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Saturday, January 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Breaking down the game: Washington at Seattle

When Seattle passes

Washington defensive guru Gregg Williams loves to use man-to-man blitz schemes that confuse opposing offenses and put them on their heels.

Williams will rely on the return of cornerback Shawn Springs (groin) to give his defense more flexibility than it had last week.

Springs, Walt Harris and rookie Carlos Rogers will try to cover Seattle's receivers one-on-one, which means quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could have the chance for big plays as long as the league's best blocking unit can withstand the pressure from Washington's linebackers and safeties.

Washington uses its linebackers all over the field. Marcus Washington and LaVar Arrington each had an interception in Washington's 17-10 win at Tampa Bay last weekend. Strong safety Sean Taylor also has been a major player on defense — when he hasn't been ejected for spitting on his opponents.

Hasselbeck should be up to the task. He was the best quarterback in the NFL in December, completing a league-record 76.1 percent of his passes and recording a 135.5 passer rating that ranks as the fourth best in NFL history for the final month of the season.

Hasselbeck expects the offense to struggle at times against the league's ninth-ranked defense, but the quarterback said his unit must weather the storm (he wasn't talking about Taylor's showers) and be prepared to overcome the adversity.

Edge: Seattle.

When Seattle runs

It will be the league's No. 3 rushing attack, featuring the league's leading rusher, against a team that has not allowed 100 yards in five of the past six games.

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Washington, anchored by tackles Joe Salave'a and Cornelius Griffin, held Tampa Bay to 75 yards on 25 rushes last week.

Washington will focus on swarming Shaun Alexander as much as possible, knowing that he has been excellent at breaking tackles this season. Washington held him to 12 yards on six carries in the first half of Washington's 20-17 overtime win in Week 4. (Alexander finished with 98 yards on 20 carries.)

The linebackers fly to the ball — Washington, Arrington and Lemar Marshall combined for 32 tackles against the Buccaneers last week. Arrington did not play in the first game against Seattle and could be a big factor this time.

The Seahawks showed in the second half of that first game that they can move the ball on Washington, converting touchdown drives of 85 and 91 yards. If Pro Bowl fullback Mack Strong and the league's top line are at their best, it will be tough for Washington to stop Alexander.

Edge: Seattle.

When Washington passes

Quarterback Mark Brunell had a terrible game against Tampa Bay, completing just 7 of 15 passes for 41 yards and an interception as Washington compiled just 120 yards — the lowest output for a winning team in the playoffs in NFL history.

Brunell will be happy to see the Seahawks' defense again. In the first meeting, the former Washington Husky killed Seattle on third down — completing 11 of 15 throws for 138 yards and also running 18 yards for a key first down on Washington's winning drive in overtime.

After two months of musical cornerbacks, the Seahawks will have their top three together again. But Andre Dyson (ankle), Kelly Herndon (knee) and Marcus Trufant (back) are not 100 percent.

They must find a different way to defend Pro Bowl receiver Santana Moss, who caught five passes on third down in the first game.

The Seahawks protected against Moss' deep speed in that game, allowing him to run comeback routes unimpeded. He finished with six catches for 87 yards, including five for 74 yards on third downs.

Seattle, which led the NFL with 50 sacks, needs to get more pressure on Brunell, who was sacked just twice and given too much time on most of his third-down plays in Week 4.

The Seahawks will have to disguise their blitzes well because Washington has been good at picking them up.

Edge: Washington.

When Washington runs

Clinton Portis was the league's No. 4 rusher, and he managed 90 yards on 25 carries (3.6 average) against the Seahawks.

He has been hampered by bad shoulders recently but figures to carry the ball plenty.

He and the bigger Ladell Betts are running behind a somewhat battered line that includes 43-year-old Ray Brown at right guard and a hobbled Chris Samuels (knees) at left tackle.

Led by rookie linebacker Lofa Tatupu, the Seahawks finished fifth against the run this season, allowing 94.4 yards per game. Seattle allowed just one 100-yard rusher (Tiki Barber), and Washington doesn't figure to get there either.

Edge: Seattle.

Special teams

Washington's coverage teams are among the best in the league — sixth on kickoffs (20.9-yard average) and second on punts (4.7). That doesn't bode well for a Seattle return game that averages just 22.1 yards on kick returns and 5.7 on punts.

Seattle also is pretty good on kick coverage (21.7 yards), but its punt coverage ranked in the bottom half of the league (8.4 yards).

If the game comes down to field goals, John Hall has converted 85.7 percent, including 5 of 7 from 40 to 49 yards. Josh Brown has struggled a bit from that distance, hitting just 4 of 7, and has made just 72 percent overall.

Edge: Washington.

The pick

Seahawks, 27-17.

— Chris Cluff

Last time they met

Washington converted 13 of 18 third downs, including three in overtime to set up Nick Novak's 39-yard field goal to beat the visiting Seahawks 20-17.

Washington converted nine plays on third-and-seven or longer. In overtime, Mark Brunell completed passes to Santana Moss twice on third-and-10, and Brunell also scrambled 18 yards on third-and-nine.

Seattle tied the score at 17 with 1:23 left in regulation as Matt Hasselbeck's 6-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Jackson culminated a 14-play, 91-yard drive.

The Seahawks had a chance to win after Kelly Herndon intercepted a pass by Brunell at Washington's 35-yard line, setting Seattle up with the ball at the 33. But Shaun Alexander gained just 4 yards on two carries, and Josh Brown's 47-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the left upright as the fourth quarter ended.

Seattle's offense had the ball for just 21 plays in the first half — six in the first quarter — because the defense could not get off the field. Washington converted six third downs and a fourth down in the first quarter alone. It converted four more third downs in the second quarter.

Brunell completed 20 of 36 passes for 226 yards; he was 11 for 15 for 138 yards on third downs. Moss, selected to this season's Pro Bowl, had six catches for 87 yards; he had five for 74 on third downs.

When the Seahawks had the ball, they moved it well. Hasselbeck completed 26 of 38 passes for 242 yards and one TD, with a passer rating of 94.4. Receiver Bobby Engram, who suffered cracked ribs on the first play, finished with nine catches for 106 yards. Alexander rushed for 98 yards and a TD on 20 carries. Jackson had seven catches for 55 yards in his last game before knee surgery sidelined him for 10 weeks.

Injury report

Washington: WR James Thrash (thumb) is questionable; DT Cornelius Griffin (shoulder), OT Chris Samuels (ankle) and CB Shawn Springs (groin) are probable.

Seattle: DE Alain Kashama (hamstring) is doubtful; OT Wayne Hunter (ankle), LB D.D. Lewis (foot), OT Sean Locklear (hip), DE Joe Tafoya (hamstring) and CB Marcus Trufant (back) are questionable.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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