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Defense Can't Let Hasselbeck Find a Groove

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Washington Redskins will face one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL on Saturday, with Matt Hasselbeck unquestionably one of the keys to the first-round playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Hasselbeck is very comfortable in his West Coast offense, mastering the short drops and quick passes that are so difficult to defend.

Hasselbeck ranked eighth in the NFL with a 91.4 rating, and threw 10 touchdowns in December to just three interceptions. He ranked second in the league with a 103.8 passer rating in the fourth quarter this season and is adept at playing in the rain and chill of Seattle, with 18 touchdowns and only seven interceptions at Qwest Field this season.

"Matt right now I think is one of the biggest reasons that team is in the playoffs," said cornerback Shawn Springs, who played with Hasselbeck in Seattle. "And I don't think anyone else that we would face has had to carry as much of the load as he has."

Hasselbeck has quick feet and excels throwing outside the pocket. The Redskins must find a way to pressure him and disrupt timing, with Seattle becoming a throwing-dominated offense this season. One NFL executive who has scouted the Seahawks and Redskins this season believes that Seattle's propensity for three-step drops makes it imperative for Washington's defensive line to get airborne when possible to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage.

"The main thing this week is going to be putting pressure on the quarterback," said defensive end Phillip Daniels, who is excellent at knocking down passes. "That's going to be the difference in the game right there. Batted balls and pressures and all that stuff is really going to matter this week. We might not always get the sacks this week, but if we knock the ball down, sometimes that's just as good as a sack."

The Redskins have played almost exclusively man-to-man defensive coverage the last four weeks, with just one safety -- LaRon Landry -- stationed deep, putting intense pressure on the cornerbacks to make plays. That could prove dangerous against a passing offense as capable as the Seahawks', which can spread the field with four receivers or more.

"I expect not to see a heavy dose of any one thing," Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren said of preparations to face Gregg Williams's defense. "I'm prepared for him changing it up quite a bit."

Few Injuries to Report

Coach Joe Gibbs said that his lone injury concern at this point is wide receiver James Thrash (ankle), excluding quarterback Jason Campbell, who is recovering from a dislocated kneecap.

Thrash remains in a walking cast and the Redskins had only a walk-through and not a full practice yesterday, so Gibbs said he would assess Thrash's status today. Other players who have been ailing, including linebacker Randall Godfrey and tackle Stephon Heyer, are "fine," Gibbs said.

Campbell did not take part in the walk-through, but did throw briefly yesterday. It was the second time since injuring his knee Dec. 6, but last week Campbell experienced some swelling after throwing the ball. The team will see how well Campbell responds to his work yesterday, and Gibbs said earlier this week that Campbell is "a ways" from returning.

"After his knee swelled up a little bit last week we kind of backed off," said Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense. "But he threw a little bit today and I'm not a doctor, but we're progressing on a daily basis and it's coming along."

Return Trip

A trio of former Seahawks would seem to have extra motivation for Saturday's game, but they are playing down the return to the Pacific Northwest. Springs, Daniels and guard Pete Kendall all began their careers with the Seahawks, then were allowed to leave as the team drafted their replacements. No one was looking to provide any bulletin board material to the Seahawks, however, professing their respect for Holmgren. "I've got nothing but love for what they did for me," Daniels said of the Seahawks. . . .

Seattle's loud and intense crowd is a huge factor for opponents -- there were more false starts by opponents at Qwest Field than anywhere else in the NFL this season -- but Holmgren said the noise is all natural, and not illegally pumped in by speakers. "I can tell you we don't do that," he said. . . .

Redskins quarterback Todd Collins was named NFC offensive player of the month for December.

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