I have to admit a large degree of shock when the Seahawks went into New York and beat the Giants. This is a team that played very poorly against San Francisco and Pittsburgh, did just enough to beat a hopeless Arizona team and for one half was thoroughly dominated by the Atlanta Falcons. Then someone flipped a switch at half time of the Falcons game and this has been a completely different team.
Maybe it’s the injection of quality provided by a playmaker like Sidney Rice, forcing teams to gameplan a Seahawks receiver (what a novelty) drawing pressure away from the offensive line and opening up space for other players like the emerging Doug Baldwin? Maybe it’s a case of the offensive line – robbed of crucial work time with Tom Cable during the lockout – suddenly starting to play like a group that warranted the high level of investment?
Whatever the reason, suddenly what looked like the NFL’s worst offense in week two is now doing quite well. The defense continues to thrive against the run and while consistent pressure is not being created on passing downs, Chris Clemons continues to produce sacks to draw attention away from the reality that Seattle’s pass rush still needs improving.
They had a bit of luck against New York – the kind of luck that was maybe lacking to crown that comeback against the Falcons. The end result, for better or worse, is zero luck . Andrew Luck. He is but a distant memory for those who at one point projected – not unfairly – that the Seahawks may be worst team in the NFL this year. That isn’t going to happen. Even two wins might be too much of an ask for Indianapolis, Miami or even struggling St. Louis. This Seahawks team will not ‘lose out’ from here, particularly with four NFC West games remaining on the schedule including two meetings with the imploding Rams.
This is a draft blog, so what questions should we ask for the long term future if the team is experiencing an upturn in form? One thing remains, unmoved – unchanged. Regardless of improved play from Tarvaris Jackson, this team needs to draft a quarterback. People can try and believe there’s some magic winning formula that doesn’t include an upper echelon quarterback, but consistent winning does coincide with owning an elite trigger man. Undoubtedly the best way to secure that quarterback is to draft one early in the first round. Not just any random player, the right player. It just so happens that more often than not in the modern era of scouting and public attention, the right players are identified and leave the board early.
Perhaps Jackson (or Charlie Whitehurst) does enough to remove the previously hideous prospect of this being anything more than a one-year fix at the position post-Matt Hasselbeck? Ideally you’re not starting the rookie, but then ideally you’re not starting a freshman quarterback in college and that’s something Pete Carroll didn’t shirk away from. This is a young team, it might as well have a young quarterback, right? Let’s just draft a guy first before we get into that.
So working under the assumption Seattle is improving enough to at least be competitive, what is realistic for the rest of the season? Can they go to Cleveland after the bye and beat a Browns outfit experiencing a similar transitional period under a new front office? Have they got the momentum to follow it up by beating another young team in Cincinnati at home? At 4-3 you wouldn’t be intimidated by a trip to Dallas, right?
Suddenly your imagination runs wild when a mere seven days ago only the most optimistic of fans would be predicting anything but a 1-4 record going into the bye week.
People were considering the draft this season earlier than maybe they ever had before. It wasn’t just Andrew Luck, the question being thrown around was basically ‘is this team bad enough to finally get a good quarterback?’ It’s now switched, with people now considering whether this team will end up being too good to draft a good quarterback. Quite the turn around.
Interestingly I’ve had more people asking about defensive lineman on Twitter and via email since the Giants win. It seems like a world of possibility has opened up at other positions, while one has potentially been slammed shut at quarterback. Are the Seahawks going to win their way out of drafting a franchise QB?
I look at this two ways. Firstly, while the win over New York was impressive, there’s still a lot of mystery about this team. We’ve seen so many extremes – really bad, really good, incredibly mediocre and superb. What’s the truth? Is it somewhere in the middle? Basically a middle of the road situation? Win the next two and people will be talking about the playoffs. Lose the next two and people will start asking about Andrew Luck again. Either appears to be a realistic possibility, meaning guarded optimism may be the best approach.
Secondly, what should we make of the quarterback situation if the team does continue to improve? Hyperbole about an other worldly group of quarterbacks in 2012 has died a death - hardly anyone is saying that anymore. People clung to Ryan Tannehill but that settled down quickly. Now Mel Kiper is claiming Robert Griffin III is a first rounder, an assesment I respect but don’t agree with at all. I’ve never moved from this being a two-horse race in round one with Luck and Matt Barkley. Should Barkley return to USC (very possible) what are we left with? Even against a rank bad Texas, I found issues with Landry Jones. When you look at the tape (see below) he makes some nice throws. The play action on the first offensive snap was well executed to allow the receiver an opportunity to make the most of the situation.
He’s mastered the left side fade to Kenny Stills and goes to it often with a degree of success. It’s a scripted play that wouldn’t work this regularly at the next level, but college teams are so focused in on Ryan Broyles Oklahoma can pair him next to Stills and Jones just has to pump the flare or short route to create the space downfield. Florida State got caught watching Broyles and so did Texas at the weekend. A pro team would see that play work against FSU and work to remove it, Texas failed to do this. It’ll be interesting to see if Oklahoma can keep going back to that play.
Jones is at his best in the shotgun, not needing to move his feet (or using a basic three step drop from the gun) and directing traffic from a clean pocket. In that environment, he’s able to pick his passes and move the ball. If you notice the vast majority of his snaps come with very little movement or footwork and he’s afforded a clear vision of his routes and what’s available. He benefits from this as much as Oklahoma benefits from his talent as a passer, but he’s sharp when protected and the misses are outnumbered by the crisp slants and solid intermediate completions. He won’t enjoy such luxuries in the NFL.
Let’s talk about the issues with his play…. He’s less mobile than I originally considered based on 2011 tape and knowing that he can’t move away from pressure he panics. Look at 1:24 on the video below and tell me that’s the level of composure you want to see against a one man rush in the QB’s line of vision? Jones has a huge zone of space in front of him to step into the pocket taking the defensive end out of the play and buying more than enough time to complete a pass. Instead, he panics and bails on the play. He looks so uncomfortable running with the ball (see the bootleg at at 1:52) and he’s not going to extend plays consistently using his feet.
In all but one game I’ve watched of Jones he consistently fails to check out of a deep pass in good coverage. I’m not sure if he’s just too zoned in on specific calls or whether it’s a decision making or progression problem, but I hate seeing him throw careless deep balls to receivers who have no reason to expect the pass to come their way in double coverage. Also, if the deep route is receiving extra attention there should be a nice single coverage options if not on a second or third receiver, then certainly to your checkdown whether that’s a back or one of the wide outs.
I was a fan of Ryan Mallett last year – a player you would never describe as ‘elusive’. Technically, however, Mallett was a surgeon in the pocket with an arm to die for. He was clinical, precise and for all his well advertised flaws had an excellent football brain. What’s more he was an extreme big play threat, providing that rare ‘touchdown with one pass’ ability anywhere on the field. You could bring the heat against Mallett, but you ran the risk of being burned. Jones isn’t anywhere close to that level of polish and he lacks the excellent physical skills and big play ability. Very little was scripted about Mallett’s game in a complex pro-style offense and despite his awful straight line speed he did a better job – in my opinion – avoiding pressure to extend plays than we see from Landry Jones. They are very different prospects, despite having one similar weakness.
What is slightly contradictory about this is Jones’ ability to operate a great screen game under pressure. It’s hard to diagnose Oklahoma are going to run a screen, a team will have Jones in a difficult situation yet he has a knack of one tilt of the arm and dumping off to a receiver or running back. It’s completely deceptive and brilliant – something clearly the Sooners spend a lot of time on. How much of this will reciprocate to the next level? I’m unsure, but one of the big problems I have with Jones is the little things he’s mastered through game planning and execution (screens, left side fade after a pump fake) are too basic to work with such regularity in the NFL. Can he open his game out, or will he be found out instead?
Tape supplied by JMPasq
It’s important to mention at this stage that some people do view Jones as a potential high pick. He’s high on both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper’s boards, Tony Pauline on the other hand had a pre-season grade of round four. My own view is round 2-3, but I can see a situation where he can go much higher. I have to say I hope that’s the case, particularly if it allows a player like Matt Barkley (should he declare) to remain available later on. I can also see a situation where I’m proven somewhat correct about Jones and while he might be the 3rd best quarterback available next year, the Seahawks and several other teams are faced with a dilemma of possibly committing to someone perhaps not worthy of the investment – a potentially fatal mistake if it backfires – or again ignoring the position.
Do they wait until later, again ignoring the most important position in the NFL? By next April it’ll be 19 years since the Seahawks last drafted a quarterback in round one, an astonishing fact. Some fans will have witnessed the drafting of Rick Mirer in 1993 and since had children that are now in college. Incredible. There are players who will be available later on - such as Southern Miss QB Austin Davis – with starting potential down the line. Can the Seahawks afford to coast along at quarterback until such a player is deemed ready to start? If that’s the plan, will Josh Portis be afforded the opportunity to stake his claim?
I suspect this isn’t going to be a deep draft pool of high end talent. In fact, as things stand today it’s the weakest looking class I’ve covered to date. Undoubtedly it’ll be glorified due to the presence of one brilliant prospect in Andrew Luck. I come to this conclusion – if the Seahawks really are a bad team that picks in the top 5-10 range, for pity’s sake take a quarterback. If the Seahawks are middling or – heaven forbid - back in the post season… do what it takes to ensure one of two excellent quarterback prospects in Luck or Barkley are swapping California for Seattle. Yes it may be very expensive. It may take a deal of worrying proportions to get it done. Sure, maybe fortune favors the conservative and ‘the guy’ just falls into your lap like Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. I wouldn’t necessarily take that chance, you have to be pro-active.
The dreaded situation would be one that is almost permanently short term. Stop gap is a more frightening word than short term, but that’s what it would always be. Seattle won’t get anywhere looking for their version of Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee without the Jake Locker waiting in the wings. Carson Palmer in the 2011 off season for a modest price in preparation of drafting a quarterback in 2012? Sure, why not. Carson Palmer as a justification for looking at other positions next April in a pre-draft trade? Not so keen. Tarvaris Jackson is a guy who truly deserves a lot of credit for the work he’s done so far in getting on with things in a difficult situation. Even so, rightly or wrongly he is never going to be accepted as anything but a seat warmer for an eventual successor.
This Seahawks team has shown a lot of promise, a lot of improvement and it has – with Pete Carroll – got an identity. It deserves a proper investment at the quarterback position to really get things moving.