Week 17 Preview: Tennessee at Seattle

“I want them to go out and play with passion and energy and execute.”

Could those words, spoken by head coach Jim Mora Jr. at Wednesday’s press conference, be the wake up call, the thing that starts the next decade of Seahawks football on the right foot?

Last weekend the Seahawks (5-10) didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, they mutilated themselves.  Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was sacked three times and tossed four interceptions to Green Bay defenders.  Penalty flags were thrown eight times on Seattle, killing offensive possessions for the Seahawks and breathing life in to stalled ones for Green Bay.  The end result?  A 48-10 loss at Lambeau Field.

That passion, energy and execution that Coach Mora Jr. talked about Wednesday will either give the Seahawks a win at home in their final game of the season and their first one of the new decade or a lack of the three could put Seattle into the record books Sunday for all the wrong reasons.

Seattle’s opponent this weekend is the electric Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans (7-8).

The running back has his eyes on two league records and if Seattle lets those goals become a reality, the Seahawks will forever be associated as being the team that failed at being the last line of defense standing between the second-year player out of East Carolina and the most rushing yards and most total offensive yards earned in a single season.

Johnson needs 234 rushing yards to break Eric Dickerson’s total for yards on the ground (2,105) and 74 yards to better Marshall Faulk’s mark for total offensive yards gained (2,429).

“He’s a real patient runner,” said Coach Mora Jr. Wednesday.  “He sets himself up real well by getting players to over commit and then using his speed to capitalize on guys getting out of their gap.”

Johnson’s shiftiness and speed have turned rushes that seemed would only go for a few yards here and there in to game-changing 80- and 90-plus-yard touchdowns.

“If he gets space, he typically makes people pay,” said Coach Mora Jr. Wednesday.

The key to limit Johnson for Seattle is to eliminate the initial running lane.  Making Johnson turn a rush up the middle into one where he has to side step and bounce outside will provide Seahawks defenders a second or two more time of having Johnson in the backfield, thus a second or two more for the team to get as many players to the ball and its carrier as possible before Johnson gets to the second level and finds the space he so very much covets.  Being able to execute this strategy could be more difficult than normal for Seattle because starting linebacker Aaron Curry is doubtful for Sunday’s game with shoulder and hip injuries.

Johnson’s ability as Tennessee’s feature back isn’t the only thing that Seattle needs to focus on when game-planning ways to shut him down.

“He’s also their leading receiver,” said Coach Mora Jr. Wednesday.

Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher loves to get Johnson the ball any way possible and that means having quarterback Vince Young throw Johnson screens out of the backfield and designed checkdowns over the middle of the field.

For Seattle, the team will look to continue their own recent rushing success.

Justin Forsett comes into Week 17 averaging 5.55 yards per rush over the past two weeks.  The Seahawks will let the second-year back out of California handle the bulk of the carries this weekend because veteran Julius Jones is questionable with injuries to his ribs and an ankle.

If Forsett is to build on his recent accomplishments, he’ll need the offensive line to hold up.

Coach Mora Jr. credited the line at Wednesday’s press conference for achieving some continuity of late and understanding what needs to be executed in order for the ground game to flourish.

To keep the Titans’ defense honest and prevent them from stacking the box against the run, the Seahawks’ passing game will need to carry its weight, something it hasn’t done over the past two weeks.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has thrown eight interceptions in that time span compared to just two touchdowns.

When asked Wednesday if his quarterback had been pressing and trying to force things, Coach Mora Jr. downplayed the notion.

“Matt’s a great competitor and, being the quarterback, you bear the burden. 

“You know, you have the ball in your hands every play.  You know, you’re expected to do something with it and I think just knowing Matt and the way he is and how serious he is about this thing — at times, certainly he’s going to try and make a throw.  It’s confidence.  It doesn’t always work out and when you’re the quarterback it’s magnified.”

Hasselbeck faces a Titans defense this weekend that gave up 425 yards last week at San Diego, 264 of those yards came through the air.

Kickoff at Qwest Field is scheduled for 4:15pm Eastern.

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