Gloom, doom. Gloom, doom. Self-pity. Self-pity. Irrational lashing out. Blind faith. More gloom and doom. Now that we have got that out of the way, let’s talk some football.
The Seahawks suffered their worst loss of the season yesterday. A horribly flawed Bucs team, after being dominated for one quarter, trounced the Seahawks for the next three. There was little to explain the change after the first quarter from a football perspective. The Bucs may have made some play call adjustments or line assignment clarifications to attack the defense, but it was not immediately obvious from watching the game. There is the possible human explanation that the the combination of meaningless game and injury to Hasselbeck infected their desire to go full speed, but that seems like a stretch. Analyzing it is a waste of time. A few points are worth making, though. One, this defense was not the defense we watched last week. The injury to Junior Siavii was far larger than anyone will want to admit. How can a career backup be such a big loss? There is simply nobody that can fill-in at that position with the strength necessary to set the edge. Kentwan Balmer may not even be on the team next season, he has proven to be so ineffective. For those that question whether injuries to role players matter, they absolutely do when those roles are foundational to the way the team functions. Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley designed a defense that has a few key pillars:
1) The Elephant defensive end (e.g., Red Bryant) that controls the strongside tackle, and sometimes to the guard
2) The strongside linebacker that covers the tight end (Aaron Curry)
3) The speedy single high safety that covers a large chunk of the field (Earl Thomas)
4) The run-stopping safety that doubles as a linebacker to cover the run (Lawyer Milloy)
5) The 3-technique defensive tackle that stops the inside run (Colin Cole)
They designed the defense to maximize the little talent the team has. They looked at Aaron Curry’s strengths and weaknesses, did the same thing for Lawyer Milloy, and realized that out of all the schemes they have run, this one had the best chance of matching their “talent.” They got that part right. This defense has been inspiring when the key pieces were in place. Holding one of the best offenses in football last week to their lowest yardage total by more than 30 yards was inspiring. When even one pillar is missing, the whole system appears to cave in on itself. Yesterday was the first time it appeared the effort was starting to ebb. That had to be the most concerning thing to Carroll. No team can keep losing like this every week and not start to question whether this is all they are.
The second point to make is the pass defense is a disaster. A fading pass rush and corner back play that has to be at, or near, the bottom of the NFL is a 30+ point disaster. It is so bad that I’m actually starting to wonder whether drafting a CB in round one is smarter than going after a franchise QB. It is clear both will be among the first few picks in the draft.
The offense came out with a predictably conservative game plan. That proved to be a wise decision as the Bucs defense was bad enough that slow and steady easily moved the Seahawks down the field for a 7-0 lead. One could make a compelling argument that the Seahawks have flashed and then faded offensively in many games, so blaming it all on Matt’s injury would be too convenient. Those who watched the game saw how the game completely turned on a dime after Whitehurst threw his first horrid pass. Everyone on both sides of the ball and in the stadium had to be thinking, “What the Hell was THAT?” after Whitehurst threw a simple swing pass three yards behind the running back and into the ground. His next four passes over three series were equally as bad as he started 0-5 passing and gave nobody reason to believe the Seahawks would score again the whole day. If you don’t think that effects an opposing team, or your own defense, you are kidding yourself. Blood was in the water, and the Bucs pounced.
Whitehurst was a guy I thought had been unfairly criticized in the Giants game. It was an impossible scenario. He showed some productive signs in Arizona, and then again last week. There was reasonable hope heading into this game that he might even be the quarterback bridge to the future the franchise so desperately needs. Now, even calling him the bridge to nowhere is too kind. This guy will never be a starting quarterback for a competitive team in the NFL. He has three fatal flaws. First, he is habitually inaccurate. The interception along the sidelines in the Giants game, and almost every pass he threw yesterday were below NFL standards for accuracy. Throwing behind a guy is one thing, missing people by 3-5 yards gets you a QB rating below 50, like the one he has. The second fatal flaw is his decision making. He makes mistakes like a rookie. He is not a rookie. He’s been in the NFL for several seasons and is now 29 years-old. Throwing late to the outside can’t happen, and he’s done it multiple times. Moving through your progressions must be automatic by this stage in his career. It is not. That is a multi-year process to fix, and something only worth doing if the player is young enough to still be your future franchise QB when it is done. Whitehurst is not young enough, and does not have the upside to warrant such an investment. His final fatal flaw is his pocket presence. I noticed since the pre-season that he has the courage of a kitten in there. At the first sign of pass rush, he drops the ball and runs around, often into a sack or a rushed throw off his back foot. When you combine inaccuracy, bad decision making and heartless pocket presence, you have a dog that just won’t hunt. There is value in having learned that this year. Nobody wants to imagine spending next season with this guy at the helm.
This was a game the Seahawks were going to win. I have no proof of that. In fact, all evidence points to the contrary. The Seahawks, though, had control of the game on both sides of the ball before Matt’s injury. The defense certainly would have still yielded yards and points, but they would have been on the field far less, and been supported by more points. The whole makeup of the game would have been different. It matters little at this point, but little is all Seahawks fans have to hold onto lately. Word is that the game next week has been moved to Sunday Night Football. Of all the ways one could have imagined the Seahawks getting flexed into prime time, and of all the possible opponents, this may be the least likely of all. Two of the NFC’s worst teams girl-fighting (apologies, ladies, it was the image I was looking for) their way into the post-season. There will be weak slaps with eyes closed and possible hair-pulling. It will be like Frank Drebin solving a crime in Naked Gun. One team will emerge victorious, but will have toilet paper hanging out the back of their pants and fans may be committing hari-kari behind them.