Back to Basics for T.J. Houshmandzadeh After Frustrating Start with the Seahawks

Rob StatonCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2009

The frustration etched on T.J. Houshmandzadeh's face was a familiar expression.

We used to see it every week, just dressed in a Bengals jersey instead of a Seahawks one.

It's not surprising, though, because this was a familiar situation for the veteran receiver.

Franchise quarterback out of the game with an injury? Team being thoroughly outplayed?

It could have been the last two years for Cincinnati, rather than just his second game following a big-money move to Seattle.

Certainly a grounding feeling for the man in his ninth season in the NFL, a week removed from a thumping home debut over the St. Louis Rams.

He's certainly been outspoken during the offseason. When he wasn't criticizing the makers of Madden '10, he was telling anyone with a microphone that this was the fresh start he wanted.

It's still early days, but already it's starting to feel like Groundhog day for "Housh."

How he and the Seahawks react to this situation could be crucial for both parties.

Often described, perhaps wrongly, as a solid No. 2 receiver, Houshmandzadeh was at his best working in tandem with Chad Ochocinco/Johnson.

Now he's top dog.

Yes, the Seahawks have Nate Burleson back from injury. They also own one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league in the form of John Carlson.

But eyes are fixed on Houshmandzadeh to fill a big hole on Seattle's offense—that of go-to receiver.

He was busy in week one—used in the slot, as a deep post option, and in more standard slant and hitch routes.

Basically everything going.

The numbers were typical Houshmandzadeh. Six important catches, but low yardage. His 48-yard performance only worth an average of eight per reception.

In Week Two we saw more of this new range of routes. The results were a little better in terms of yardage—four catches for a fair 62 yards. One stat stands out more than any other, though—no touchdowns.

There's an obvious game plan on the Seahawks' behalf to use Houshmandzadeh creatively. It's ambitious, if nothing else. 

Whether they'll find what they're looking for is largely dependent on his production outside of what we already know.

We know he has great hands, and in a short-to-medium passing game, there are few better.

In looking for an all-around target, however, the jury remains very much out.

Houshmandzadeh's real qualities, aside from his hands, are an ability to create separation in shorter routes. He becomes a dependable if unspectacular receiver, but someone who can be relied on nonetheless.

Can he do it on a deep post to tempt a quarterback to throw? Baring in mind neither Matt Hasselbeck nor Seneca Wallace possess the kind of cannon that makes such a throw a lesser risk.

In fact, Hasselbeck's potential absence against Chicago on Sunday could and should see a return to the basics.

Wallace proved himself as a dependable backup last year. In eight starts, he collected 11 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.

His 1,532 passing yards are modest but fail to point out Wallace was throwing to guys plucked from obscurity like Billy McMullen and Keary Colbert in the midst of an injury crisis at receiver.

His next project is very much damage limitations until Hasselbeck can return.

The Seahawks firmly believe they can have a better year in 2009 and want to begin the Jim Mora era on a positive note.

Getting through might be enough for Wallace. That could mean reeling in Houshmandzadeh to offer a genuine target—his go-to receiver.

We saw the two combine on a deep post in the Sunday demolition at San Francisco.

It wasn't pretty.

Wallace tossed up a fair pass, if a little too flat.

Houshmandzadeh did create a little separation on his run down the left sideline, but he didn't appear to register the ball, as it flew past his right shoulder.

It probably looked uglier than it actually was, but to the untrained eye it certainly looked catchable and perhaps hinted toward a lack of communication between quarterback and receiver.

It's not a total surprise; Wallace is learning a new Greg Knapp playbook, having previously lived off the Mike Holmgren version.

Expect to see Houshmandzadeh in the slot and running the more traditional slant and hitch routes on Sunday.

It's safe, tried and tested.

The Seahawks need Wallace to find their most ambitious free agent acquisition to get back to winning ways against the Bears.

They'll be hoping that frustrated look on Houshmandzadeh's face last week isn't repeated by Sunday's end.


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