Seahawks Week: Seattle's passing attack dinged, but dangerous

Welcome to "Seahawks Week", Rumblers!  In an effort to learn all that we can about the Buffalo Bills' season opening opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, we'll be joined once per day by John Morgan of Field Gulls throughout this week.  John is a superbly knowledgeable blogger when it comes to the X's and O's of the game, and he'll give us some excellent perspective on the Seahawks as a team heading into Sunday's tilt.  To see all posts related to Seahawks Week, click here.

Despite the lack of a consistent running game in 2007, the Seattle Seahawks - even without what can be considered a "legitimate" top-flight wide receiver - boasted one of the NFL's most consistent and diverse passing attacks.  Now, however, their receiving corps is banged up, with both starters (Bobby Engram and Deion Branch) set to miss the season opener against our beloved Buffalo Bills.

In their stead, Nate Burleson and Courtney Taylor will start at receiver, catching passes from the banged up Matt Hasselbeck, who has dealt with back issues this pre-season.  Should the Bills be worried?  Let's hear John Morgan out before we make any decisions...

Buffalo Rumblings: What's the status on Deion Branch?  How soon is he expected to be back in the lineup for good?  We're aware that Nate Burleson's role increases due to Bobby Engram's injury; who fills in for Branch in the short term?

John Morgan, Field Gulls: After spending the preseason on the PUP list, Branch enters the season on the 53. Against Buffalo, he won't contribute. From there it's hard to know when he'll be ready, but one must assume sometime before Week 6. Nate Burleson's role doesn't really increase because of Bobby Engram's injury, as the two couldn't be much more different receivers within the same system. In fact, despite it being repeated into the ground, I'm not sure Burleson's role has increased at all. If it has, it will be because he has developed as a receiver. Burleson was already the starting split end for most of the 2007 season. His problem wasn't snaps. His problem was consistently running the right routes and getting open. The talent and skill set are there for Burleson to eventually break out, but I don't think Seattle is anticipating running their offense through him.

Instead, second year man out of Auburn and new starting flanker, Courtney Taylor, plus a balanced distribution between the tight ends, running backs and slot receivers should power Seattle's passing offense. That's not too far from the formula that powered 2007's ninth ranked passing offense in the NFL. But, where that unit had ciphers at starting running back and right guard, Seattle enters 2008 with not just upgrades, but strengths at both positions. While no one skill position player will ever take over a game, excellent pass blocking, plus five legitimate receiving threats on every play should again power a top ten passing offense.

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My take?  I'm not completely convinced.  Matt Hasselbeck is an excellent quarterback and Mike Holmgren's offensive scheme is superb, and as John alludes to, it really takes the pressure off of one receiver to carry the load week in and week out.  The fact that the Seahawks use their tight ends and running backs nearly as much as their receivers in the passing game gives them versatility and flexibility offensively, and you can bet that it will leave Buffalo's defense a bit off-balance at points on Sunday.  Expect RB Maurice Morris and rookie TE John Carlson to be involved as well.

But there is a limit to what Seattle can do on Sunday, at least compared to what they normally do.  A system can only take you so far, and Burleson is the only player that can be considered close to an explosive threat (he's a dynamic return man and can score just about any time he touches the ball).  Seattle won't exactly dink and dunk, but they'll use their receivers as chain-movers, and they'll attack the edges of Buffalo's defense with the run, with screen passes, and with quick throws.  The Bills' defense will be running around a lot on Sunday.  But I still believe that if the Bills tackle well and avoid long runs after the catch, they can keep Seattle's still-potent passing attack in check.

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