Sunday, September 18, 2011

Seahawks - No Worse Than Expected

After two weeks of the NFL season, things have played out pretty much exactly as everyone would have expected. Opening on the road in San Francisco and Pittsburgh was going to be a daunting task and you would be hard pressed to find someone that thought we would win either of those games. Going in to that first game in the bay area, we knew the Hawks had deficiencies at offensive line and question marks at several other position groups on both sides of the ball. This meant weeks one and two would be a serious uphill struggle and now that these first two games are in the books, it is very clear to me who the Seahawks starting quarterback should be moving forward.

With Matt Hasselbeck moving on to Tennessee to lead a playoff-ready Titans team, most fans thought Charlie aka "Clipboard Jesus" would finally get his chance to start although coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Snyder had a different plan in mind. They almost immediately named Tarvarus Jackson the starting quarterback removing any thought of a training camp competition.

Since that announcement, quarterback has been an especially hot topic for both the media and the fans with the unproven Charlie Whitehurst backing up imported starter Tarvarus Jackson who was brought in from Minnesota to bring a familiar presence to offensive coordinator Darryl Bevel's system. This move would give a sense of continuity in the offense going in to those two aforementioned difficult road games and hopefully a chance of at least surviving each of them without too much physical and psychological damage.

Before I get to the exciting conclusion of who I like as starter for the most important position on the team I will expand on what has taken place during the first two games of the season. As I mentioned earlier, the Seahawks have an offensive line that needs some serious improvement. This is a young group that features two rookies and one second year player. All are highly touted and of the other two in the five man starting group, both are veterans and one was a high profile free agent signing, but none of them have played together at all which is the number one factor for success on the offensive line.

It isn't as much a lack of talent as a lack of cohesiveness and experience performing as a group that is the biggest challenge for this group. Remember the 2005-2006 Super Bowl team? The starting five on offensive line had all been together for years and not one of those five missed even a single game during that amazing season. The Seahawks current offensive line is in the very beginning stages of that process and the lack of cohesion was very apparent in the first half of the game in San Francisco as they nearly got pushed right out of the stadium and in to the bay area waters by a superior defensive unit. Fortunately, they were able to make some second half adjustments and gave T-Jack time to run the offense which lead to a near comeback victory before the 49ers special teams took over and literally ran away with the game.

Now the Steelers are about as good of an all around football team as there is in the league and after losing to the Ravens in embarrassing fashion on Opening Day, they were just looking for another team to take out their frustrations on. Enter the Seattle Seahawks who would be travelling all the way across the country and across three time zones which in itself is typically a hard thing for west coast teams to overcome. Add in the lack of depth and talent on the Seahawks roster compared to what Pittsburgh is currently putting on the field and most were looking at this to be a blowout in the range of 30 to 40 least.

What we actually ended up getting was a very interesting game that, even though it was pretty much over after the first couple Steelers possessions, still gave us a lot of indications on where the Hawks are now and what they need to do to get better. The defense held the Steelers at bay on several occasions and while they weren't able to take advantage of some turnover opportunities, still managed to keep the offense in check for a good portion of the game. On the other side of the ball, most had predicted a blitzing attack that would overwhelm the Hawks offense and send them all off on stretchers before halftime, but this plan never really materialized. Even the game announcers were confused at how the Steelers were focusing more on shutting down receivers than attacking the line.

Even with this unexpected game plan, Seattle was still unable to get anything going on the ground and had little success finding open receivers to get the ball to. The Steelers knew the running game would not be much of a factor given the state of the offensive line, so they employed a fairly basic, yet very effective attack. With wide receiver Sidney Rice (who promises to be a key contributor and was a long time teammate of T-Jack in Minnesota) out with an injury, there was no deep threat to pay attention to in the passing game. Even so, Jackson was able to get off several good throws, but guys like Ben Obomanu and Doug Baldwin were letting them slip through their hands in anticipation of getting hit hard by close coverage if they did make the grab. The rest of the time, Jackson was running from pass rushers who were looking to take free shots at the quarterback knowing that there were no open receivers for him to pass to.

While Jackson didn't have anywhere to throw and the running game was ineffective, he was still able to scramble away from trouble on many occasions and minimized damage on what would have been significant losses sometimes turning the broken plays in to modest gains. Through all of this, you saw a calm and confident presence managing what offense there was to be had and there really weren't many opportunities as the Steelers offense controlled the game and kept the Hawks defense on the field for far longer than they wanted to be. As I mentioned before, the defense did turn in an admirable effort even against long odds and managed to even knock Roethlesberger out of the game for a few plays with a minor knee injury.

Ultimately, the Steelers were just too much for an over matched Seahawks team who were unable to score a single point yet still managed to hold their opponent to only 24 points of their own. Remember this was supposed to be a blowout of unheard of proportions given all the factors leading up to this contest so one could make a case of this being a disappointing win for Pittsburgh and a small moral victory for Seattle. Yes, you did read that correctly. I used the words victory and Seattle in the same sentence even though they head back to Seattle with two losses after two games.

What we have learned in the last two weeks is that the Seattle Seahawks have a very good defense that will keep them in games and may even win one or two over the course of the season especially when aided by the 12th man while playing at home in Seattle. We have also learned that the offensive line is as much of a problem as everyone thought it would be as we have not seen any type of running game to this point and they have been unable to stop defenses from getting to the quarterback with any consistency. Lastly, we know for certain that playing on the road the first two games of the year is just as hard as we figured it would be and those two losses came just as quickly as we all thought they might.

Through all this, we have seen a quarterback in Tarvarus Jackson not only survive the first two weeks, but one could make an argument that he thrived when given the opportunity to play the game as intended. Look to the second half of the first game in San Francisco and you saw an offensive passing attack that was both efficient and effective. In Pittsburgh there really was no chance and the passes he was able to make were not completed on the back end by the patchwork receiving core. Not once did you see Jackson look rattled, intimidated, or injured by any of the defensive siege he has been under for eight quarters of football. If Matt had still been with the team, he would most likely be out with an injury by now and if Charlie had been in the same situations, you would have seen more than a few interceptions thrown and several more sacks being taken.

As much as I loved Matt Hasselbeck for everything he gave the city of Seattle and for as much as I think Charlie is a capable quarterback, I firmly believe that Tarvarus Jackson is the right quarterback for the team as it stands right now. His toughness and poise are unquestionable and I look forward to seeing him perform under more favorable conditions and with the home team fans behind his back. I just hope the fans stay behind him and give him a chance to show what can be done with a solid running attack, a little time in the pocket, and a few receivers to throw the ball to.

Go Hawks!

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