Offensive line paves way for Alexander

Behind a dominant offensive line and their bread-and-butter running play, the Seahawks have burst onto the national scene.

Updated: December 16, 2005, 3:22 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- It isn't easy to find the Seattle Seahawks if you're from the distant Land of East Coast Media Bias.

It's a 2,950-mile journey and takes the better part of a day. Fly from Hartford, through Chicago's O'Hare Airport, to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, then drive about 11 miles on Interstate 5 North, into Kirkland, navigate a few steep hills, pass the B.E.S.T. High School and there you will discover the Seahawks' practice facility, marked by a modest green-and-blue pennant, tucked into a nondescript lot off N.E. 53rd Street.

Shaun Alexander
Kevin Terrell/WireImage.comShaun Alexander has scored at least 15 TDs in five straight seasons.
"I'm just glad you knew we were in the United States," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Wednesday. "Most people think we are in Canada."

The Seahawks are the NFL's most isolated team. The San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders are situated more than 800 miles to the south. The Denver Broncos lie more than 1,300 miles to the southeast. On the East Coast, you have the Patriots, Jets, Giants, Eagles, Redskins and Ravens all within a radius of 500 miles. Perhaps coincidentally -- perhaps not -- many of the country's media titans reside within that sector, including The New York Times, USA Today and, of course, ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

"We're out here on the West Coast, as far away as you can get from the East Coast and your [ESPN] studios and most of the media," observed left guard Steve Hutchinson. "As long as we can fly under the radar and just keep playing well, that doesn't bother us."

For most of the 2005 season, the Seahawks have also been the NFL's most anonymous playoff team to be. In Week 15, that all changed. Running back Shaun Alexander, who is threatening to break Priest Holmes' single-season for touchdowns, is pictured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated framed by the mocking headline: "Do You Know His Name?" Now that the Seahawks are 11-2 and a ridiculous six games ahead of the second-place St. Louis Rams in the NFC West, everyone -- including ESPN The Magazine and Sunday NFL Countdown -- is jumping on the bandwagon.

Next week, after the Seahawks win their 10th consecutive game at Tennessee, all the eyes of a football-loving nation will fall on Seattle. The Seahawks will host the (presumably) undefeated Indianapolis Colts in a game featuring teams that have won 26 of 28 games.

So much for anonymity.

They are easily the best team in the NFC. After an uncharacteristic struggle against the Giants (they won 24-21 in overtime after Jay Feely missed three field goals, two of them makeable), the Seahawks have been untouchable. They beat the Eagles and 49ers by a combined score of 83-3. They became one of only five teams since 1948 to win back-to-back games by 38 points or more.

Alexander leads the league in rushing, with 1,496 yards on 303 carries, for a robust average of 4.9.

Certainly, Alexander and head coach Mike Holmgren are major factors in the Seahawks' success but, really, it all begins with two 315-pound men -- left tackle Walter Jones and Hutchinson. Jones, who has been to five Pro Bowls in six seasons, and Hutchinson, a back-to-back visitor to Hawaii, form the best left side in football.

When Seattle absolutely, positively needs a yard or a touchdown, Alexander finds himself going left -- whether the play was called that way or not.

"We did call a sweep right and I brought it all the way back to the left and we ran a handoff to the right and I brought it back to the left, so I think there is a magnet over there on the left for us," Alexander said.

The vast majority of Alexander's league-leading 23 touchdowns have come behind Jones and Hutchinson, along with the lead blocking of fullback Mack Strong. In the overlooked statistic of third-and-one, the Seahawks also lead the league. They have converted 13 of 13. In Seattle anyway, Jones and Hutchinson are treated like royalty.

"It's like every interview I do -- 'Tell us about the left side of your offensive line,' " Hasselbeck said. "They are so good they are not even really offensive linemen. They are like movie stars."

"We go to hotels, you have as many people screaming for them as you do our quarterback," said Alexander. "You are like, 'Did we really hear them screaming for linemen?' Matt and I just kind of laugh. We have rock star linemen."

Scoring machines
Seattle's Shaun Alexander (23) is threatening the NFL record for most touchdowns scored in a season, set by the Kansas City Chiefs' Priest Holmes in 2003. A look at the most touchdowns scored in a season:
Player, Team Year TDs
Priest Holmes, K.C. 2003 27
Marshall Faulk, Stl. 2000 26
Emmitt Smith, Dal. 1995 25
Priest Holmes, K.C. 2002 24
John Riggins, Wash. 1983 24
Shaun Alexander, Sea. 2005 23
O.J. Simpson, Buf. 1975 23
Jerry Rice, S.F. 1987 23
Terrell Davis, Den. 1998 23
Gale Sayers, Chi. 1965 22
Chuck Foreman, Minn. 1975 22
Emmitt Smith, Dal. 1994 22
Fans of fantasy have long understood Alexander's scoring prowess. Last year he produced a league-leading and franchise-record 20 touchdowns. He is one of only four players to record 20 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, following Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and the Chiefs' Holmes. Alexander, 28, is the only player in NFL history to score 15 or more touchdowns in five consecutive seasons.

He was drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft (19th overall) out of Alabama, but only carried the ball 64 times in his rookie season, starting one game and scoring two touchdowns. Nevertheless, he is among the most productive players ever with respect to touchdowns and games played. Through 93 career games, the top three scorers in league history are: Jim Brown (100 touchdowns), Smith (100) and Alexander (95). Jerry Rice (84) is a distant fourth.

When you play the Seahawks, you know Alexander is going to go left, probably on their signature play, 93-Blast. Truth is, it doesn't matter whether you know it's coming.

"One of the things Coach Holmgren does -- he'll say this a lot -- 'I don't care. We are going to run the play and we are going to run it better than them,' " said Hasselbeck. "It kind of sends a message to all of us -- offensive line, running back, quarterback, wide receiver, tight end -- get it done.

"Doesn't matter. Get it done."

Said Alexander, "That's what every team likes to hang their hat on, that one play that you can know it's coming and you are really not sure how to stop it."

Hasselbeck's father Don played tight end for the New England Patriots. He grew up in Massachusetts and played his college ball at Boston College. When asked to supply another sports example of an unstoppable money play, Hasselbeck offered Roger Clemens.

"I grew up a Red Sox fan," he said. "You know he's coming with his fastball -- you know he is -- and there is probably nothing you can do about it.

"Hey, you are pretty sure we're running left. We are in the formation. Here it comes. This is it."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE