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Originally published September 15, 2009 at 5:15 PM | Page modified September 15, 2009 at 7:16 PM

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Danny O'Neil

Seahawks Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Burleson draw up a winning plan

Seahawks took advantage of blitzing St. Louis cornerbacks to burn Rams

Seattle Times NFL reporter

NFL teams spend millions preparing for opponents.

They hire scouts, watch hours of videotape and there has even been a little industrial espionage by a certain thick-browed, hoodie-wearing grumpalumpagus in New England.

But the most important adjustment Seattle made on Sunday against St. Louis wasn't any more complicated than a little bit of eye contact and a whole lot of familiarity.

After weeks of preparation, a bit of playground football between receiver Nate Burleson and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck finally got the passing game going and Seattle's offense rolling.

The Rams kept bringing pressure from the edge, blitzing the cornerback who was defending Burleson. Hasselbeck told Burleson to take a look inside when the cornerback blitzed and be ready for a quick pass.

"That's just Matt being a quarterback and adjusting on the fly," Burleson said.

And that, as much as anything, explains how Hasselbeck was able to bounce back from a first quarter in which two of his nine passes were intercepted.

Experience helped him adjust to a team playing its first game for a new coach, Steve Spagnuolo, who used all manner of formations in his St. Louis debut. The Rams used twists with 12 "unscouted looks," according to Seahawks coach Jim Mora. That's coach jargon for "stuff we didn't expect."

That put the onus on the passer.

"Matt is an outstanding decision-maker," Mora said.

That showed in the way Seattle's quarterback adjusted.

"As soon as the corner came, I peeked and if the ball was in the air I was ready to make a play," Burleson said.

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That ad-lib adjustment is part of the reason Burleson wound up with a game-high seven receptions, but it was more than just the receptions. The adjustment put the ball in Burleson's hands in wide-open space and only a safety to contend with.

"At that point it's like a punt return," Hasselbeck said. "Once he has the ball in his hands, it's him one on one with the safety and that's usually a great situation for us."

Usually, that's true, but there are drawbacks because sometimes Burleson's attempt to make a lot out of a little gets him into trouble, like his first-quarter fumble. But Burleson's ability in the open field is a reason he is among the most dangerous punt returners in the league and why he's going to be a threat in an offense that will now get him the ball in open space.

"That's my favorite part of this game," Burleson said. "I don't need to run a ton of deep routes. I don't need to have a lot of balls, but I know I'm going to do the most with that catch. Sometimes it gets me in trouble."

The Seahawks signed Burleson in 2006, and he proved a poor fit at first. The Seahawks passing offense valued structure and precision more than the ad-lib playmaking ability of Burleson. He caught 18 passes in 2006, his fewest in any full NFL season.

He caught a team-high nine touchdown passes in 2007 and had even higher expectations in 2008 until he injured his knee in the season-opener.

But already this season, Seattle's offense has shown an ability to get Burleson the ball in position where he can do the most with it.

And for all the money and time teams spend scouting opponents, it was just a wink and a nod between teammates that helped the Seahawks adapt and exploit the defensive formations the Rams rolled out Sunday.

Note

• DE Derek Walker has cleared waivers and is expected to be added to Seattle's practice squad. Walker had been released Monday to make room for linebacker D.D. Lewis.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Not half bad

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had two of his first nine passes picked off and nearly threw another interception Sunday, but an early adjustment with wide receiver Nate Burleson helped him carve up the Rams secondary

#/PC-PA/Yds/TD/Int/Rating

1st quarter/5-9/66/0/2/39.3

2nd-4th quarters/20-27/213/3/0/133.7

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About Danny O'Neil

Danny O'Neil will comment on issues, events and personalities in the NFL. His column will appear on Sundays during the regular season. He also posts most days on the Seahawks Blog.
doneil@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2364

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