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Secondary Challenge

Posted Sep 17, 2010

If the Broncos want to win Sunday's home opener, they know they'll have to contain veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks' offense. The matchup will test the Broncos' veteran defensive backs.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For 12 seasons, Champ Bailey has harassed NFL quarterbacks and altered offensive game plans with his cornerback play. Part of the reason for that success has been extensive film study, focusing on his opponent's tendencies and preparing to stay one step ahead of the opposing offense.

At this point in his career, Bailey understands the elements of a successful NFL offense. So when the All-Pro evaluates a quarterback, it comes from an informed perspective.

When asked about Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck this week, Bailey didn't leave any doubt about where he stands on the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback who leads his squad into Denver on Sunday.

"Now that's one guy that doesn't get the credit that he deserves," Bailey said. "He's been around for a while, he's done it. I can remember playing him in Washington and he was looking good then, so he's been consistent. If he's healthy, he's definitely one of the best."

Hasselbeck is expected to make his 118th start as Seahawks quarterback in Sunday's season opener at INVESCO Field at Mile High. Buoyed by the arrival of new head coach Pete Carroll and an impressive performance in Seattle's Week 1 win against San Francisco, Hasselbeck enters the game confident and hoping to build on his hot start.

The Broncos know that if they want to win their 11th straight home opener they'll have to contend with the quarterback who has led the Seahawks to five playoff appearances in his nine seasons.

Denver faced a similar test in their season-opener at Jacksonville against efficient, veteran Jaguars quarterback David Garrard. In Jacksonville's 24-17 win, Garrard hit on 16 of his 21 passes, including three touchdowns. Later in the day on the other side of the country, Hasselbeck finished his team's 31-6 win 18-of-23 passing for 170 yards and two touchdowns.

Head Coach McDaniels said his team is very aware of Hasselbeck's ability to protect the football, while knowing when to take shots downfield. Bailey, who has picked off Hasselbeck twice in his career, marveled at the 12th-year veterans ability to find the open man quickly and get rid of the ball.

Defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale said the defensive game plan revolves around more than just the quarterback but also called Hasselbeck "one of the league's premier quarterbacks."

Renaldo Hill, one of the key pieces of the Broncos veteran-laden secondary, said has discussed how to approach the match-up. The safety noted the group's experience will come in particularly handy this early in the season when the Broncos are sure to get some unscouted offensive looks.

By focusing on themselves, Hill said Denver can be prepared for whatever Seattle offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, a former Broncos assistant, can draw up.

"When you go up against quarterbacks like those guys, you're not expecting many mistakes, but you're expecting that you can be in the right place at the right time by sticking to your assignment," Hill said.

The Broncos hope they can keep improving a pass defense that finished 2009 as the league's third-best. Three of the Broncos four starters in the secondary missed at least one game in the preseason, and they continue to focus on being more consistent going forward.

Martindale said the veterans' experience helps the defensive backs understand where they can improve.

"We know like Josh (McDaniels) has been talking about all week and we've been talking about -- it's not a thing of who we're playing, it's how we play," Martindale said. "We need to do more things better, longer."

They'll be tested by a Seattle receiving corps that Bailey called "young and hungry." In the Seahawks' opening win, that unit was led by Mike Williams, a former first round pick hoping to reprise the success he enjoyed at USC playing for Carroll. Veteran Deion Branch and youngster Deon Butler both recorded touchdown catches.

The Seahawks also boast a stable of capable running backs that includes Justin Forsett, Julius Jones and new addition Leon Washington and combined for 77 rushing yards against the 49ers.

In a Wednesday conference call, Hasselbeck attributed his newfound spark to the new coaching staff's approach this offseason. After missing the postseason the past two seasons, Hasselbeck said the new regime brought a refreshing culture change by fostering competition across the roster, including at quarterback where one of Carroll's first moves was trading for veteran Charlie Whitehurst.

It's a similar approach to getting better that McDaniels has spent the past two seasons preaching to the Broncos.

"I think it was just a breath of fresh air for everybody -- young guys, old guys," Hasselbeck said. "We just had fun. Sometimes it's just fun to go out there and compete and play hard."

That attitude explains the confidence that Hasselbeck and the Seahawks' offense bring with them to the Mile High City.

With a road win in Denver and a 2-0 start, the Seahawks would be considered one of the surprises of the early NFL season.

But with Hasselbeck's track record and the Seahawks' not-so-distant history of dominating the NFC West, Brian Dawkins said the Broncos know exactly what to expect come Sunday. If the Broncos hope to even their record at 1-1, the safety knows they'll have a battle against the quarterback who led Seattle to their first Super Bowl just five seasons ago.

"Being in Seattle, I guess I don't know whether people want to give him the credit he deserves, but we do," Dawkins said of Hasselbeck. "We look at tape, we see what can do - putting the ball where it needs to be and getting the ball out of his hands fast. We respect him here."