Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hasselbeck, Harper, and the Overblown Playoff Win

"Pro Bowl votes are already in! WOOHOO!"
Matt Hasselbeck did not redeem himself for 2010 with the New Orleans playoff game. Or 2009, or 2008, or any combination thereof. He didn't have the best game of his career, he didn't prove his doubters wrong, and he didn't demonstrate that his occasional good games in 2010 weren't flukes. He may have made others forget about his 12 TD, 17 INT performance in the regular season, but he didn't make me forget.

The injury absence of Saints FS Malcolm Jenkins and the horrific performance of SS Roman Harper were just as much the story of that game as Hasselbeck. Anyone who thinks Hasselbeck's four TD throws were impressive hasn't broken the plays down closely enough. Harper has been solid for the Saints for years, but on January 8, he undermined the playoff game for New Orleans worse than Kelly Jennings has ever undermined a game for the Seahawks. It was that bad.

I know this is harsh. I know I'm putting the Saints game in the most pessimistic light possible. But that's a valid way to look at things, and I have no qualms about it, because it involves the most important position on any NFL roster. This matter needs to be addressed, because it's a key argument in the ongoing debate over how the Seahawks should handle their QB roster this offseason. If Hass still has serious potential as a future QB, then he gains significance in the team's plans and Charlie Whitehurst looks more and more superfluous. If not, it's time to be proactive with the position, probably in the draft. Hasselbeck could have a role with Seattle either way, but context is needed.

Breaking it down:

* Touchdown One: TE John Carlson, invisible all season, slips past Harper's blown blanketing for a wide-open touchdown. When Darrius Heyward-Bey came alive for the Raiders against Seattle, did it signal the emergence of Heyward-Bey as an elite player or merely a horrible opposing defense? The latter; Heyward-Bey immediately reverted to first-round bust after Seattle left town. Likewise, Carlson's sudden contributions deserve a skeptical eye - he started his career well, but has dropped off immensely as of late.

* Touchdown Two: Carlson falls down/cut blocks/however you want to interpret it because it doesn't really matter - Harper let him go and committed the cardinal sin of defensive backs, bouncing in place while staring at the QB. Seattle's nickelbacks got burned for that all year. Carlson gets up unnoticed, stands wide open, and benefits from a Hasselbeck toss that my grandmother could have made. (Seriously, she lives in the Sedona desert and hikes a lot.) Is it really likely that Carlson just suddenly decided to play well after a whole season off? Occam's Razor and the tape tell me no, Harper just whiffed again.

* Touchdown Three: Once again, a slow white player slips past not just Harper, but most of the New Orleans secondary. When 34-year-old Brandon Stokley beats a bunch of guys far faster than he, that suggests a defensive breakdown as much as it does a good play. It certainly doesn't betray a powerhouse Seahawks offense that just mysteriously waited to appear until it really mattered. It's not flattering to Hasselbeck that he can toss a 40-yard rainbow to a receiver who's beaten coverage by five yards. Most backup quarterbacks could do that.

* Touchdown Four: The TD to Mike Williams - now that was amongst the best throws of Hasselbeck's career. It was a flash of the accuracy that defined his peak, along with the burgeoning deep ball prowess that Jeremy Bates tried to instill in him. The play was supposed to go underneath to Justin Forsett, but he was double-covered and Matt improvised. Nine times out of ten, a pass like that from Hasselbeck gets picked off, but that time the accuracy was there. It's the kind of pass that can beat any coverage, and the kind of pass that Hasselbeck simply doesn't produce often enough to erase from my memory the 4+ turnover performances last month.

* Touchdown Four and a Half: The toss to Cameron Morrah that was almost a touchdown. This was half New Orleans feeding Matt the play, half Matt juking the Saints with a pump-fake. There's a difference between watching a defense blow a play and making the defense blow a play. The latter is what good QB's do, and this time Matt forced the issue. Nice play for sure.

Also, I give big kudos to Matt for keeping his head in the game and not completely collapsing trying to lift his team out of a 10-0 hole early on. That might actually have been his biggest accomplishment against the Saints. He tried to force it against equally mediocre defenses in the regular season, and the result was usually a blowout. Matt did settle down against the Saints. He was equally cool against the Bears; the Chicago loss, unlike much of the regular season, seemed the fault of almost everyone but Hasselbeck. Don't blame Matt for that one.

But for those citing these playoff games as evidence of Hasselbeck's value to Seattle: would those playoff games ever happened if the rest of the NFC West had even approached competency this year? Probably not.

Hassebeck had a very 7-9 performance in 2010. He matched up well against some defenses, but experience can only stack up so far against declining arm strength, declining pocket presence, and declining accuracy. There are some who have taken the Hass criticism to a witch-hunt extreme at times, but when they credit the struggles of CB Greg Toler for Matt's success against Arizona, it's hard to argue. Again, there's a fine line between a QB picking on a defender and a defender giving the game away. Better defenses embarrassed Hasselbeck with ease. And if the Rams had had it in them to catch basic deep passes in Week 17, the Seahawks wouldn't even have made the playoffs to give Hasselbeck his "redemption" - mostly because of Hasselbeck's struggles, specifically the December implosion that finally got him benched.

The New Orleans game didn't wipe the slate clean on Hasselbeck or 2010 at all. Players need to be judged by both their ceiling and their floor. Hasselbeck's ceiling against the Saints had as many valid excuses attached to it as most assign to his late-career collapse, and his floor was downright scary.

I still grudgingly admit that Hasselbeck could still be of service to the Seahawks, and I love the guy to death for what he's done for this team. He could be, as many people are now calling him, a "bridge to the future". He certainly deserves a year under an OC who's fully competent. Obviously he still has something left in the tank - that was never the question, the question has always been "how much, and is it enough?" And for those insisting that he's still the team's future himself, the New Orleans game doesn't belong in their body of evidence. It doesn't really belong in the courtroom at all, for either good or bad. The regular season is of more importance here, because that regular season didn't earn the playoffs - it arrived via fluke and continued largely thanks to a bad day for Roman Harper.

Who then the Pro Bowl?


  1. Feel like pitting a stick in the bee's nest and stirring things up today much?

    Though I agree. That game is not the definition of Hasselbeck in 2010, 7-9 a better definition. His inability to target guys in the red zone this year was inexcusable for a NFL quarterback, let alone one with his supposed savvy.

  2. Ehh, I just saw something that I disagreed with and decided to write about it. That's a large fraction of this blog - pure reaction. :) It's a fun way to live!


    Maybe you could follow this post up with a "Hasselbeck Sucked Balls against the Bears" post next? I'm so tired of hearing the Hasselbeck proved himself in the playoffs and now deserves a multi-year extension garbage. Against the Bears he lead the Seahawk offense into the 4th quarter down 28-3 and salvaged three garbage time scores against a defense sitting back absorbing yards and clock time. He also threw 20 incomplete passes.

    Once again, thank you. I'll be using this link to save myself a lot of breath.

  4. Well, like I wrote, Hasselbeck wasn't responsible for the Bears loss. He was accurate and good with his decisions in that game. His receivers decided to take a day off and drop passes. I'm the first one to hold the QB responsible and avoid making excuses for him, but IMHO the worst you could say about the Bears game is that he didn't do much either way.

    The Saints game, though...a hot performance that really wasn't so hot in context.