Whatever your feelings about Tarvaris Jackson, he leaves Seattle with a lot more respect than when he arrived. At times last year he was a frustrating watch, but he was out there every week fighting to help his team with a torn pec. He did a job for the Seahawks when they needed a quarterback post-lockout. The guy deserves some credit as he moves on to Buffalo.
Of course, it was difficult to acknowledge this at the time. When the coaches in Seattle were talking up Jackson as much as possible, there was understandable concern. Do they really believe in this guy? Long before Matt Flynn was signed or Russell Wilson drafted, the suggestion seemed to be Jackson could be the future. Fans probably would’ve been a little easier on Jackson if only they knew what the future had in store.
So despite his new-found respect, there’s no getting away from the fact the Seahawks lost games last year because the quarterback play just wasn’t good enough.
Week 4 vs Atlanta – Jackson actually dragged the Seahawks back into this one with the score 24-7 at half-time. But he still turned the ball over twice and when he had the chance to lead a game winning drive, he came up short. The contest ended with an ambitious missed field goal and a 30-28 scoreline in favor of the Falcons.
Week 7 vs Cleveland - This was on Charlie Whitehurst, who started instead of the injured Jackson. Whitehurst threw 12-30 for 97 yards and a pick. He also lost a fumble. Marshawn Lynch also missed this game and the Seahawks slumping offense managed only a field goal in a 6-3 defeat.
Week 8 vs Cincinnati – Despite the 34-12 scoreline, this was a close game. The Bengals were far from perfect but Seattle’s ineptitude on offense made life easy for Cincy. Both Seattle quarterbacks played and both struggled. The game ended with a pick-six from Jackson. Ho-hum.
Week 12 vs Washington – For the most part this one appeared to be in the bag. The Seahawks led 17-7 after a Golden Tate touchdown in the fourth quarter. Job done? Maybe not… Washington responded with a couple of scores and Seattle’s offense fell asleep. This was a typical Tarvaris Jackson performance for me. His stat line wasn’t awful, he made some good plays. But in the fourth quarter when just one decent drive was required to wrestle back some momentum, he couldn’t get it done. Seahawks lose 23-17 to a lousy Washington outfit.
Week 16 vs San Francisco – The margin of defeat on Christmas Eve was two points. Jackson had the ball twice driving for a game-winning field goal. He failed twice. The final nail in the coffin came when he threw out of bounds on fourth down. Good grief.
Week 17 vs Arizona – Another game that seemed to be in Seattle’s control, but when the Cardinals rallied the Seahawks needed something, anything, on offense. They couldn’t drive for the game winning score in normal or overtime. This was eerily similar to the San Francisco defeat and Jackson’s final act as the starting quarterback was a lingering disappointment.
I’m not trying to argue Seattle should’ve won all of these games. You can’t expect your quarterback to pull it out of the bag every time. It’s also worth stressing that the defeats listed above weren’t solely down to the quarterback(s), but certainly he/they played a significant part. Had the Seahawks won 50% of the games above they would’ve had a 10-6 record. Even just a couple of victories gives the team a winning record. They couldn’t get it done.
Without wishing to tempt fate, I do think Russell Wilson will give the Seahawks the missing piece of the puzzle. He’ll no doubt have a few off-weeks as a rookie, but that’s OK. The Seahawks boast a strong defense that could be a top-five unit this year. They have a productive run game. They just need the guy pulling the strings who can lead the game-winning drive and be a little more consistent behind center.
In the last two seasons I don’t think it’s a coincidence Matt Hasselbeck and Tarvaris Jackson combined for a 26:30 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the regular season and the Seahawks had a losing record each time. Hasselbeck was -5 in 2010, scoring just 12 touchdowns. Jackson was +1 but only managed two extra scores. Hasselbeck was 28th in 2010, above only Brett Favre, Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen. Jackson ranked 22nd for touchdown passes last year, level with Colt McCoy and below both Rex Grossman and Matt Moore.
Basically, it’s not hard to identify one area where the Seahawks are due a major improvement.
Wilson may not take it from one extreme to the other (three quarterbacks scored 40+ touchdowns in 2011), but if he can score a modest 1-1.5 touchdowns per game this year, he’ll reach between 16-24 in total. He avoided turnovers like the plague in college, but even a pick every game will give him a healthy ratio. He could easily record an improvement on the 20:13 Andy Dalton managed as a rookie in Cincinnati – and he made the playoffs.
Still not convinced? How about four recent similar comparisons. Matt Ryan in Atlanta went 16:11 and helped the Falcons go from 4-12 to the playoffs as a rookie. They’ve remained competitive since, with a solid ground game and decent defense. Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed a 15-1 record as a rookie surrounded by an elite defense and run-attack. He was 17:11 for touchdowns-to-interceptions in his first year. Joe Flacco in Baltimore? 14:12 as a rookie and the Ravens, like Atlanta, had a major turnaround. Mark Sanchez struggled but didn’t hamper his team too much to stop them making the playoffs and then, the AFC Championship game in his first year.
Starting a rookie is never ideal, but it’s becoming more and more common. Being a rookie quarterback alone isn’t really the biggest issue – it’s the supporting cast. If you start a rookie in week one with a bad defense and no playmakers, don’t expect success. A lot of teams picking early in the draft who take quarterbacks are in that position. Cam Newton is the rare exception of a player who excelled in such circumstances. Put a good defense on the field, run the ball well and a rookie can prosper.
The passing game is the one area Seattle can dramatically improve this year with relative ease, even with a rookie starting. If such an improvement warrants two more victories, they’ll earn a winning record in 2012. I suspect they can surpass 9-7. They have the defense. They have the running game. All that’s missing so far is the quarterback. Maybe they found the answer, at last?