NFL Nation: Mike DeBord

Breakdown: NFC West

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
7:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

  • Bills 34, Seahawks 10

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.

  • Eagles 38, Rams 3

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News shows how 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz's background in kinesiology played a role in his development as a stickler for mechanics. Martz: "It really helps you to teach your quarterbacks to understand the physics of it. The balance, the lines of force, the kinetic energy and all that kind of stuff. It really does help you streamline their techniques and make them most efficient."

Nicholas Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press says Lions quarterback Drew Stanton is working hard to unlearn what Martz taught him about mechanics. Stanton: "I have no idea looking back why all that happened, all the changes that he made." Conflicting storylines tend to be common in sports. The Lions think they'll be better after firing Martz. The 49ers think they'll be better after adding Martz. Both could be right.

Doug Drinen of Pro Football Reference shows which running backs have benefited most from playing with Pro Bowl offensive linemen. NFC West alumni Eric Dickerson, Shaun Alexander, Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler rank relatively high on the lists, but no one ranks higher than Jim Brown.

Clark Judge of CBSSports.com assesses what it means for Mike Holmgren to enter his final season as Seahawks coach with successor Jim Mora on the staff. It's an arrangement that hasn't always worked, but Judge thinks Seattle can pull it off.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks might consider keeping nine defensive backs, one more than usual, if former Michigan safety Jamar Adams keeps up his impressive play. Injuries have a way of helping to sort out these dilemmas. 

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams plan to keep three quarterbacks heading into the season, up from two in 2007. Bruce Gradkowski or Brock Berlin will get the call behind Marc Bulger and Trent Green. Each NFC West team has four quarterbacks in camp. The Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks carried only two quarterbacks on their opening-day rosters last season. Seattle acquired Charlie Frye from the Browns after the first game.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reveals which Rams players are making the most of injury-induced opportunities. Strong-side linebacker Quinton Culberson heads the list. I got the feeling at Rams camp that Culberson would likely start this season. Veteran Chris Draft can back up all three positions.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are looking forward to practicing against the Raiders. Cornerback Walt Harris: "You practice against yourself all the time. Practicing against other guys forces you to focus a lot more."

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times checks in with Seahawks offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Mike DeBord. Something I did not know: Solari and DeBord did not know each other before Seattle hired them this offseason. They work together very well from what I've seen at practices. If they can get Seattle's line to work together that well and that quickly, the Seahawks should improve quite a bit in their running game. Also from Romero: Receiver Courtney Taylor is thrilled to be back on the practice field after resting a hamstring injury. The Seahawks think Taylor can become a contributor.

Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers puts the team's quarterback competition in perspective. The race between Alex Smith, Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan cannot touch what the Packers are going through. Green Bay visits the 49ers on Aug. 16.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune sizes up the Seahawks' growing injury list. Space constraints presumably prevented him from listing Floyd Womack's injury history. In May 2007, I noted Womack had missed time with injuries to his quadriceps, triceps, calf, heel, toe, knees, ankle, hip, hand, head and hamstring. A knee injury is keeping him out now.

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