Hasselbeck, Wilson remain front and center

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson did his part in helping Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck forget a painful 2008 season.

The punishment Wilson delivered to Hasselbeck during the Cardinals' Nov. 16 victory at Qwest Field -- Hasselbeck's first game back from injury -- left the quarterback with a concussion and the Seahawks without hope.

Both players remain central figures in a rematch Sunday that could prove pivotal within a tightening NFC West race.

"I would compare playing an Adrian Wilson to when I was with the Packers and we would face John Lynch," Hasselbeck said Tuesday. "He's a perennial Pro Bowl kind of guy, a potential Hall of Famer and an amazing talent. ... Physically, he's got a presence about him. He has been disruptive for us in the past."

Two factors stand out to me above all others in assessing this matchup:

  • The Cardinals' offensive line and running backs must hold up against an improved Seahawks pass rush featuring rookie Aaron Curry, who seems to possess the violent tendencies that have made Wilson one of the NFL's most feared players.

  • The Seahawks must not let Wilson affect the game nearly to the degree he did in that Nov. 16 game last season.

Hasselbeck took only two sacks in that game, but I've seldom seen him take more hidden punishment.

Wilson's facemask appeared to strike Hasselbeck in the side of the helmet during a sack. Hasselbeck, perhaps sensing trouble, might have ducked into the contact. Hasselbeck seemed to survive that hit without much consequence, but his play suffered following a big hit from Wilson on a scramble near the goal line. Later, Wilson's hit on Hasselbeck's blind side sent the quarterback tumbling. Hasselbeck's jaw area struck the back of an offensive lineman's leg.

"I took two shots to the head," Hasselbeck said. "One rattled me a little, but not really. But the other, I got an Adrian Wilson forearm to the back of the head and I clearly had a concussion."

The Seahawks' official diagnosis differed -- coach Mike Holmgren said there was no concussion -- but Hasselbeck did seem woozy when accusing Wilson of dirty play immediately following the game. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt protested strongly, Hasselbeck ultimately apologized and the Cardinals-Seahawks rivalry was officially a rivalry.

"That is last year," Wilson said Monday. "I ain't worried about that. Another year. Move on."

Wilson hasn't always played the enforcer's role this season. Safety Matt Ware's injury troubles have sometimes taken Wilson away from the line of scrimmage, where he can be dominant, and placed him in deep coverage as part of a broader effort to reduce big plays allowed. Ware was back in Week 5 and Wilson needed only two plays to get a clean shot on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

"I was able to finally play a football game (Sunday)," Wilson said. "I've been feeling like every time I come in here on Monday, just feeling like I haven't played. I haven't been sore."

The physical presence Hasselbeck cited regarding Wilson transfers from the field to one-on-one interaction away from it. Wilson stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 226 pounds. Wilson speaks in low tones and with an unusually deep voice. The way he stands -- shoulders back, posture upright -- accentuates the power he projects.

Wilson's aggressiveness against the Seahawks will again be a key variable. He badly wants to avoid playing center field, a message he communicated to defensive coordinator Billy Davis.

"We had the eye-to-eye," Wilson said. "It is what it is. Whenever I am able to do that, I can help a team out. They are paying me a lot of money to make plays, so I want to do my part."

Wilson's unusual size for a safety gives him the versatility to play linebacker-type roles, creating potential confusion for offensive linemen.

"We opened one season against them at home (2006, Week 2) and they were in a funky front with Adrian essentially playing defensive end," Hasselbeck said. "We didn't recognize the look. Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray were fighting over the look, I flipped out and did a whirlybird into Walter Jones' block."

The Cardinals have adjusted their scheme under Davis this season. Hasselbeck said he sees similarities to the way Pittsburgh plays its defense, no surprise given Whisenhunt's roots with the Steelers. The approach is more conservative, but the battle between Hasselbeck and Wilson endures.

"He's a good quarterback, he rarely makes mistakes" Wilson said. "We've just got to go in there and play perfect."