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Sunday, September 7, 2008
Breakdown: NFC West


Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks spent all offseason working to improve their running game. While that work appeared far from finished during a 34-10 defeat at Buffalo, the passing game needs even more attention -- especially if Seattle hopes to overcome shoddy special-teams play.

The situation at receiver went from potentially serious to grave for Seattle when a knee injury forced Nate Burleson out of the game. Burleson was the Seahawks' only healthy wideout with meaningful experience. The other starter Sunday, Courtney Taylor, averaged 9.5 yards on two receptions. He dropped the ball and wasn't a factor.

The Seahawks were excited about working veteran tight end Jeb Putzier into their three-receiver packages. He had trouble holding onto the ball and finished with zero receptions. Seattle converted only three times in 16 third-down chances.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck needs receivers to find open spots when plays break down. Hasselbeck waited for receivers to find open spots, but they never did. Veteran receiver Bobby Engram, sidelined for at least another game or two, was extremely valuable in those situations.

This wasn't the first time the Seahawks have stumbled on offense during a season opener. But those previous teams didn't have Mike Solari and Mike DeBord coaching the offensive line. They didn't have tight ends as versatile as rookie John Carlson. They didn't have veteran guard Mike Wahle, the player coach Mike Holmgren identified as the single most important addition of the offseason.

History tells us not to overreact after one game. The Seahawks return to Seattle for home games against the 49ers and Rams over the next two weeks. A fast start is still possible and even likely.

Seattle needs to restore balance to its roster for the benefit of special teams. The Bills piled up 120 yards on six punt returns, including a 63-yard return for a touchdown. Special-teams plays contributed to 21 points for Arizona. That was even more than expected against a Seattle team carrying two kickers, six running backs and a league-low 13 linebackers and defensive backs.

Getting defensive back Jordan Babineaux and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard back from one-game suspensions should help, but not without improvement on offense.

The Rams made it through their predictable season-opening sacrifice in Philadelphia without losing left tackle Orlando Pace to a season-ending injury. Quarterback Marc Bulger also left Philadelphia in one piece following the 38-3 defeat against the Eagles.

This St. Louis team will have to settle for small victories, particularly against a Super Bowl contender such as Philadelphia. Getting through this game without losing Pace or Bulger will have to suffice. Nothing else went right, and even Pace wasn't unscathed. He took a hit to the ribs when the Rams were trailing, 38-0. And if Bulger keeps taking shots the way he did Sunday, he won't last.

The Rams will improve on offense as long as Pace and Bulger remain available. They can't get much worse after failing to convert any of their 11 third-down chances. This was the Rams' first game under new coordinator Al Saunders. Steven Jackson held out through training camp, so he was going to be a rusty. A new offense needs time to develop continuity. Torry Holt is not going to finish with one catch for 9 yards every week.

The breakdowns suffered on defense might be more troubling. Allowing 522 yards wasn't as bad as allowing so many of those yards on big plays. The Eagles, despite entering the game without either starting receiver, produced pass plays of 47, 31, 52 and 90 yards during their first five possessions. The Rams' offense never had a chance to find balance after falling behind early.