NFC West: Russell Okung

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 

A Seattle blueprint worth following

February, 10, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the week-plus following the Seattle Seahawks' victory in the Super Bowl, there has been much discussion about a paradigm shift. The idea is that building a dominant defense to pair with a power running game and doing it mostly through the draft is the way to go rather than continuing to add weapons to build a dynamic aerial attack in the so-called "passing league."

Probably too much has been made of that considering that following Seattle's blueprint to perfection is a lot easier said than done. Draft and develop is the right idea but it's far more difficult in execution than elocution.

[+] EnlargeEarl Thomas
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams have a chance to draft someone like safety Earl Thomas with their two first-round picks this year.
In many ways, the Rams have followed a similar path to Seattle in their rebuilding, investing heavily in the defensive line and the defense as a whole. The NFC West division is built on a foundation of defense and the Rams have put resources into keeping up with Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco in that regard.

That isn't to say the Rams are trying to duplicate exactly what Seattle has done. Not that it's the wrong path to follow but with two picks in the top half of the 2014 NFL draft, there's one blueprint absolutely worth following for the Rams: doing everything possible to come up with a facsimile of Seattle's 2010 first-round haul.

For all the talk of what a find quarterback Russell Wilson was or what a steal the trade for Marshawn Lynch became, Seattle's path to the championship was largely set in motion by a pair of home run selections in the first round of the 2010 draft.

That year, the Seahawks had pick Nos. 6 and 14 and had needs at offensive tackle and free safety, among other spots. They had the additional pick from a trade the season before in which they fleeced Denver out of a future first-round pick in exchange for a second-round choice which became cornerback Alphonso Smith.

Seattle had a pair of fastballs right down the middle and hit them both of the park, selecting tackle Russell Okung at No. 6 and safety Earl Thomas at No. 14.

Okung has battled injuries but when healthy is one of the elite tackles in the game. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2012.

Thomas is the heart and soul of the "Legion of Boom" and has established himself as one of the game's elite players regardless of position. He has earned three Pro Bowl trips and been named first-team All Pro three consecutive years.

Coincidentally, of the Rams' needs heading into this year's draft, a big, physical offensive tackle and a rangy free safety rank pretty high in the pecking order. Although the sample size is too small to make sweeping declarations, the Rams did well with two first-round picks last year when they grabbed receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree.

General manager Les Snead is well aware of just how much having two first-round picks can alter a team's future.

"I even have a little chart hanging on my grease board that basically has every team that had 2 picks in the first round in the history of the draft and who they drafted," Snead said. "So basically what you're telling me is we've got to pick Hall of Fame players. We'd better prepare as thoroughly as possible."

Seattle landing Okung and Thomas is just one example of a franchise-altering first round. Perhaps the most famous two-pack of picks in league history is the 1996 NFL draft when Baltimore used the fourth pick on tackle Jonathan Ogden and the 26th selection on linebacker Ray Lewis. Ogden is already in the Hall of Fame and Lewis will join him soon after he becomes eligible.

Of course, Rams fans with a good memory might still have nightmares about that same draft. Armed with picks 6 and 18, the Rams took running back Lawrence Phillips and receiver Eddie Kennison. Those two whiffs certainly did nothing to help the Rams get back to respectability, especially considering they could have potentially had Eddie George and Marvin Harrison instead.

At first glance, this year's tackle class appears to have some elite talent with players like Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews. It remains to be seen whether any of the top safeties would merit a pick in the range of the Rams' 13th pick or if the Rams would even select one in the first round. Other positions will obviously be under consideration as well.

Expecting to land a pair of Hall of Famers like Ogden and Lewis is probably asking too much. But there's no doubt the Rams could do a lot worse than adding a duo like Okung and Thomas to fill positions of need.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- He is the X factor, the unknown addition who everyone knows.

Seattle Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin will play in Super Bowl XLVIII. If this was your company softball team playing for the league title, you’d be adding a ringer moments before the first pitch.

It is one of the most unusual situations ever, adding a Pro Bowl-caliber player who only played in six quarters all season, for the biggest event in sports.

[+] EnlargePercy Harvin
AP Photo/John FroschauerSeattle is excited to have Percy Harvin healthy and in the lineup for the Super Bowl.
In the view of some fans, Harvin was supposed to be the final piece to get the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. They accomplished that without him, but can he help them win it now that he’s back?

“It’s not about me,” Harvin said. “I’m just adding another playmaker. We already have three or four good receivers out there. I’m just adding to the mix.”

The mix now has a player who might be the fastest man in the NFL. Speed is a dangerous thing when you add in all the other skills Harvin possesses -- a precise route-runner, elusive ball carrier and explosive kick returner.

“His acceleration is unbelievable,” Seattle tight end Zach Miller said. “He’s a playmaker. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he is so explosive and so fast. He’s definitely a threat to score every time he touches the ball.”

Harvin has started almost every interview this week with this statement: “I’m just glad to be here.”

Obviously, but considering what he has endured this season, it’s a little like leaving a prison cell for a penthouse suite on Park Avenue.

He signed a six-year, $67 million deal with the Seahawks last March and was widely viewed as the offensive weapon that would propel the Seahawks to the next level. But Harvin had major hip surgery on Aug. 1 to repair a torn labrum.

He returned Nov. 17 for the game against his former Minnesota Vikings teammates, showing his talent with a 58-yard kickoff return and a spectacular one-handed catch on a third-down play that kept a scoring drive alive.

Maybe it was too much too soon. Harvin aggravated his hip injury, which became inflamed afterward. He missed the rest of the regular season. Seattle coach Pete Carroll was about to put Harvin on injured reserve before the playoffs started, but Harvin convinced Carroll he could play.

Harvin caught three passes in the New Orleans playoff game, but suffered a concussion at the end of the first half. He didn't make it through the mandatory concussion protocol in time to play in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco.

“It’s been weird, frustrating, disappointing, all the above, man,” Harvin said. “I had a tough time, and it wore on me a little bit. But my teammates have been A-plus-plus. This whole organization has been top of the line.”

Harvin said one teammate helped him more than any other.

“A couple times I was really down," Harvin said. “But [cornerback] Richard Sherman, I don’t know how he even read me, but he came up and said, ‘Man, I kind of see you’re really down. You’ll get through this. We have your back.’ I’m so grateful for that.”

Now Harvin is back for the biggest game of his life. And he’s smiling, something he hasn't done much of this season. He was grinning from ear-to-ear at every media session. Something has changed beyond the obvious. Harvin is healthy, finally, and he knows he has a chance to show what he can do on the NFL's biggest stage.

“You can really see it in his eyes,” Seattle offensive tackle Russell Okung said. “You know that anytime Percy gets the ball, he’s looking to run by a guy and score. Anytime you have a guy like that, he’s hard to beat. He has a zeal for the game. I can’t wait to have him out there. It’s almost something magical.”
RENTON, Wash. – Seattle Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin will not practice this week, coach Pete Carroll said Monday afternoon. That virtually rules out any chance of Harvin playing in the season finale against St. Louis Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

Harvin
Carroll also said Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung will be a game-time decision this weekend. Carroll is hopeful Okung will play.

Okung left Sunday's loss against Arizona in the fourth quarter because of soreness in his big toe, the same toe that caused Okung to miss eight games this season because of ligament damage. Rookie Alvin Bailey replaced Okung for a few plays before Okung returned to the game.

Right guard J.R. Sweezy is expected to return after missing the Arizona game because of a concussion.

Power Rankings: No. 2 Seattle Seahawks

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
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A weekly examination of the Seahawks' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 1 | Last Week: 3 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Back-to-back convincing victories have enabled the Seahawks to move up each of the last two weeks in the Power Rankings, from fourth to third last week and third to second this week behind Denver.

Seattle is 10-1 heading to its bye week after winning the last two games by a combined score of 74-31, including the 41-20 victory over Minnesota on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

The Seahawks are in the unusual situation of heading into the last five games of the season almost fully healthy. Offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini returned Sunday after being out for two months, and receiver Percy Harvin got everyone's attention in his debut game as a Seahawk with a 58-yard kickoff return that gave fans a glimpse of his explosiveness.

The only major injury for Seattle right now is starting cornerback Brandon Browner with a severe groin pull. However, it looks as if Browner might be able to return for the playoffs, or possibly even the end of the regular season.

And the secondary may be the deepest area of the team. Walter Thurmond, who started for Browner on Sunday, had a 29-yard pick-six in the second half.

Harvin leads list of returning Seahawks

November, 15, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- Percy Harvin won’t be the only Seattle Seahawks player returning to the field Sunday after a long layoff.

Okung
Harvin
Starting offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini also are expected to play against the Vikings. Giacomini hasn’t played since Week 3, and Okung has been out since the second game of the season.

The Seahawks will have to make a roster move Saturday to activate Okung off injured reserve. That move could include placing cornerback Brandon Browner on IR, which would end his season. Browner has a groin injury, which coach Pete Carroll called “severe” this week.

But most of the news this week for the Seahawks is good, starting with Harvin’s likely 2013 debut Sunday against his former teammates.

“I definitely think I’m ready to play,” Harvin said Friday after practice. “I still have a lot of work to do, but it was great to be out there with my teammates running plays and going to the huddle. Hopefully everything goes well [Saturday] and I can look forward to the game.”

Harvin officially is listed as probable, and coach Pete Carroll said they will see make a final decision before the game.

“He came through the week very well,” Carroll said. “He did everything we asked him to do.”

So how much will he play Sunday?

“You’ll just have to wait and find out," Carroll said.

Carroll also said Harvin was asking him if he could return kickoffs Sunday, but Carroll said early in the week he thought that was too much for his first game back. When asked about it again, Carroll smiled and said: “I’m standing by what I said.”

The Seahawks had 14 players listed as probable on Friday’s injury report, including defensive linemen Red Bryant and center Max Unger. They both missed the Atlanta game with concussions, but both players practiced all week and Carroll said they are ready to go.

Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Carroll called McDaniel a game-time decision.

Back-up cornerback Jeremy Lane, who did not practice Thursday because on a thigh injury, is listed as probable, and Carroll said Lane is fine. Lane’s availability is a big deal for two reasons.

The Seahawks need the depth at cornerback with Browner out (Walter Thurmond will start for Browner), and Lane is one of the best in the league as a gunner on punt coverage. Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels leads the NFL with a 16.3-yard average on punt returns.
RENTON, Wash. – Seattle Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin was a full participant in practice Thursday for the first time since his hip surgery in August, increasing the likelihood that he will play Sunday against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Harvin
Harvin did not speak to reporters Thursday, but he is expected to talk Friday. If he plays Sunday, it would be his first appearance in an NFL game since Nov. 4, 2012, when, coincidentally, the Vikings played at Seattle.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said he doesn’t anticipate much of an adjustment period once Harvin joins the offense.

“I feel so comfortable with Percy,” Wilson said Thursday. “I threw a ton with him this offseason before the injury really popped up, so it was one of those things where we had a really good relationship before. I trust what he does.”

Wilson believes Harvin can make an immediate difference for the Seahawks.

"He’s in and out of his breaks really quickly,” Wilson said. “He’s just a great football player. You want to give him the ball as much as you can. On our offense, we have so many guys that we can use. You add Percy into the mix and he brings a whole other explosive mentality to our football team.”

Cornerback Richard Sherman returned to full participation Thursday after missing practice Wednesday with what was listed as a hip injury. Sherman said he really just needed a day to rest.

Offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and center Max Unger also were full participants in practice, as was defensive tackle Red Bryant. Unger and Bryant missed last week's game with concussions. The Seahawks will need to make a roster move by Saturday to activate Okung.

Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (hamstring) and cornerback Jeremy Lane (thigh) did not practice. Cornerback Brandon Browner has a groin injury and will not play Sunday, but the Seahawks have not said how long Browner will be out.

Late bye week works for Seattle

November, 8, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- Is better to have your bye week early in the season or late, as is the case for the Seahawks?

The Seattle Seahawks have two games to go, Sunday at Atlanta and next weekend at home against Minnesota, before a 15-day break after 11th game of the season.

Sherman
“The late bye is something that can be super beneficial," said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. “It’s a long season. If you get the early bye, you have no light at the end of the tunnel for your body to rest.

“So I think it works as the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of players. It gives them the chance to rest. Getting to Week 12 is a lot of weeks on your body, so I think it’s going to come right on time.”

It also comes at a time when the Seahawks will have some key players returning, including both of the starting offensive tackles. Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and right tackle Breno Giacomini both might play against Minnesota next weekend.

If they do, they have another two-week break before the big Monday game against New Orleans at CenturyLink Field. That also could be the game receiver Percy Harvin finally gets on the field, if not the Minnesota game before the break.

So the Seahawks couldn't ask for a better scenario headed into the important matchup with the Saints, having two weeks to prepare for a game that could decide home-field advantage in the NFC.
RENTON, Wash -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the team still has a ways to go before either of its starting offensive tackles can return to the playing field.

Carroll remains hopeful Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, who has a torn ligament in a big toe, can return the first week he's eligible to come off injured reserve -- the Minnesota Vikings game in Seattle on Nov. 17.

Giacomini
Okung
“We're real encouraged he will make it back then,” Carroll said Tuesday. “Russell has a process of four more weeks he has to get through. He has two weeks to go and then he will have a chance to practice with us.

“After that, which is four weeks from now, he'll have a change to return. He's doing really well with all the rehab stuff he needs to do. We'll be happy to get him back wherever we can get him.”

Carroll said he's is uncertain of when right tackle Breno Giacomini, who had arthroscopic knee surgery on Sept. 30, might return.

“Breno is in the process of recovering, too, but we don't have a real clear timeline on that one,” Carroll said. “We had hoped he would make it back a little sooner than it looks like right now. He's a big man and it's taking him some time to get right.”

“It's going to take him a couple of weeks after we get him back on the practice field to get back [in a game], but he's not ready [to practice] yet.”

Giacomini had fluid drained from his knee last week.

Coleman's injured more serious than first thought: Michael Robinson, who was re-signed on Tuesday after being released at the end of the preseason, will be the only fullback healthy for now.

Derrick Coleman, who was the starter a fullback, suffered a hamstring injury in the Arizona game last week and will be out indefinitely.

“We don't know how long it's going to take,” Carroll said. “It could be anywhere from four to six weeks, although he thinks he's going to get back way sooner than that. He's had some history of really quick healing and we're going to see if he can pull it off again.”

But Carroll is confident Robinson, the team's starting fullback for three seasons, can get the job done.

“It's a chance to have continuity right off the bat,” Carroll said. “Fortunately, we were able to get a guy back that we really think a lot of and a guy who has done a lot of great things for us.”

Tate's shoulder still hurting: Carroll said receiver Golden Tate was unable to get through the full practice Tuesday because of problems with a shoulder injury from the Arizona game.

“It's his neck and shoulder where he got popped pretty good,” Carroll said. “He's a little sore. He started practicing and didn't finish [Tuesday]. We'll have to wait and see what that means.”

Wagner may practice Thursday: Carroll said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who has a high ankle sprain and has missed the past two games, is getting close to returning.

“We're going to wait and see on Thursday what he can do,” Carroll said of Wagner. “He's made great progress and has surprised the trainers. We won't know until we see him on the practice field.”
The Seattle Seahawks haven’t had an advantageous schedule in the first half of the season, but it’s about to get better. At the moment, things seem to be moving in Seattle’s favor with a lighter second-half schedule and key players returning to the field.

If the Seahawks win at St. Louis next Monday night, they will have gotten through the first eight games 7-1 on a stretch that included four road games over a 30-day span.

The game against the Rams will be Seattle’s fourth road game in the last five outings. The Seahawks will have played five road games in seven weeks after the trip to Atlanta on Nov. 3.

But there’s a bright side on the other end. The Seahawks play four of their last six games at CenturyLink Field, where Seattle has won 11 consecutive games.

That includes a bye week between the home games against Minnesota and New Orleans, perfect timing before the Monday night against the Saints that could decide home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Seattle’s last two games also are at home, Dec. 22 against Arizona and Dec. 29 against the Rams. As it stands now, the Seahawks have only two games in the last nine against teams with a winning record – back-to-back with the Saints on Dec. 2 and the 49ers at San Francisco on Dec. 8.

While the schedule starts working in Seattle’s favor, the team also should get its starting offensive tackles back from injury.

Right tackle Breno Giacomini, who had arthroscopic knee surgery on Sept. 30, could return in a couple of weeks. Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, who has a torn ligament in a big toe, could return for the Minnesota game on Nov. 17.

And receiver Percy Harvin, who had hip surgery Aug. 1, is expected to begin practicing this week. He wants to play at St. Louis, but it likely will be a few more weeks.

So it appears that things are playing into Seattle’s hands and look promising for the second half of the season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Richard ShermanUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesBackup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to face a stifling Seattle secondary and the league's best corner in Richard Sherman.
Sunday's game between the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks is a matchup between two winning teams coming off losses, and both are missing key players on offense.

Quarterback Jake Locker is out for the Titans. Both starting tackles -- Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini -- are out for Seattle. Tight end Zach Miller could also sit.

The Seahawks have a 10-game home winning streak on the line, hoping to rebound after their first defeat of the season, 34-28 to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Titans hope to get a stagnant running game going and find some consistency with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Paul, it looked like Fitzpatrick had a rough first outing for the Titans subbing for an injured Locker. Do you think Fitzpatrick will improve, and how difficult will it be for Tennessee to have success on offense while Locker is out?

Kuharsky: Fitzpatrick is certainly capable of playing better than he did in the loss to Kansas City, when he had three very bad quarters and one good one. I'm not sure what the Titans can do to help him if they are unable to run the ball. If they can bring some balance with Chris Johnson (and maybe Shonn Greene, who's still trying to get back after knee surgery), it could be a lot less difficult. Fitzpatrick hardly has Locker's excellent speed, but he scrambled around pretty well against the Chiefs. With Locker in the first four games, the Titans didn't turn the ball over and overcame their deficiencies running the ball. Without him, they need Fitzpatrick to imitate the mistake-free youngster. But Fitzpatrick is more of a gunslinger than Locker and is streakier, and that's probably too much to ask.

Terry, the Titans pledged to be a great running team. It hasn't really panned out that way. Last time Johnson was in Seattle, he had a 2,000-yard season. What's the run defense going to be like?

Blount: It's been all but impossible to run up the middle on the Seahawks. Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is as strong a run stopper as there is the NFL, and it takes two blockers to handle 325-pound Red Bryant. If that fails, it's tough to get past middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. But Wagner probably won't play Sunday because of a high ankle sprain. Nevertheless, it's difficult to establish a running game on the Seahawks. Seattle is an aggressive outside pass-rushing team, so occasionally a back can get yardage outside, but not often.

Paul, Locker told us on the conference call Wednesday what a disappointment it is that he won't get to play this weekend in front of family, friends and University of Washington alumni who love him for all he did to help turn around the Huskies football program. He is a beloved guy here and a huge hero in this community. How is he viewed in Nashville?

Kuharsky: Nothing close to that yet. People who have given him a chance know he's an eminently likable guy, a hard worker and a well-respected leader, but plenty of fans called talk radio over the offseason talking about why Fitzpatrick would be a better choice or how it should at least be a camp competition. Even after Week 2's overtime loss in Houston, when he overthrew a wide-open Kenny Britt on a crucial third-and-1 late in the game, there were calls for change. (It's a throw he's got to make.) The game-winning drive against San Diego showed people what he can do. Locker also had a fantastic two-plus quarters against the Jets, which seems to have done a lot to win more people over. In playing style and development arc, I think he is a lot like Steve McNair so far. If that holds true, impatient fans will wind up happy.

Terry, home field is viewed as such a giant advantage for the Seahawks. Can you give us a tangible feel for just how loud and crazy the atmosphere is there?

Blount: In the San Francisco game, where the outdoor stadium decibel record was set at 131.9, it was so loud that it was difficult at times to even hear people talk in the enclosed press box. I know every team believes its stadium is one of the loudest, and I've been to most of them, but trust me, there is nothing like CenturyLink Field. It's deafening.

Paul, cornerback Alterraun Verner is off to an outstanding start this season with four interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman is viewed by some as the best corner in the NFL, but is Verner the most underrated?

Kuharsky: He could have had another two picks last week on balls he didn't manage to haul in. Verner has been really good. The team wasn't sure what it had in him. The Titans knew they got a good football player out of UCLA three years ago. But as they revamped this offseason, with Gregg Williams joining the coaching staff and the Titans determined to get more aggressive, they figured a big increase in press-man coverage would move them away from Verner's strengths. They wanted Tommie Campbell, a faster and bigger guy to win the job. (Some wrote about how Campbell has some of what makes Sherman so good.) But Campbell didn't catch on and bombed in training camp, and Verner proved to be better. If Coty Sensabaugh hasn't recovered from his concussion for Sunday, Verner will start in base and move into the slot in nickel, with Campbell replacing him outside.

The Titans rush pretty well, and Verner is getting his hands on balls all over the field. Who has had the best success slowing Russell Wilson and how?

Blount: Even though Seattle came back and won the game, the Texans had the most success because of their talented defensive front and all-everything defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Both Houston and Indianapolis took advantage of Seattle missing starters on the offensive line and teed off on Wilson on third down. Nevertheless, Wilson is the best I've ever seen making the most of a bad situation and finding the opening the defense gives him. Anticipating when Wilson will roll out and cutting off his running lanes is the key, but it is far easier said than done.

RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was walking on crutches Wednesday and wearing a protective boot over his sprained left ankle.

“Bobby will see if he can make it back by game day,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “But it will go all the way to Sunday.”

If Wagner doesn’t play, K.J. Wright will move from his outside linebacker spot to Wagner’s middle linebacker spot. Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin would start at the outside spots.

Carroll is confident that Pro Bowl center Max Unger will return this weekend after missing the last two games with a triceps injury. Unger was a full participant at practice Wednesday,

“We’re counting on him coming back this week,” Carroll said. “We’re really hoping Max will secure the calls.”

The Seahawks were missing four starters up front in the 34-28 loss to Indianapolisn on Sunday: Unger, tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and tight end Zach Miller.

Okung and Giacomini still are out, and Miller (strained hamstring) will be a game-day decision, Carroll said. But Carroll believes Unger’s return is a big key to the backup players performing at a higher level.

“Max is one if your team leaders,” Carroll said. “He is the guy who has the greatest command of what we’re doing up front. He will help other guys play well and make the right choices. And he’ll help the quarterback [Russell Wilson], too, in identification.

“We missed that the last couple of weeks and it’s made a difference in our pass protection. There are some spacing issues that we don’t want. Max can get everybody on the right guys. The biggest issue has been the inconsistency on communication. We’ve had to suffer through that and it’s why Russell has had to run more.”

Carroll also was asked how wide receiver Percy Harvin looks since returning to the Seahawks facility after rehabbing in New York following his hip surgery Aug. 1.

“Percy has been working hard,” Carroll said. “He’s excited and he’s running and we’re hoping there are no setbacks along the way. We’ll keep progressing with it.”

Harvin is eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list for the game against the Arizona Cardinals next week, but Carroll does not see that happening.

“I don’t think that is realistic,” Carroll said. “I think that’s too soon, but it’ll happen when he’s ready to go and we get a chance to prepare him so he’s physically capable of being safe.

“He’s a full-on, full-speed football player. He’s got to be ready to go. When he comes back, we want him to be able to endure the rigors of the end of the season. It’s not important to rush him back. It’s important to wait it out and be patient and get him out there when he’s ready to go and withstand the load of the game.”

Defensive tackle Michael Bennett (quad) and cornerback Walter Thurmond (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Running back Marshawn Lynch also did not practice, but he is not injured.

Carroll also said that cornerback Jeremy Lane (hamstring) and running back Spencer Ware (ankle) will be game-day decisions this week.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 4

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
9:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 23-20 overtime victory over the Houston Texans:

A telling victory: It says a lot about a team's character when it does as many things wrong as Seattle did Sunday and still found a way to win. The Seahawks were down 20-3 at halftime and had given up 324 yards to the Texans, but completely turned things around in the fourth quarter to eventually win in overtime. "We showed we can prevail no matter what happens,” said defensive end Chris Clemons.

[+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderRichard Sherman's interception for a touchdown tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
Stats can be misleading: If you try to judge the Seahawks by what you read in the box score, you are making a big mistake. Seattle isn't 4-0 because it puts up better numbers than its opponents. The Seahawks are undefeated because they are at their best when things seem to be the worst. This team is all about making big plays in crucial situations. They thrive on it. And they are willing to take risks on plays that can shift the game in their favor and change the outcome: cornerback Richard Sherman jumping in front of a pass for a 58-yard pick-six, Golden Tate catching a punt at the goal line and returning it to the 31, quarterback Russell Wilson going for the extra yards running rather than sliding to avoid a hit, etc. Sometimes the risks come back to bite them, but most of the time they become big plays that give Seattle the edge.

The offensive line must improve: It's remarkable Seattle was able to come from behind and win Sunday on a day in which three offensive line starters were out with injuries. Wilson rarely had time to make throws downfield because the backups struggled against the talented defensive front for Houston. But the Seahawks cannot expect to keep winning when the offensive line plays as poorly as it did Sunday. Center Max Unger and right tackle Breno Giacomini might be back soon, which will help. Left tackle Russell Okung is out for a least another six weeks. Seattle will have to fight through this, which it did Sunday, and hope the line gets better. Rookie tackle Michael Bowie, who started for Giacomini on Sunday, has the physical skills to become a good player, but he needs more playing time. His first start came against one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL in J.J. Watt, so Bowie's performance is bound to improve if he starts again this weekend for Giacomini. The Seahawks are fortunate they have the most elusive quarterback in the league in Wilson, but he won't stay healthy if the line doesn't show progress.

Lynch hitting his stride: Running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 98 yards on 17 carries Sunday, including a Beast-Mode special in the first quarter Sunday when he broke at least six tackles on a 43-yard run from the Seattle 2 to the 45. The Seahawks need Lynch to keep it up and take some of the heat off Wilson and the offensive line in pass blocking. The more an opponent's defense has to focus on Lynch, the more pressure it takes off the line in pass blocking and the better Wilson is at making big throws downfield. As bad as the O-line is at times in pass protection, it can be pretty good overall in run blocking.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 23, Texans 20

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
4:41
PM ET

HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 23-20 overtime victory against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.

What it means: Even on a day when the Seahawks looked awful in many areas of the game, they still found a way to win, pulling off a stunning come-from-behind victory on the road. This game showed the Seahawks have some problem areas on the offensive line and can give up big yards on defense. But it was quarterback Russell Wilson's scrambling and running downfield that got Seattle back in the game in the fourth quarter. Then a Richard Sherman 58-yard interception return for a touchdown tied the game before a Steven Hauschka 45-yard field goal won it. This is the first time the Seahawks have ever won the first four games in a season.

Stock watch: An awful day for the Seattle offensive line, but no one should be surprised with three starters injured. Free safety Earl Thomas had an early interception off a tipped ball and Sherman tied it in the fourth quarter with the pick-six, but the Seahawks struggled on defense in the first half. It was a season-worst day for the defense early, but things changed in the second half and overtime when the Seahawks' defense looked like the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

First half woes: The Seahawks gave up 324 yards in the first half, including 226 yards passing. The Texans led 20-3 at the half after Houston receivers were wide open in the middle of the field against the highly acclaimed Seattle secondary. What happened?

Wilson a sitting duck all day: With three starters out on the offensive line, including Pro Bowlers Max Unger and Russell Okung, the backups up front were no match for defensive end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus and the other Houston pass-rushers. Wilson was sacked five times and under pressure on almost every pass play, yet still managed to bring the Seahawks back in the fourth quarter and lead the team to victory.

What’s next: The Seahawks travel to face the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. It will be the second consecutive 10 a.m. PT start time for the Seahawks and the third of five 10 a.m. starts this season.

Double Coverage: Seahawks at Texans

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
12:00
PM ET
Matt Schaub and Russell WilsonGetty ImagesMatt Schaub and Russell Wilson have combined to throw 12 touchdowns through Week 3.
When they saw each other at the Pro Bowl earlier this year, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt told Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson that if Watt had just stayed another year at Wisconsin, they might have won a national championship together.

“I wish I knew he was coming,” said Watt on Wednesday, who left Wisconsin after his junior year, just as Wilson arrived.

Sunday at Reliant Stadium, they might see a lot of each other. The matchup between the Texans and Seahawks will pit the league’s two best defenses against each other. But Wilson won’t be easy to contain for a Texans’ defense that gave up only 236 yards in last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are coming off such a dominating win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that Wilson didn’t need to finish the game.

Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a look at the matchup.

Ganguli: So Terry, what makes Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman special?

Blount: Preparation, enormous athleticism and confidence are what makes him special. I know many people outside of Seattle just see Sherman as a arrogant guy with a big mouth. That's a big mistake. Sherman is an extremely hard worker who spends hours studying film of every receiver he faces. Consequently, he rarely gets fooled on a play, and the few times when he does, he has the athletic ability to react quickly, overcome it and get back to the ball.

Tania, how do you think Andre Johnson will do against the talented Seattle secondary, and especially a head-to-head matchup with Sherman?

Ganguli: The Texans are considering Johnson day-to-day right now. He didn’t look right when he tried to play Sunday after suffering a shin bruise in Baltimore and ultimately recognized that it was better for him to leave and heal than play hindered by the injury. If they don’t have him, the Texans will look to rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a budding star who has shown talent from the moment he arrived in Houston, but also improved steadily as a rookie.

And speaking of young players, how has quarterback Wilson changed in his second year?

Blount: Wilson is willing to take a lot more chances on difficult throws now because he understands what his receivers are going to do and where they will be. In the Jacksonville game, he made what appeared to be a dangerous throw in the middle of the end zone when Sidney Rice had three defenders near him. But Rice had signaled Wilson to toss it up high and Rice would get it, which he did. Wilson knows the offense now and has complete confidence to make plays at clutch moments, and his teammates believe in him.

Wilson is at his best when he scrambles and improvises, often resulting in big plays downfield. Can the Texans defense contain him?

Ganguli: The most mobile quarterback they faced so far this season was Titans quarterback Jake Locker, who threw two touchdown passes but had a QBR of 44.3 against the Texans. They haven’t faced a quarterback who is such an accurate passer while having the ability to use his legs and improvise. Wilson’s numbers have been among the best in the league this season. That will be a challenge for a defense that wants to be the best in the league.

You wrote that the loss of left tackle Russell Okung didn’t hurt much against the Jaguars, but how do you see it impacting the Seahawks going forward?

Blount: Tania, this has to be Seattle's biggest concern entering the Texans game. The Seahawks may be the deepest team in the league, but the offensive line, and particular the tackle spots, is a thin area. They are no match for J.J. Watt. Paul McQuistan moved from guard to left tackle to replace Okung, but the team is weaker without Okung on the field. Right tackle Breno Giacomini probably won't play because of a knee injury. That means rookie Michael Bowie, a seventh-round draft choice, will have to go head-to-head with Watt. Bailey is talented, but he has a lot to learn. Throwing him out there this week against Watt is truly scary for the Seahawks.

I know the Seahawks have major concerns about trying to stop Watt and keeping him off Wilson. Do you see Watt having a big game Sunday?

Ganguli: Watt has a keen ability to exploit weaknesses in inexperienced players. And if he doesn’t know it right from the start, he figures it out eventually. He’s a player with work ethic to match his talent, which isn’t always the case with athletes of his caliber. Watt has been the third most effective player at disrupting opponents’ passes since he entered the NFL. He ranks behind San Francisco’s Aldon Smith and Minnesota’s Jared Allen. Watt has played very well this season and he’s determined to have a better year than he did last year when he led the league with 20.5 sacks and 16 batted passes.

The Seahawks secondary gets the most attention, but how has their defensive front played and what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Blount: This was an area of needed improvement at the end of last season, so the staff made a major effort to bring in veterans who could help with the pass rush. It worked. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett, a free agent Seattle signed after he spent four years in Tampa Bay, has been a force up front. Cliff Avril, the biggest offseason acquisition, was hurt all preseason, but is back now and just starting to contribute. Defensive end Chris Clemons, the team's top pass-rusher last season, returned last week after offseason ACL surgery. And O'Brien Schofield, who was released at Arizona, has been strong at linebacker and defensive end. This is a much stronger, deeper and quicker group than it was a year ago, and it still doesn't have Bruce Irvin. He returns next week after a four-game suspension for PEDs.

Tania, these teams have two of the best running backs in the NFL in Arian Foster in Houston and Marshawn Lynch at Seattle. Which running back do you think will have the upper hand on Sunday?

Ganguli: The running back situation has been interesting in Houston this season. The Texans eased Foster into the season after he missed the entire preseason and in the meantime backup Ben Tate has played very well. Tate is in a contract year and if he keeps up the way he’s started, he’ll be making some money after the season. His yards per carry have been strong and even better have been his yards after contact, 4.5 yards, the best in the NFL. If we’re talking fantasy numbers, Lynch will definitely have the upper hand on Sunday. Foster will be sharing his load with Tate.

Last question from me: What is one name Texans fans might not know that they will after Sunday’s game?

Blount: Great question. I'll pick a couple. First might be middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, a second-year player who is growing into one of the best linebackers in the league. Another is slot receiver Doug Baldwin, an exceptional possession-type receiver who has a knack for making the big catch on third down.

And finally, everyone talks about how the Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the NFL, but I’m a Houston native who has seen some pretty rabid fans down there, as well. How much of a factor can the crowd be Sunday at Reliant Stadium?

Ganguli: They are a rabid bunch and have the added benefit of a perpetually closed roof that keeps their rabidity trapped like a greenhouse gas. They’ve been frustrated recently, but if their team plays well on Sunday, it will be loud.

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