EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants, riding a four-game winning streak and coming off a bye, will visit the West Coast for the first time in four years Sunday when they face the Seattle Seahawks in Qwest Field. Both teams lead their divisions. The 5-2 Giants are a game ahead of Philadelphia in the NFC East, while the 4-3 Seahawks are a half-game up on St. Louis in the NFC West. The Seahawks have been much more successful at home, where they are 3-0 with a plus-eight turnover differential and an average margin of victory of almost 15 points this season. The Giants lead the regular season series, 8-5. They are 2-4 in Seattle, including 0-2 in Qwest Field.
Seattle has had trouble generating consistent offensive production. The Seahawks are 30th in the NFL in yards per game (275.1). They are tied for 26th in rushing yards (88.6) and are 25th in passing yards (186.6). Seattle is 28th in scoring with an average of 17.6 points a game. In two games this season, the Seahawks were held to a field goal. Seattle's turnover differential is plus-two.
Since Pete Carroll was hired as head coach on Jan. 11, the Seahawks have made more player transactions – by far – than any other team in the NFL. Of the 53 players currently on the active roster, only 23 were with the team last season. So 30 players are in their first season with the club and another seven are in their second - or 69.8% of the roster. In addition, only seven players remain from Seattle's Super Bowl XL team: Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Spencer, Lofa Tatupu, Sean Locklear, Craig Terrill, Marcus Trufant and Jordan Babineaux. The revolving door kept spinning this week, as the Seahawks signed four players: nose tackle Frank Okam, defensive end Jay Richardson, wide receiver Ruvell Martin and guard Chris White
Twenty nine of the 53 players on the current roster were not with the team last year. On offense, 16 of the 25 players are new, including seven who were added in the last seven weeks. But that roster has been shaken by a spate of injuries on both sides of the ball. Among those hurt in a 33-3 loss in Oakland on Sunday were defensive linemen Red Bryant (knee) and Colin Cole (ankle); wide receivers Mike Williams (knee) and Golden Tate (ankle); left guard Ben Hamilton (concussion); left tackle Tyler Polumbus (leg); and Hasselbeck (head injury). Bryant and Hamilton were placed on injured reserve this week.
Hasselbeck, who was sacked eight times and suffered a concussion last week, was declared out of Sunday's game on Thursday. Charlie Whitehurst, who Carroll coveted and acquired in a trade with San Diego, will get his first professional start. In the preseason, Whitehurst completed 46 of 90 passes for 635 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He is a big, strong-armed quarterback who throws very accurate short passes off of play action, which is a big part of the Seahawks' offense. But he also has the velocity to drive the ball down the middle. Because of his inexperience, Seattle will likely try to dink and dunk the ball down the field and not expose Whitehurst to the Giants' pass rush.
Seattle has not yet had an individual 100-yard rusher this season, but Marshawn Lynch, who was obtained in a trade with Buffalo on Oct. 5, is capable of breaking that barrier. Since his arrival, he has been used as a first-and-second down back, but he is an outstanding outside runner whose lateral quickness enables him to get to the edge and turn the corner. Justin Forsett leads the team with 334 rushing yards. A shifty runner who frustrates tacklers, he is a good receiver out of the backfield. Leon Washington is primarily a special teams player, but he does have 17 carries this season.
Fullbacks Michael Robinson is a competitive lead blocker who the Seahawks like to use on gadget plays. He was inactive last week with a hamstring injury.
Seattle's top three wide receivers in 2009 – T. J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson and Deion Branch – are no longer with the team. The new group is led by Mike Williams, a former first-round draft by the Detroit Lions who was out of football for two years before Carroll, his former coach at USC, brought him to Seattle. A big, strong receiver, Williams leads the team with 33 catches. He has large strike zone and is especially productive on short and comeback routes, but he is playing with a bruised knee. Deon Butler is an athletic receiver who sets up defender and brings big-play potential to the lineup. Tate, a rookie from Notre Dame, has been the third receiver, but he has an ankle injury. He is built like a running back, which helps him shed tacklers. Twelve-year veteran Brandon Stokley, signed on Sept. 28, is a move-the-chains receiver in the Wes Welker mode. He has nine receptions since his arrival.
The Seahawks frequently use a one-back, two-tight end alignment, which means John Carlson and Chris Baker are frequently on the field together. Carlson, who is second on the team with 20 catches, might be the fastest tight end the Giants face this season. He is a legitimate vertical threat and a favorite target of Hasselbeck in the red zone. Baker is more of a blocker.
Carroll has had to mix and match on his offensive line. Russell Okung, selected sixth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, has played only one full game because of injuries to both ankles. He was inactive last week but might return for the Giants. Okung has the size and skill to be a top-flight tackle. Chester Pitts stepped in at left guard after Hamilton suffered his concussion at Oakland. Center Chris Spencer is a five-year starter with good initial quickness and a strong upper body. Right guard Stacy Andrews is the brother of Giants lineman Shawn Andrews. Stacy, acquired in an offseason trade with Philadelphia, has long arms and is very solid in pass protection. The right tackle is Sean Locklear, who has been Seattle's best offensive lineman. He is a big, strong, heavy-bodied player who is very athletic for his position.
While the offense has sputtered, Seattle's defense has played well most of the season, despite injuries on that side of the ball. The unit has 13 new players this season. The Seahawks' are ranked a misleading 26th in the NFL in defense, allowing 368.3 yards a game. It's misleading because they are 11th in scoring defense, giving up 20.0 points a game. Seattle held two of its division opponents – San Francisco and Arizona – to six and 10 points, respectively. The Seahawks are 10th in the league in rushing defense (100.6 yards a game) and 29th in pass defense (267.7). Seattle has given up only nine touchdowns in 27 opposition red zone possessions, a 33.3 percent rate that is the league's second best.
Seattle's starting defense line has been hit hard tight with injuries. Kentwan Balmer, a former first-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers, is expected to start for Bryant. Balmer is at his best when he uses his exceptional quickness at the snap of the ball. The other three starting linemen also missed practice: left end Chris Clemons (coach's decision), left tackle Brandon Mebane (calf) and right tackle Cole (ankle), who is expected to miss two weeks. Junior Siavii, a massive player who can take on double teams, will step in at the nose for Cole. Mebane is a force inside, but has missed the last three games. Clemons leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Raheem Brock is a valuable substitute on the line.
Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu plays the role Antonio Pierce once did for the Giants. He is the quarterback of the defense. The three-time Pro Bowler gets everyone lined up, never comes off the field, is tough to fool and has the speed and instincts to excel in coverage. On the strong side, Aaron Curry has good lateral quickness and play range and is tough on opposing ends. He moves up to the line in some sub packages. Weakside backer David Hawthorne is an attacker who plays with quickness and smarts. Will Herring and Matt McCoy also contribute.
The Seahawks have allowed only eight passing touchdowns, the fifth fewest in the NFL. The new star in Seattle's secondary is free safety Earl Thomas, the team's first-round selection in this year's draft. Fast, intelligent and instinctive, Thomas leads the Seahawks with four interceptions, including two vs. San Diego. The strong safety is Lawyer Milloy, a 15-year veteran who has played in 225 games and knows how to put himself in position to make plays. He joins Brett Favre and Brian Dawkins as the only active players with more than 200 starts. The four-time Pro Bowler leads Seattle with 40 tackles (29 solo), including three sacks. Third safety Jordan Babineaux is an alert player who is in every sub package. Kam Chancellor plays in goal line packages.
Former Pro Bowler Marcus Trufant is having a fine season at left cornerback. A playmaker with excellent cover skills, Trufant leads the team with seven passes defensed and is tied with Tatupu for second with 35 tackles. He has 20 career interceptions, including two he's returned for touchdowns. Right corner Kelly Jennings is an outstanding athlete who was inactive last week with a hamstring injury, but is expected back for the Giants. Roy Lewis is the nickel back and Walter Thurmond also gets some snaps. Nate Ness, who made his first career start in Oakland, was released this week and signed by Miami.
Kicker Olindo Mare made 30 consecutive field goal attempts from Sept. 27, 2009 until last week, when he missed two in Oakland – from 51 and 29 yards. Mare has made 10 of 12 field goal attempts and he has nine touchbacks this season. Punter Jon Ryan is exceptional placing the ball on a short field. He is tied for first in the league with 19 punts inside the 20-yard line. Washington leads the NFL with a 33.7-yard kickoff return average and had touchdowns of 101 and 99 yards vs. San Diego. Tate is averaging 11.5 yards on 14 punt returns and will be replaced by Washington if he can't play on Sunday.