When people call the NFL a quarterbacks league, they speak the absolute, unquestioned truth. The blue print to success is clear these days – having a franchise passer is integral and so is having players on defense who can prevent other franchise passer’s succeeding.
The evidence on Sunday suggests the Seahawks have neither.
I don’t want to be overly critical because it’s only week one and there’s still plenty of football to come. The Seahawks can still go 4-2 in the NFC West and give themselves a fair shot at retaining the division crown. If you’d have made that point to me at half time yesterday however, I would’ve laughed loudly.
The Seahawks’ offense was pathetic in the first half against San Francisco. It wasn’t really a surprise, because the first team unit looked equally awful in all four pre-season games. The offensive line didn’t do a great job, the running game was completely shut down and Tarvaris Jackson looked as tentative and panicky as he did during his five seasons in Minnesota. Is shambles too strong a word? Only if you believe a week one judgement is too soon. On pure face value, it’s the perfect description.
At least the second half performance was better and unlike the previous regime in Seattle, there was at least signs of spirit and hope. The simple fact is though – you can’t give teams a 16-0 head start on the road and expect to win.
Jackson deserves some degree of time to settle into life with the Seahawks offense. He’s been vaulted into a starting role simply due to his familiarity with the offensive coordinator, but his move to Seattle still carries a major learning curve. The problem for Tarvaris is that unlike a rookie or a player that cost some form of trade stock – people will naturally be less patient. The mere fact that Charlie Whitehurst cost a third round pick buys him extra wiggle room with fans because they don’t want their team to make a mistake in the trade. Trades carry pride and a need for justification that low-level investment free-agent pick-ups don’t. Jackson hasn’t got the same luxury as a Whitehurst – if he fails then nobody is going to worry about that $4m salary. People are already concerned that the Seahawks wasted a third rounder on Whitehurst – it’s one of the big argument for Charlie starting regardless of prior performance.
A lot has been made of the offensive line struggles and certainly they exist, but I’m going to keep beating a drum I’ve been banging on about for the last few years. If your offense carries zero or very little skill/passing threat to an opposition defense, you can’t expect to block your way to success. Offensive line play will never be defined by high draft picks or expensive free agents. They are a group of individuals working as a team competing – at times – in outnumbered situations. If you have a lot of talented guys among that group that happened to cost a lot of draft stock, fine. You can’t, however, just fit early draft picks and big names into a line and suddenly expect great pass protection and a running game. Familiarity, execution, scheme and opportunity are just as important as talent for an offensive line. If they are being consistently blitzed, stacked, attacked and outnumbered you can’t expect miracles.
The offensive line is just one cog that relies on the performance of the quarterback and skill position players as much as they rely on protection and blocking. How else do you explain the fact teams with elite quarterbacks and far from elite offensive line regularly meet in the Super Bowl? When you play Green Bay, you fear Aaron Rodgers and all of those receiving options. You don’t go to San Diego, Indianapolis or New England and worry about getting around an elite offensive line - it’s all about the quarterback.
Jackson is never going to be afforded the kind of perfect passing pocket some crave and demand in Seattle. Which team in it’s right mind is going to be concerned about him beating them in the air? Harsh but true. That’s not to say he won’t defeat the odds and win games this year. That’s not to say he won’t end up demanding greater respect with his performances. However, those complaining that Jackson isn’t getting enough time to play better need to realise that situation will not exist and probably wouldn’t even with 2005 Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson on the line.
Speaking of 2005, the Seahawks are a perfect example of this argument. Yes they had a great line, but they also had a Pro-Bowl quarterback in his prime, working within a system he’d mastered from one of the great offensive minds. That passing game, on it’s day, functioned like clockwork. They also had a NFL MVP superstar at running back. Would Jones and Hutchinson have enjoyed half as much success in Seattle without all of the other pieces to the puzzle? I would say almost certainly not.
The Seahawks have acquired some talent this year, not just on the offensive line but also at the skill positions. Yet Michael Lombardi was correct when he said right now they’re just accumulating individuals. There’s not a true identity to the team other than a lot of talk about being able to run and seemingly ‘get by’ at the quarterback position until perhaps the opportunity to get ‘the guy’ appears. I can’t see much changing until they do get that guy, whenever that may be. Pass-protection won’t really get much better this season apart from the occasional game (not next week, for sure). The running game will continue to lurch on and will not define this team the way Pete Carroll wants it to. Until that quarterback is acquired one way or another that can sling it like the best, this will be the story of the Seahawks offense. And right now it looks like one of the worst – if not the worst – in the NFL.
The defense seems to have received a much more positive review for it’s performance. Admittedly, San Francisco couldn’t run for peanuts and that is testament to the stoutness up front. That’s all well and good, but Alex Smith may not have an easier game all season and that’s in spite of the fact Frank Gore had only 59 yards from 22 carries. Smith coasted along, unchallenged, to the tune of 15-20 passing. There was NO pass rush. For all the plaudits being handed to the defense, they’ll struggle to come up against an opposition quite as weak as the one presented in San Francisco.
Alex Smith – much maligned former #1 pick who is again playing for his future and seemingly a stop gap for whatever direction Jim Harbaugh chooses to go for the long haul. Michael Crabtree – talented but absent throughout pre-season. Braylon Edwards – the guy nobody wanted. New coaching staff/scheme – and it needed to be installed in a much shorter time frame. Positive aspects like Vernon Davis and Frank Gore noted, but this is not an offense that will give anyone a headache outside of the NFC West this year. Just like Seattle.
That’s the second part of the equation for a competitor – you need to pass on offense and stop the pass on defense. If you’re not creating sacks, you need to be creating pressure. The Seahawks have some niche role players who through scheme will generate a level of production in the LEO, but they lack one dominating, scary pass rusher.
I kept an eye on the Redskins vs Giants game yesterday and was amazed how successful Washington were despite the fact they have some of the same problems as Seattle on offense. It was all based around Brian Orakpoconsistently beating his man, supported by a collection of other guys capable of capitalising on Orakpo’s dominance such as round one pick Ryan Kerrigan.
It’s really encouraging to see that the Seahawks are tough against the run and it has to be said that for the most part on Sunday, the young group of linebackers and defensive backs did a good job. Yet we will never feel the true potential of this unit without someone to cause havoc in the backfield. It doesn’t need to be an edge rusher – it could be a great three technique. Nevertheless, that’s almost as big a need as the gigantic hole at quarterback.
On paper that’s two needs that could be the difference between Sunday’s first half shambles and potential NFC competitor. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, alongside the left tackle position, they’re the most important in the game. They need to aggressively attempt to solve those problems.
In the meantime I don’t expect the Seahawks to prosper in 2011 and the Cardinals game in week three will basically determine the season. Win that game and maybe there will be a shot at repeating as division champs? Maybe they can find some momentum? Lose that and you’re looking at a possible (probable?) 0-5 start, potentially stretching to 0-6 in Cleveland after the bye. There are kind games on the schedule such as Cincinnati at home and Washington at home – despite week one wins neither team is a daunting prospects at the CLink. There are five more games against the rest of the NFC West. Yet I do feel this team is set for an arduous campaign and maybe in the long run that won’t be such a catastrophe if they can fill one of those enormous holes? That’s such a lottery though, which is why the concept of ‘suck for Luck’ still doesn’t interest me much.