BY Doug Farrar 07:28PM 12/26/2010

Every roadblock on display in loss to Bucs

With respect on the line, the Seahawks showed little on either side of the ball. Can this really be a playoff team?

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is stopped at the goal line during Sunday's 38-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images

The good news: In the grand scheme of things, this game didn’t mean anything, and the Seattle Seahawks are still just one win away from a division title.

The bad news: In losing 38-15 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle put all its worst characteristics on display.

The loss eliminated any weight behind the two primary arguments that have taken Pete Carroll and his squad through the 2010 season – the “Hey, at least we might host a playoff game” take, and the “Hey, at least we’ve taken this franchise out of the last two years of doldrums” idea. Those two concepts have held value, but the Buccaneers team the Seahawks lost to on Sunday afternoon already has nine wins, two more than Carroll’s team could possibly amass this season. This despite their status as the youngest team in the league, the need to come back from a 3-13 season in 2009, and a tougher schedule mandated by their place in the NFC South – home of the reigning Super Bowl champions (the New Orleans Saints) and the NFC’s best team in 2010 (the Atlanta Falcons).

All the 6-9 Seahawks have to do to host a playoff game is beat the 7-8 St. Louis Rams at home next Sunday night (the contest, such as it is, has been flexed to prime time), and the tiebreaker system will put them in a postseason they clearly don’t deserve. Meanwhile, the Bucs have to watch Monday Night Football against the Saints and Falcons, hoping that the right kind of help could see them sneak into the postseason through the back door.

There has never been a better argument for a playoff seeding system. Because it was very clear early on that the Seahawks didn’t belong in the same stadium as the Buccaneers. And while it’s possible that Tampa Bay was playing extra hard to prove that point, it’s also true that they didn’t need to exert themselves too much – the Seahawks were all too willing to play the role of accessory in their own beatdown.

Interestingly enough – and for the second straight week – Seattle established a positive drive on offense, only to have that momentum taken away. Just as the Seahawks drove downfield with all the efficiency anybody could ask for against the Falcons last Sunday, Matt Hasselbeck led his team on an 11-play, 66-yard drive late in the first quarter after an opening three-and-out. But Hasselbeck hurt his hip on the touchdown that put the Seahawks up, 7-0, and Charlie Whitehurst got more time in the mix for entirely different reasons. Last week, Whitehurst drove the team a little bit when Hasselbeck regressed. Now, with Hasselbeck’s absence from the game a fait accompli, Carroll asked Whitehurst to shoulder the load – and Whitehurst failed miserably.

In a game that went further and further away from them, the normally pass-happy Seahawks could muster just 90 total yards in the air, and Hasselbeck was responsible for 24 yards of that total on just four attempts. Whitehurst, who once again looked overmatched in ways that would be worrisome from a rookie, managed just 66 passing yards on 18 attempts. This game seemed to forward the truth that more and more people are starting to understand; that whoever Seattle’s next franchise quarterback may be, he’s not on the current roster.

According to former NFL quarterback and KCPQ-TV analyst Hugh Millen, the Seahawks’ 22 passing attempts consisted of six in which the ball was thrown behind the line of scrimmage, 14 in which the ball traveled less than five yards from the line of scrimmage, and just two passes where the ball went more than 10 yards in the air. And from the time Hasselbeck was hurt through the end of the third quarter (essentially when the game stopped being competitive), the Seahawks amassed 38 yards on 18 plays … with two first downs.

After the game, Carroll said that Hasselbeck experienced an “odd” muscle pull in his hip, and that he may not practice at all this week. Hasselbeck said that he first took a helmet to that hip in Week 3 against the San Diego Chargers, and that the area has been a matter of concern ever since.

“It had been kind of bothering me off and on, just a little bit, nothing major all season,” Hasselbeck said after the game. “I tweaked it a little bit against Arizona at their place, a little bit against Carolina. So, it was never really that bad. Today it just got real tight on me, pulled back, and I came into the training room to try and get it right, tried to get it to a point where I could run. I was unable to do it.”

“We’ll have to see how that works out,” Carroll said of Hasselbeck’s injury. “We’ll give him all week to sit on it, and then we’ll see how it works out. Right now we’re going to get Charlie ready to go, and put together a game plan that gives us a chance to win in Qwest when we go home.”

The quarterback will get an MRI on Monday.

With no productive threat to pass from Seattle, the Buccaneers defense was able to being an eighth man in the box, blitzing whenever they felt like it, and harassing Whitehurst into ultra-conservative reads when the calls didn’t go that way from offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.

Still, the real problem for the Seahawks came from a defense that looked to be turning a corner against the Falcons last week, with decent coverage and excellent short-area tackling. That defense was a distant memory, as Seattle’s execrable pass coverage allowed second-year Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman to tie a franchise record with five touchdown passes. Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley obviously had a fixation on Tampa Bay’s ability to make plays out of the running game, frequently turning their 4-3 defensive fronts into 5-2 by bringing linebacker Aaron Curry up to the edge of the line.

Unfortunately, there were multiple problems with that approach – as much as Carroll and Bates talked through the week about how Tampa Bay’s multiple defensive fronts presented specific challenges, such fronts frequently leave defensive backs on short-area islands, exposing them to the whims of hyper-accurate quarterbacks. But in this game, only the Seahawks suffered that defensive fate. Marcus Trufant looked particularly vulnerable on crosses and slants, bringing to mind the player who suffered through a back injury in 2009 that probably should have shut him down for the season. But according to Trufant, his performance against the Bucs was not injury-impeded.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “There’s nothing that’s really affecting me. I just didn’t really have a good day today, and that’s what it came down to. Certain plays, certain situations when I need to make the big play, the other guy was able to make it, so I’ve got to step up.”

Seattle’s performance against the run was even more problematic, because the source of the leakage against the Bucs was that old bugaboo, the five-technique end position vacated due to injury by Red Bryant and Junior Siavii, and played less effectively by Kentwan Balmer. Rookie running back LeGarrette Blount, an undrafted castoff of the Tennessee Titans, absolutely embarrassed Seattle with a career-high 164 yards on just 18 carries. Blount really had his way with Seattle’s defense in the second half, gaining 144 of those yards with only 12 tries. The 53-yard Blount run with 10:13 left in the game went through a seam created by Balmer’s inability to shake a block by tight end Kellen Winslow, which typified the day.

Having won just two of their last nine games, and having become the poster children for an NFL re-seeding proposal in which division winners would have to prove their excellence with a better record to get home playoff games, the Seahawks suddenly look just as vulnerable as the 2009 team that spat out Tim Ruskell and got Jim Mora fired.

They only have one more chance to prove that this game was the exception, and not the rule. Recent results indicate that, as the great philosopher Dennis Green once said, “they are who we thought they were.”


YourThoughts

  • Pat

    Go Rams

  • nick

    What a true disaster. We’re the chumps of the NFL and we need almost a 100% reset. We need Cowher or Chucky. We need serious new talent and we need it yesterday. Spend the money and do whatever it takes.

  • JBR

    Whitehurst is obviously not the answer currently. If he hasn’t improved by the time the enter camp next year, it might be time to cut bait.

  • haywood jablomei

    The Seaatle fans deserve better.

  • dave

    At this point it’s hard to see how Seattle is any better off playing an extra game and drafting in the bottom 3rd of each round versus getting an even slightly better set of picks.

    QB is the most obvious question mark, but the answers to many of this team’s questions are not currently on the roster. The Whitehurst trade, which I supported on principle at the time (even knowing that we overpaid) has been borderline disastrous. Whitehurst certainly hasn’t been any more inspiring than J.P. Losman likely would have been, but he cost an awful lot.

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  • Jeff

    The trojanhawks don’t just get beat they get punked

  • Tony S

    If a seeded playoff system is the answer, then the division play (and teh existence of division) would have to be eliminated. Otherwise you end up with the stupid BCS-type of argument every year. So do you really want a league with just two divisions (AFC & NFC) of 16 teams and take the top six out of each?

    It might work…or not.

  • Kingfisher

    While I don’t support a seeding system it’s become apparant a severe division realingment needs to happen, and perhaps should be reviewed yearly. No one should be in the playoffs with a sub 500 record and especially if in part that record was brokered from victories against the worst division in the NFL. I can only imagine the success the best coach the Hawks had (Chuck Knox) would be if he was afforded the advantage of competing in the NFC West, a division to quote Steve Rudmen from the 70′s (concerning the NFC Central but the NFC West applies now) “That USC would likely run away with”. Of course now USC would be substituted by Oregon or Auburn. The new big question is if Detriot was in the NFC West would they already be resting their starters in preparation for the playoffs?

  • Dave

    Fire Bates and let Hasselbeck call the plays.
    It really doesn’t matter, the game is too fast for Whitehurst anyway. Who signed this guy?

  • Alan

    Nice, accurate read. All true. Charlie is not the guy, and Matt (though I really like the guy) cannot keep his body from getting injured. Time for another overhaul.