession. The defense played better the rest of that game, but against Green Bay, the starting defense allowed 17 points and 264 yards of offense in the first half, and some of that was against the Packers’ second-string offense.
The good news for Seattle is that it will get middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu back. The Pro Bowler sat out the first two preseason games with a hamstring injury, and as much as he does on his own, his impact on teammates is a bigger reason why the defense should get better with him in the game. After missing 11 games last season, and the first two of the preseason, Tatupu is eager to take the field tonight.
“I just want to play some football,” Tatupu said. “We’ve been game-planning all week, but as soon as that day comes, it’s time to play ball, strap on the pads and go hit somebody. That’s what I’m looking for, because I haven’t had that for quite a while.”
3. Establish a run game. First of all, getting the run game going will help with goal No. 1. The less the Seahawks are forced into obvious passing situations, the better the chances of keeping Hasselbeck upright.
Second, for the Seahawks to have any long-term success, they will have to run the ball better than they have in the first two games. In two preseason games, the Seahawks are averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and the two players who have started those games, Julius Jones and Justin Forsett, have averaged just 2.7 and 2.5 yards per carry, respectively.
Leon Washington, who made his Seahawks debut last week, will get the start tonight. That shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that he is the leading candidate to start, but rather that Carroll wants to get a look at each back with the No. 1 offense. The race is wide open, however.
“I want to get him out there and give him a chance to start, because we’ve done it with Julius and with Justin,” Carroll said. “Let him have a game that he knows he’s going to be the starter, and the rest of the rotation, I don’t have that nailed for you yet, but of all the guys are going to play again. They’ve all been working hard at it.”
Should the Seahawks accomplish these three things, win or lose, the trip to Minnesota will be at least somewhat of a success. Fail in any, particularly No. 1, and the Seahawks will have plenty to worry about come September.