BY Art Thiel 06:52PM 12/13/2010

Seahawks gaffes go well beyond Matt

Carroll: progress “taking too long,” but don’t put it all on Hasselbeck

Pete Carroll has issues with QB Matt Hasselbeck (Drew Sellers/Sports Press Northwest)

Considering the relatively minimal expectations entering the season, the 2010 Seahawks have been curiously amusing, laughing and gaffe-ing in the NFL divisional version of an Elmer Fudd cartoon.

At 6-7, they are still tied for the lead. But that’s like being proud of leading a video store in sales of black-and-white TVs (“Look at this shiny antenna!”).

In his last season as head coach, Mike Holmgren won four games. In his only season as head coach, Jim Mora won five games. The new guy, Pete Carroll, has won six games, which suggests improvement.

It’s a false positive. Just as was the Seahawks’ season-opening 31-6 win over the division-rival 49ers.

Its grim reversal, the 40-21 loss Sunday in San Francisco, was so profoundly regressive that it portends a four-game losing streak to end the season, as well as serious questions as to whether this outfit knows what it is doing.

The most serious issue is between coach and quarterback. For a team with large talent deficits, Carroll has preached all season about avoiding turnovers with less-risky decisions from the QB.

Yet Matt Hasselbeck Sunday had five turnovers, including three (one pick was through a teammate’s hands) interceptions that Carroll Monday suggested broke game-plan policy.

“He was a little careless with his decisions,” he said. “It was disappointing for us because it (avoiding turnovers) is such a big deal to us.”

Less directly, Carroll called out most everybody in what was, given the game’s stakes and the chance for victory, the season’s worst defeat, topped by the season-ending injury to wide receiver Deon Butler. The second-year wide receiver had surgery after the game to repair a “very serious break,” Carroll said, of both bones in his right leg after catching a meaningless touchdown pass near game’s end.

Carroll too, chastised himself for going “a little overboard” post-game when he suggested that a better choice of cleats may have helped prevent Seahawks’ slips on their many whiffed tackles. Candlestick Park has always been a lousy field, and Carroll sounded like an excuse-maker.

And while we’re at coaching blunders, there was no excuse for another play call, tossing a sideline fade route to a short receiver on a fourth-and-two that fell incomplete.

It was the third time this season on fourth down the Seahawks could not get open their primary receiver and checked down to one of their Hobbit-sized wide-outs. The play is unlikely to work for even 6-foot-5 Mike Williams. But he was injured, so the play had no chance.

If ever a play deserved placement on the injured-reserve list, that’s the one.

Back to Hasselbeck. Carroll cited the same point made by Mora and Holmgren before him about Hasselbeck’s primary weakness.

“He’s trying too hard trying to make plays out of stuff that wasn’t there,” he said. “He’s well aware of it, and it just got away from him.”

Then Carroll said something different, and more ominous.

“It’s taking too long,” he said of his message of ball safety. “I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job of getting the points across and hammering it home, and making (the team) convinced of the nature of this. This is not at all how we had it planned. It’s telling us the story of the season.”

When a coach goes passive-aggressive to avoid directly blaming a player, there is trouble. When he says his message isn’t getting through to the club’s No. 1 player, there is more trouble. And when he lays across-the-board seasonal failure primarily in one lap, there is a lot of trouble.

The Seahawks began the game at a minus-two in seasonal turnover differential, 16th in the NFL. So they weren’t terrible in that category. Now, it would seem, they are.

But Carroll doesn’t have much of an alternative, despite the fact that the Seahawks invested in one. The Seahawks expended treasure last off-season to get Charlie Whitehurst to back up Hasselbeck and compete against him for the starting job.

Whitehurst had never thrown a pass in four NFL seasons. Now he has thrown 29, completing 16 with three pickoffs and one touchdown for a passer rating of 43.8.

The numbers are somewhat unfair for a little-used backup. But when the opportunity came Sunday to give Whitehurst some action in a hopeless blowout, Carroll kept in Hasselbeck.

The problem, it would appear from deeds as well as words, is that Carroll trusts neither Hasselbeck nor Whitehurst. With three games left in a season, including two against superior opponents (Atlanta and Tampa), the breakdown looms large.

Given the problems with injuries and overall lack of talent, it seems unlikely the Seahawks will win again. It is almost equally unlikely that Carroll and his staff will concede the point, at least  Sunday here against Atlanta.

But if Carroll didn’t get through to Hasselbeck for the season’s pivotal game the past Sunday, when does he expect that to happen? And how does Carroll answer Hasselbeck when he asks about the mish-mash along the offensive line, the professional competency of the receiver corps following the departures of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch and the competitive disappearance of well-regarded tight end John Carlson?

Carroll is right about things taking too long this season. But Hasselbeck, operating with his left hand in a cast, feels the same pressure to get going, and he’s the one guy who can speed things up.

But he’s the team’s savviest veteran trying to speed things up with guys who clearly aren’t up to speed.

At 35 and in his final contract year, Hasselbeck feels the urgency more than anyone, perhaps too much. But losing so badly via turnovers wasn’t even close to being all about the quarterback, particularly when the 49ers were without their best offensive player, Frank Gore, and with coach Mike Singletary, who might be the NFL’s least capable head man.

Turnovers are an easy explanation for defeat. Reasons behind the turnovers are more complicated and revealing.

If Hasselbeck isn’t with Carroll’s program at this late hour of the season, the coach has a hand-picked alternative. And with more than 250 transactions since he’s been in Seattle, Carroll has shown the will to be ruthless with personnel.

Trouble is, division leaders don’t usually change quarterbacks voluntarily in the stretch drive.

As was mentioned, the Seahawks have been curiously amusing.


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