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Matchupalooza: Lofa Tatupu V. Moran Norris

In the great wash of over generalizations, ignoring players who count and then overstating the importance of those who were once ignored, somewhere, someone must have said this: All Moran Norris does is block 1,000 yard rushers. With limited ability as a receiver or rusher, in a pejorative sense that is all he does, but boy does he do it. Norris was drafted out of Kansas by the New Orleans Saints in 2001, after spending a season on the Saints practice squad he was picked up off waivers by the Houston Texans. That's a microcosm of personnel decisions during the Jim Haslett era--outsmarted by Dom Capers and the Houston Texans. Norris was a beast coming out of college, his 37 reps on the bench are the best by a fullback in the last 9 years of the NFL combine, maybe longer. Power is Norris' game, and he relishes the bone-jarring grunt work of an NFL fullback.

Because of Lofa Tatupu's size, the perception that he makes up for limited physical tools with technique, preparation and smarts and the fact that MLBs are commonly thought of as a team's primary run stopper, many blamed him when Frank Gore rushed for 356 yards over two contests against Seattle last season. The general diagnosis, Tatupu was blocked out of too many plays by Norris and the Niners power rushing game. That ignores that his 9.5 tackles per contest in both games was greater than his per game average for 2006. It also ignores the fact that not one of those tackles was after Gore has recorded a first down. In fact, Tatupu's average tackle of Gore (15 total) was just 2.1 yards past the line of scrimmage. He also forced a fumble. Still, the argument persists that it's the plays Tatupu was unable to make that allowed Gore to start half his rushes in Seattle's second level.

If it was the line allowing too many gaping rush lanes (probably) the safeties whiffing on too many open field tackles (certainly) or Tatupu being screened out of plays by Norris (eh), Seattle allowed two close contests to fall out of reach largely because of an unstoppable fourth quarter Niner rushing attack. Whether Tatupu really lost this matchup to begin with is debatable, but considering he didn't look like he lost it last year, one could only imagine the havoc Gore could wreak if he lost it this year. Run defense starts with the line, and how Chartric Darby and Brandon Mebane handle legendary left tackle Larry Allen is probably the more important variable in the Hawks run D on Sunday, but, hey!, we can't talk about line-play every week. I also think this was a good excuse to strike a pair of undeserved blemishes off my favorite Hawk of all time's record. With that said, Sunday is another contest and Tatupu must at least break even against one of the NFL's best lead blockers if Seattle has any hopes of containing the Niners' rushing attack. I think he will.

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.