Monday, August 29, 2011

Nice move

I'm not a Kelly Jennings hater. Slim never fulfilled his potential as a first-round pick, but he worked hard and played hard and did his best. He was a standup guy playing one of the toughest positions in the game. The most thankless aspect of playing DB is that people notice when you get burned, but they don't notice when your coverage is so good that the quarterback opts not to throw your way. Jennings was much better than his detractors believed.

That said, the secondary had emerged as a strength over the last two years, stocked with hungry young talent. While trading Josh Wilson last year remains an obvious mistake, dealing Slim now was probably the right move.

The only thing more disturbing than Seattle's inability to protect T-Jack in passing situations was our defense's inability to pressure Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, who spent most of the game standing serenely in a vast, verdant clearing, waiting nonchalantly for a receiver to get open downfield. Denver could have inserted a department store mannequin as their signal-caller, and our D-Line still would have struggled to record a sack.

Marcus Trufant did sack Orton on a memorable corner blitz. Unfortunately, he has pass coverage responsibilities most of the time. We need our defensive linemen and linebackers to exert consistent pressure.

For that reason, the pickup of Bengals defensive tackle Clinton McDonald makes sense. Young McDonald is an intriguing prospect, a practice squad project who saw spot duty last year in Cincy. One hopes that it wasn't a simple trade, that we might have gained some draft picks in the bargain, because trading a starting cornerback for a backup D-lineman doesn't seem  fair.

But the subtraction of Jennings shouldn't hurt, and the addition of McDonald could help.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


The first three exhibition games have given our regular season  opponents an easy recipe for shutting down our offense:

1. Stack the box on first down, because we always try to run the ball, and our O-line can't impose its will on your defense, unless your D-linemen and linebackers are apt to do roofies and Ecstasy before kickoff.

2. Blitz like crazy on 2nd and 3rd down, because our line can't protect our quarterback, and because T-Jack's vaunted mobility means nothing when the pocket quickly collapses into a claustrophobic alveolus that makes an infant's nostrils seem roomy. Moreover, Jackson lacks the height, fast thinking and quick release that allow some quarterbacks to punish blitz-happy defenses.

Saturday's debacle in Denver confirms that our offense is in trouble.

In a desperate bid to instill some confidence in our first unit, we kept our offensive starters in the game even after the Broncos installed their backups.

Our only offensive touchdown drive--late in the 3rd quarter--proved that our starting O-Line can blast open running lanes and provide adequate pass protection anytime it has the good fortune to be pitted against a mediocre team's second unit. It showed that Tarvaris Jackson can dissect a backup defense when he's throwing to first-string receivers.

Unfortunately, there are no JV teams on our regular season schedule.

Contrary to the claims of other analysts, Jackson's achievement on that scoring drive cannot be compared to Whitehurst's record of success in our first two preseason games. Scoring on backups with a supporting cast of starters is not the same as leading your second unit on several scoring drives against other teams' second strings.

Jesus of Clemson did not walk on water on Saturday. He remains generally accurate--throwing very well under pressure at one point--but missed an opportunity to win the game when he overthrew a wide-open Golden Tate.

Starters seldom play in the fourth exhibition game, though Seattle's coaches may wish to make an exception this time, given our O-Line's catastrophic failure to gel, coupled with T-Jack's total inability to establish any semblance of rhythm.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Let Jesus play

I'm not sure what Pete Carroll was thinking when he announced Tarvaris Jackson as the opening-day starter shortly after Seattle acquired the quarterback from Minnesota.

The premature anointment seemed to contradict the coach's "Always compete" credo.

Perhaps Carroll knows that T-Jack plays his best ball when he feels he has the full faith of his coaches and teammates. The athlete's tempestuous tenure with the Vikings offers ample support for that notion. Minnesota repeatedly touted him as their quarterback of the future and promised him the starting job, only to renege on that guarantee and insert a more seasoned veteran. It must have stung to see his coaches and teammates openly woo Brett Favre out of retirement. Over and over again, the Vikings played Lucy, seductively offering him the football, while Subtraction Jackson assumed the role of Charlie Brown, taking the bait every time and landing flat on his back when opportunity evaporated at the last minute.

Still, I have never believed in coddling players. If you can't handle competition, you don't belong in organized sports, and you're certainly not cut out for the NFL.

Carroll argued that T-Jack was best qualified to start on Day One due to his familiarity with the system of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who is, like Jackson, a Minnesota castoff. Also, our new quarterback has extensive experience throwing to former teammate Sidney Rice, though those opportunities took place primarily in practice, because T-Jack was mostly confined to the pine during the wideout's stint with the Vikings.

Unfortunately, neither Jackson's knowledge of Bevell's scheme nor his reps with Rice have helped him to perform well thus far in preseason games with the Seahawks. This is not entirely his fault. Our offensive line has struggled with pass protection, forcing T-Jack to hurry his throws and run for his life.

But it is a fair to ask whether another player on the roster might be able to do better.

Promising the job to Jackson jammed a fat figurative thumb into the eye of Charlie Whitehurst, Seattle's only returning quarterback. Although Jesus of Clemson failed to capitalize the first few times He took the field last year, He came through when it really counted, leading the team to victory in the season finale, and thereby helping His team clinch the division title and a home playoff game. Diligent and loyal, the Lord participated in player-organized practices during the lockout, working to improve His chemistry with his teammates.

On one level, it's easy to keep Whitehurst on the bench. Throughout his career, He has stood on the sideline, quietly clutching a clipboard, patiently awaiting for an opportunity to compete. When Jesus failed to wrest the starting job from Hasselbeck in 2010, He bided his time and did not complain. When the team denied the Lord the opportunity to compete for the #1 slot this year, He declined to whine.

Instead, He went out and played well in the first two preseason games, igniting the kind of quarterback controversy that happens when your anointed starter can't get the first unit moving, and then your backup goes out and gets the second-string scoring.

Last week against the Vikings, Whitehurst was in the zone, as smooth as Keith Stone, passing the pigskin with spooky precision, nice touch and a quick release under pressure. I think He only threw one bad ball all night.

Of course, Jesus enjoyed better pass protection. Our first-unit O-line has struggled against the tough pass rushes of San Diego and Minnesota's starters, but our second-string blockers routinely handle our opponents' backups. Our JV team looks good.

But two weeks from now, it's all varsity.

The team deserves a chance to see whether Whitehurst can play better than Jackson with our first unit against another team's starters.

Assuming Coach Carroll ever cared about consistency and keeping promises, how could he square opening the position to competition with his previous vow to make T-Jack the Day One starter?

If I were Pete, and I'd painted myself into a corner by promising a future starting position to a player who had proceeded to underperform in the interim, I would let Jackson start the game as promised. If he played well, I would let him remain in the game. But if he faltered, I would insert Jesus at the start of the second quarter and give Him an audition for the lead role. Then, I'd bring T-Jack back at some point in the second half to see what he could do against Denver's backups.

We need an apples-to-apples comparison before we can decide intelligently between Jackson and Jesus.

For the record, my money's on the Lord.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Die, wrecked TV!

I did not see last week's exhibition game against the Chargers.

Two weeks ago, a storm and a power outage fried the Direct TV receiver. Because I work all the time and seldom watch TV--except for Seahawks games--I didn't discover this until it was too late.

It had been more than 8 years since I had last missed a Seahawks game.

I watched some highlights from our preseason "victory" over San Diego online.

Direct TV mailed me a replacement receiver, so I should be able to see Saturday's contest against the Minnesota Vikings.

I hope Tarvaris Jackson makes a case for himself as a starting quarterback. If he can't get up for a game against the team that wronged him, then there's something wrong with him.

Against San Diego, T-Jack did nothing to convince Seattle fans that he's a better option than Charlie Whitehurst.

Jesus of Clemson did not perform much better for the rest of the first half, but his Second Coming was something to behold. He came out after halftime and played like someone who wants a starting job.

I want the good kind of quarterback controversy that comes when your anointed starter and his backup both light it up in the preseason.

And I want Russell Okung to quit getting high ankle sprains.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

...and Lofa, too?

Job demands have made it hard for me to keep up with the fast and furious post-lockout free agent frenzy.

Coach Carroll and GM John Schneider continue to overhaul the roster ruthlessly.

Shortly after ditching Hasselbeck, the Great Collabor-haters jettisoned the quarterback of our defense, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu.

They asked the undersized Samoan to take a pay cut. His contract with Seattle--negotiated shortly after his three consecutive Pro Bowls--was a generous long-term deal designed to keep him here for the rest of his career. However, in recent years, Tatupu has lost a step. Dogged by injuries, he has battled mightily just to stay on the field, but he has proved unable to perform at the high level envisioned when he and the team first inked the deal. His high football IQ compensated somewhat for his physical limitations, but the franchise has evidently determined that he will never return to form as one of the game's best defenders.

Some day, we'll learn whether the pay cut the team demanded was reasonable, or whether it was an insult calculated to force Tatupu's departure.

I hope the front office asked Lofa to accept compensation in line with his performance and appropriate to his leadership role on the team.

On the other hand, if they lowballed him to drive him from the roster, then Carroll and Schneider have made a mistake.

This isn't college ball. You can't win consistently in the NFL with a roster that turns over entirely every 4 or 5 years. Great teams commit to the careers of a few core players. Every dynasty depends on cultivating that nucleus and complementing it with more ephemeral talent. This was true of Lombardi's Packers, Noll's Steelers, Walsh's 49ers, the Cowboys of the '90s, and Belichick's Patriots. No team has ever established long-term dominance without a stable nucleus of veteran talent.

Now that Hasselbeck and Tatupu have left the building, who is our nucleus now?

Postscript: Ever sentimental, the Diehard hopes that Tatupu might yet return to us via the Babs Boomerang route. Last year, the team cut veteran defensive back Jordan Babineaux. When Big Play Babs experienced little love on the free agent market, he came back to play for Seattle at a lower rate of pay, because playing for less is better than being unemployed, and because Seattle was willing to employ him and pay him more than other teams would.