BY Art Thiel 06:59PM 01/03/2011

Little choice but to go with Matt

Whitehurst too risky to trust in bigger game vs. better foe

Charlie Whitehurst vs. St. Louis Jan. 2, 2011

Some of Charlie Whitehurst's runs came at the expense of better opportunities / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Even in victory, it’s amazing how fast things change.

Unless he does a full Chevy Chase and falls off the roof taking down Christmas lights, Matt Hasselbeck will start at quarterback Saturday against the New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field.

No, Pete Carroll didn’t say so Monday. But if that is not his intent, the Seahawks head coach is daffy beyond the cartoon duck.

Charlie Whitehurst had his moment, did his thing, and deserved to be celebrated. But if he starts against the Saints, the Seahawks have no chance.

In the 16-6 triumph Sunday over St. Louis that put a zig-zag smile on the NFL’s playoff face, Whitehurst benefited from multiple factors: Home field, best effort of the season by the Seahawks defense, Sam Bradford’s rookieness, a mediocre Rams defense, a slimmed-down playbook (see Doug Farrar’s story: http://tinyurl.com/25vbmmz), adroit scrambles that fresh legs can provide this late in the season, and a fair amount of luck on the game’s biggest play.

About the only thing for sure that would carry over to Saturday is the home field, and the defending Super Bowl champs aren’t likely to be intimidated by hoots and heckles.

Whatever chance Hasselbeck gives the Seahawks – and the spread at 10 points suggests the bookies believe most people believe it’s no chance – the door to Whitehurst can be opened only by ill health.

While generally complimentary of Whitehurst’s performance – no turnovers, 22-for-36 passing for 192 yards, and eight rushes for 30 yards – Carroll Monday offered a telltale remark.

“Charlie took off a couple times and missed some opportunities,” Carroll said. “We were willing to accept that in this game knowing he’ll continue to get better. But he left some opportunities to move the football.”

Starting the second game of his obscure five-year career in the NFL, Whitehurst understandably was weak on pocket judgment. It might be the hardest part of the NFL quarterback’s job.

He really got away with one, ironically, on the big play.

The game’s only touchdown was set up on a 61-yard pass from Whitehurst to wide receiver Ruvell Martin, who was so alone the Coast Guard was alerted for a possible rescue. But Whitehurst, operating in the shotgun, was looking the wrong way. Thanks to great protection, he eventually spotted Martin and flung a ball that was well underthrown, forcing Martin to come back for the catch.

The play’s design was to simulate a screen pass that included Martin blocking on a cornerback, then releasing downfield. The Rams were well fooled, and it should have gone for a touchdown. But Whitehurst misplayed it, and knew it right away.

“There were some plays left out there we didn’t exactly right,” he said after the game. “That might be one of them. That’s probably a touchdown if I throw that out there even farther.”

If the Seahawks are to have a chance, such lapses can’t happen. Take away that play, and Whitehurst’s 21 other completions added up to 131 yards. That’s dink and dunk on a microsopic scale that can’t work against an 11-5 team with championship experience.

On the other hand, Hasselbeck on Nov. 21 in the Superdome had his best statistical game of the season — 32 for 44 for 366 yards, one TD and no picks, for quarterback rating of 104.9. It’s about the same for his more heralded counterpart, the Saints’ Drew Brees. The Saints won that game 34-19 primarily because the Seahawks couldn’t finish, settling for field goals, including two 20-yarders, that ended four good drives.

But at least the Seahawks moved the ball. Carroll gave much credit to Hasselbeck’s experience in dissecting the disguises by New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

So, sore butt muscle willing, Hasselbeck will be in there Saturday. Carroll said Hasselbeck’s recovery was almost complete Friday, and the quarterbacks will split repetitions in practice this week. But that’s for safety, not strategy.

The gridiron miracle of Charlie Whitehurst in a do-or-die game is now fixed in Seahawks lore.  But the water in that wishing well is gone.

Pete Carroll on Hasselbeck’s success vs the Saints from Doug Farrar on Vimeo.


YourThoughts

  • Greg

    … better hope Hasselbeck’s butt stays healthy the whole game or we’ll be seeing seeing Charlie out there regardless . The key to the game was the throw to Martin for the long gain that set up the early TD . That meant the Hawks got a lead and didn’t have to play catch-up right out the gate ( which is usually when Hasselbeck panics and starts throwing picks ) .

    Wish we could put Matt’s brain in Charlie’s body ….

  • dave

    As always, Art is almost spot on. I disagree with one aspect, and that is how the Saints will handle the 12th man. Running an offense with a 747 blasting in your ears is no easy feat, Super Bowl or not. And the Saints will have to deal with major injuries, like the Hawks have. Hasselbeck is the man for the job. Charlie is the man, next year. Seattle will host the NFC Championship against Green Bay, you read it here first, it could happen in the reverse universe of Quest. Where is my Zoloft?

  • dcrockett17

    Art,

    to be fair you must lay out the non-repeatable factors from the first New Orleans game for Hasselbeck. He had, if we are to take an honest look at the past 2+ seasons, an unusually good performance. Like did Whitehurst on Sunday, Hasselbeck had a big downfield throw early versus New Orleans. That throw got New Orleans to back off in coverage which allowed the underneath (and screen) routes to develop. We can’t ignore subsequent performance, and when we look New Orleans looks more and more like a “dead cat bounce” than “classic” Hasselbeck; a performance we’re not very likely to see again.

    Add in the fact that Hasselbeck hasn’t played for essentially two weeks, and I just don’t see it. The “Matt gives us the best chance to win” meme is just dead. Charlie Whitehurst may not move the needle much on Seattle’s chance-to-win-o’meter, but there’s just no longer any real evidence to suggest that his decision making will be any worse than Matt. And although he may have underthrown Ruvell Martin on that play–and you’d rather that than overthrow–he made a roll-right-throw-left throw to Mike Williams on the TD that Matt simply cannot make anymore. I love Matt and everything he’s done for Seattle, but he’s reached that point in his career where he has a coach’s grasp on offense–and (unfortunately) a coach’s ability to execute it.

    • Art Thiel

      Good points, dcrockett17. I still think a relatively mobile Matt is a better choice than Whitehurst based on ability to read defenses and command a huddle. Matt has taken on too much in previous games, but the seasonal goal has been achieved — division champs and a home game. Nobody expects them to win, and Matt will have freedom, confidence and, more importantly, rest to bounce the dead cat again.

      Thanks for coming to the site,
      Art Thiel

  • NJSeahawksFan

    Whitehurst holds the ball waaaay too long in the pocket. There were several drive killing misses on Sunday night along with some straight up misses, that a good team like the Saints would have punished the Seahawks for. Matt may not have the physical tools of Whitehurst, but I’m reminded of line from “Bull Durham” … “show us that million-dollar arm. ‘Cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours”. In order to shock the world on Saturday afternoon, the ‘Hawks need veteran saavy not rookie potential.

    • NJSeahawksFan

      That should read “straight up mis-reads”. D’oh.

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  • J.E.C.

    The Saints secondary was seriously depleted when Hasselbeck threw for so many yards, as well. They were starting backup safeties and special teams guys in the backfield. No such luck this week.

  • JCullen

    There are many factors that are not repeatable. Will Marshawn fumble twice again? Will MIke Williams get behind the secondary again? Its tough to say. But seriously- Charlie isn’t ready for the speed of an NFL playoff game- mentally. Matt is. At least if Matt pulls up lame again Charlie will be entering with more confidence and experience. Either way, its a crapshoot. Do you want to lose to New Orleans with your proven veteran QB on the bench healthy enough to play? I don’t think so.
    From a competitive stand point, Pete will leave them guessing as much as he can. So the more they have to game plan for roll outs and moving pockets the better.

  • Fishy Digit, North Bend, WA

    I can’t agree with Art. Matt has not played like the veteran he is. Dumb plays, poor decision making, interceptions, fumbles.

    Matt’s a looser and never been any more than an average QB and that may be stretching it. He’s had one or two good seasons and the rest have been painful to watch. This season has been especially frustrating, he’s played awful, more like the rookie, than the rookie himself.

    I say give Charlie the start, he earned it with a solid performance last week. If we start Matt we have no chance, what so ever.

  • MISeahawks

    Fishy Digit, I think you meant ‘loser’ versus ‘looser’. Unless you meant that Matt is going to lay it all on the line and cut loose. Otherwise, Seahawks fans can hope that Hasselbeck’s play is better than your grammar.

  • Paul Harmening

    Matt’s an old pro. He shouldn’t have to have extra motivation to be at his best, however, sitting out against the Rams probably has done just that, now that he knows Charlie can play a little bit. He’ll start, just as Art suggested, however he either breaks out fast again, or it’ll be all over before it starts. Now that we’ve lost the 8th draft pick, I’d love to see a win Sat. But I certainly do not expect it. Hawks just don’t have the ponies to outrun or outplay the Saints.

    But stranger things have happened!!!!

  • ChipA

    Why is everyone so quick to forget the HUGE number of mistakes that Matt has made recently? He streak of terrible decisions under pressure goes back several YEARS, yet the press here has total amnesia about them. Sure Whitehurst underthrew that ball, BUT HE DIDN”T THROW A GAME ENDING INTERCEPTION EITHER. How many times does Matt have to wreck our (slim) chances with some dumb gun-slinging pick-that-never-should-have-been-thrown before we figure out that he is just plain terrible under pressure?

    I have to say however that I appreciate your explanation Art – as always. Most Whitehurst detractors in the press just say that he is “bad” without any explanation of why.

  • Dave

    ChipA, Whitehurst is for next year, Matt is for now. There are no other QB’s, Charlie has a limited grasp of the offense, and Matt knows it well. Charlie has tools to go forward, Matt’s are declining. Matt can recongize the defense disguises, Charlie can only tuck and run, at this point. Charlie is athetic and not smart to take the hit and is suffering for it, Matt will slide and get the penalty. Dude, Matt is our only hope! Recognise it, accept it, and live with the consequense. GO… SEAHAWKS, GO… SEAHAWKS!!!

  • Bruce McDermott

    I like the way Charlie competes. I like his arm. I like that he has at least some speed on the run. But if Matt is healthy, he gives us the best chance, by a country mile. Not really even close. The QB I saw on the field last Sunday is not ready for playoff time in the NFL against a gambling defense.

    Now, if we get behind early, Matt may make it worse faster than Charlie would. But that’s a gamble we should take.

    All this presumes, of course, that we want to win the game above all. If we wanted to prepare for the future, it might make sense to throw Charlie in there and see more of what we’ve got with him.

  • Mahgeeta

    We also saw Matt’s lack of armstrength and inability to finish drives in the first New Orleans game. Since the New Orleans game it’s been a steady decline in Matt’s performance. He’s never had an arm, and now he has no judgement either.

    CW will be making his 3rd start. He proved in the last game he can make plays if given the opportunity. Put him back there and see if we swim or sink. We’ve been sinking with Matt for about 9 weeks now. If you play Matt we’re down 17-0 by the end of the third quarter.