Happy to see his team for the first time in a week (and on the green in Kirkland for the first time since Seattle’s 37-6 loss to the Chicago Bears two Sundays ago), Hasselbeck sounded ready to put the pieces together and overcome his unexpectedly poor season start.
Having thrown nine interceptions all season in 2005, he’s already winged seven passes this year that have been caught by the opposition. After a career-high 98.2 passer rating in 2005. his rating has plummeted to 74,6 – over a full season, that would be his lowest since 2001. He’s been sacked 13 times through four games, after only 24 in 2005. Football Outsiders has him ranked 28th in DVOA for quarterbacks, behind such “luminaries” as J.P. Losman, Drew Bledsoe and Alex Smith. In 2005, he was sixth.
After searching for answers to the question of “Why?”, Hasselbeck took a wider look at the offense, and then turned within. “I’m sure it was different for everybody,” he said on Monday, when asked what the primary internal criticism of the offense was ofter the Chicago defeat. “For me personally, if I could just take away turnovers, that (would be) a huge improvement in our entire game right there. My position is one where they trust me with the football and they trust me to be smart with it. That is what I need to do. I can’t be reckless with it out there and make poor decisions.”
Against the best defense in the NFL, and without the services of 2005 league MVP Shaun Alexander (lost until October 22 with a broken bone in his left foot), Seattle’s offense was a crazy patchwork of ill-timed four-wide sets, a rushing attack that went nowhere fast and got shelved even quicker, and a quarterback who was forcing throws, including two interceptions to Bears cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr.
Hasselbeck didn’t shy away from Mike Holmgren’s post-game critiques. “I just listened to what our coaches asked us to do,” he said about last Monday’s review of the Chicago performance. “They asked us to come in on Monday and accept a lot of criticism and get coached up and take notes and try to work on the stuff when we get back. After Monday they said go home, get healthy, get away, and that is what I did.”
One thing the bye week allowed was for the further recuperation of tight end Jerramy Stevens, who had been out since training camp with a torn meniscus in his left knee. The 6’7” Stevens was expected to replace WR Joe Jurevicius as the team’s primary red-zone threat, and after several stuttering starts to seasons, he appeared to finally have everything in place to become one of the NFL’s premier tight ends. He’ll be on the field this week, and is expected to see time when the Seahawks return to the field this Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
Hasselbeck, for his part, couldn’t be happier. “I think it is going to be a huge thing for our offense,” he said. “He was a huge part of what we did last year in terms of success and all three of those guys are different, they have different things that they do well and Jerramy has something that we haven’t had on the field this year. He has an element of size and speed and athletic ability catching the ball, getting open, those kinds of things; that was great for our offense last year. Having him back is going to be a very good thing.”
The Rams have the honor of hosting the Seahawks this Sunday at the hometown Edward Jones Dome, and they have a few surprises this season. New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has his charges playing at a level not seen in St. Louis since the early part of the new millennium, when the Rams were a Super Bowl champion and challenger. Tenth in the league in defensive passing DVOA, and leading the league in turnover ratio at +12, this is an opportunistic squad that could give Hasselbeck fits if he doesn’t turn things around.
Seattle’s quarterback sees Stevens as the X-Factor. “If they are going to cover him in the red zone, it opens it up for the other guys outside,” Hasselbeck said of the mismatches created by such a tall target. “If they’re going to stay wide then he has that middle of the field to work. That is definitely an advantage for us, having a guy with his size and his height. He has been big for us in the red zone, but I think he can be even bigger. Having him healthy and getting him out there, hopefully not using him too much or rushing him along, but using him will be a good thing. I know he is excited, too.”
Hasselbeck scouted the Rams during his off-time, when he rooted for the Green Bay Packers to beat St. Louis at Lambeau last Sunday and keep Seattle’s key division rivals from taking the NFC West lead at 4-1. The Packers were upended by a late Brett Favre fumble, and the Rams now have the upper hand for the first time in almost two years. Hasselbeck has seen the changes in the team he’s about to face. “I would say that St. Louis is doing some new stuff,” he said. “They are playing pretty well, they had opportunities to make plays and they didn’t make plays, but they’re a good football team. They are very much improved. Jim Haslett is doing a great job on the defensive side of the ball and they seem like they are a different team at home than they are on the road.
”They are moving around just a little bit more – unfortunately, we have to go play them at their place. It is going to be a tough game. We know how good they are, we know how good (defensive end) Leonard Little is, we know how good Corey Chavous is as a safety and how smart of a player he is. We’re going to have to play really, really well and we haven’t played really, really well. We’ve played okay, (and) it is going to be a big game.”
Perhaps the most uncharacteristic aspect of Seattle’s offense so far this season is the miscommunication exhibited. Especially in the Chicago loss, the offense that scored more points than any other last season looked off from the start, missing blocking assignments and stalling in the face of questionable playcalling. Hasselbeck knows that the cure begins with him. “It is just me,” he said. “I have to be more clear with everybody. I have to make sure that all ten guys know exactly what we are doing. Some of it stuff that is going to happen no matter who is in there, whether you have played together one year or ten years, sometimes it is loud and things get confusing.
”Other times there are guys that are young, and they haven’t been in there. They are new to our team and I just have to be very deliberate and communicate well during the week and also on game day - on the sidelines, communicate with coaches. We have to make sure that we don’t sit here on Monday morning and say ‘Oh, I thought that’ and someone else says ‘Well, I thought this.’”
He’ll find those problems magnified in another road game, the inverse of the 12th Man phenomenon staring him in the face. You go into a game at home a little differently,” he concluded. “At home you use the snap count a lot as a weapon; you try to draw teams off sides. On the road you try as hard as you can to make sure your guys don’t jump offsides. I feel like our coaching staff does a great job of respecting how hard it is to play on the road and when we have a game plan, we go into the week a little bit differently.
”We go into the week giving our guys plays where they can line up and just block the guy in front of them instead of having to worry about what this knucklehead quarterback is trying to yell to everybody behind me. I can just worry about the guy I am going against in front of me. They do a good job of doing that for us so that we can go out and play and play free and not jump off sides and not have penalties and not have blown assignments and they do a good job of that for us.”
So…are simplicity and execution the keys to what ails the Seahawks, the 3-1 team that currently looks like anything but? Most likely. As it did last year, the season can begin anew after a shaky start with a win in that dome. Remember, in the 2005 season that will be held as the franchise’s gold standard until they can win a world championship, the Seahawks began 2-2, with road losses against tough teams drawing questions from every angle. They marched into the Edward Jones Dome, pulled out a 37-31 win, and pushed forward with such impetus that they didn’t lose another meaningful game until the most controversial Super Bowl ever.
It can happen again – if Matt Hasselbeck and his offense can lead the way.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.