Apologies for the lack of updates this weekend – internet access hasn’t been as forthcoming as hoped during this trip back to the PNW.
Matt Barkley vs Andrew Luck
I fought off the jet lag to stay awake during the marathon encounter between USC and Stanford. It actually proved to be a very similar meeting to last year’s game – closely fought with a nail biting finish. The other piece of deja vu? I actually thought Matt Barkley performed better than Andrew Luck.
There is an awful lot to like about Luck and of course he’s going to be the #1 overall pick next April. If you break down all the physical aspects of being a quarterback, Luck will be superior to Barkley. However, Barkley has a vital edge.
This was the first time I’d seen Luck pressured this season – the USC defensive line provided something akin to the kind of pressure Luck will face at the next level. Usually, Luck is given carte blanche to run the offense how he sees fit, picking his passes and allowing a dominating run game to prosper. In three years starting, Luck has been sacked a mere 16 times in total. To put that into perspective, Matt Barkley was sacked 16 times in 2010 alone. Luck’s quick release, understanding of defensive reads and mobility have played a part in his low number of sacks, but it’s one cog in what is essentially a machine of an offense.
The two sacks registered by USC in this game doubled Stanford’s total conceded for the season. This game offered a rare insight into how Luck copes with pressure and to be perfectly honest, he looked flustered. The Trojans got into his head and it led to mistakes. The touchdown interception was uncharacteristic, but then so was the pressure Stanford’s quarterback was facing. His accuracy – usually pinpoint – dropped a few notches. Suddenly the guy looked human.
That’s not to say this was a poor performance that will impact his draft stock – it wasn’t and it won’t. However, it showed that there’s still work to be done if Luck is going to become the player most expect him to be. Maybe this was the game he needed in terms of his development? After all, he settled down well after the pick six to lead a touchdown drive and negotiate three over times for the victory. He is going to face pressure like that every week at the next level – particularly early in his career for a bad team – and he has to learn to deal with it.
Barkley on the other hand is already at that level and this was evidenced again on Saturday. He’s composed in the pocket when challenged, he knows how to buy that extra split second to complete a pass. I thought this was another tremendous performance again flashing high on-field IQ - making good decisions, progressing through his reads and getting the ball to his playmakers. In the first half he was let down big time by his receivers – particularly a far from 100% Robert Woods. I counted one bad pass that asked too much of his target.
Give the guy even a mediocre line, a good running back and a few guys to throw to and he can be the next Matt Ryan. He doesn’t have elite physical tools, but everything else that matters in the game (accuracy, touch, decision making, experience in a pro-offense, character, experience making multiple reads) is top notch. And when we talk about a lack of elite size or arm strength, it’s not that either are a major weakness. Barkley has sneaky mobility and will be able to a.) extend plays and b.) make plays on the ground to keep a drive going. Barkley can get a football down field at a level that will test an NFL secondary.
These last two performances against Notre Dame and Stanford have me as convinced as everthat Barkley is primed for a successful career at the next level and that he thoroughly deserves a high first round grade. A lot of the issues that will he will be faced with as a rookie – such as learning a playbook on the run, dealing with pressure behind a suspect line and having to be the key part of a growing team – he will have faced at USC.
That’s not to say he’ll be a pro-bowl QB in year one, but I have no reason to believe he can’t be introduced in the same way as Matt Ryan. Atlanta made life easier for their young QB by investing in Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and a new left tackle within 12 months of drafting Ryan third overall. Eventually, they made the splash for another receiver in Julio Jones. The Seahawks already have their left tackle, they’ve already invested in a wide receiver (Sidney Rice) and an expensive tight end (Zach Miller). Seattle is ready for a quarterback of Barkley’s caliber to come in and lead this team for the foreseeable future.
Will he declare? It’s still up for discussion, although Lane Kiffin says he’s ready almost with a resigned tone. Kiffin also says it’s more about what he wants to do, and I can see the argument that says he’ll stay for a fourth year as the starter at USC. However, with Matt Kalil almost certainly turning pro and if he receives a high grade from the draft committee, the scene is set for the next stage of Barkley’s career. He needs to strike while the iron is hot – and I suspect it’ll be burning by the end of the year.
Seahawks would be picking 8th
Here is the current draft order heading into week nine of the NFL season:
#4 St. Louis
A lot can happen between now and the new year and the Seahawks do have some winnable games remaining on their schedule. However, I expect this is quite likely to be the range Seattle is picking next April. Without doubt, the Seahawks need to draft a quarterback. Yes – Tarvaris Jackson has performed perhaps better than people expected so far. No – Pete Carroll cannot afford his legacy to rest upon Jackson’s ability to take this team forward.
John Clayton mentioned on ESPN 710 this week: “If they don’t get a quarterback in the draft next year, their whole coaching staff will be gone.” It wasn’t intended to be a defining statement as a result of whether the team does indeed draft a quarterback or not, rather a review of what will inevitably happen. There needs to be a long term plan in place for the offense that you will never achieve signing quarterbacks to two-year deals. If the Seahawks really believe Tarvaris Jackson is ‘the guy’ they need to sign him to a five-year extension now and make that clear. Otherwise, this issue will linger on until a statement of intent is made.
Right now the offense looks like a patchwork job. There’s a young offensive line learning on the run, quarterbacks coming and going due to injury, new playmakers being bedded into the team and the tap runs hot and cold for every piece of this unit. The offensive line isn’t helped by a mixed bag of execution by the playmakers and the quarterbacks/running backs are not helped by the offensive line being green and facing defensive fronts that simply don’t respect Seattle’s playmakers.
It’s a difficult situation for Pete Carroll. This season hasn’t been a step back in performance – it’s pretty similar overall and maybe even improved in certain areas. What has changed is the fact there’s another team in this division that suddenly has it’s act together. Let’s not forget that last season was a losing effort at 7-9 – and it would’ve been worse had the Seahawks not been competing in a woeful NFC West. Of those seven wins four came within the division and a fifth came against the NFL’s worst team (Carolina). The two other wins came courtesy of a special performance from Leon Washington against San Diego and an impressive victory in Chicago (similar to this year’s win in New York).
Two year’s into this regime there’s been a lot of turnover and predictably some mixed results. However, by year three I suspect people will expect to see further progress – especially in what remains a very winnable division. This will coincide with the possibility of drafting a rookie QB and needing to give them time – whether that’s on the field or holding a clipboard. Ultimately this is why the Seahawks cannot afford to ignore the QB position any longer. This time next year people may be willing to accept more defeats if the quarterback for the future is being primed - that will buy further time for ‘Project Carroll’ to unfold.
However, being 2-5 next year having avoided the quarterback position again probably won’t be tolerable to many people. Right now, this team looks like a 2-5 team in the worst division in the NFL. Fans, owners, the media – they need the kind of hope you can’t get with improving run defense and some nice personnel moves at positions like cornerback and safety. This franchise needs the player it’s foundations will be built around for the long haul. You can’t get cute when it comes to the QB position, and the teams that fudge the issue get left behind.
All Tarvaris Jackson can do is prove he’s capable of holding the fort until the next guy is ready. This team cannot avoid drafting a quarterback next year. Of course it’s not just about drafting any player, so that’s why you have to be aggressive if he’s out of your reach. Waiting for the ideal player to fall into your lap is kind of like waiting to win the lottery.