BY Art Thiel 07:00AM 01/08/2012

Thiel: Why Jackson can succeed as Seahawks QB

The 49ers had seven selections on the All-Pro team. None were QB Alex Smith, and they still won 13 games. The Seahawks can do the same with Jackson.

Earl Thomas

Rookie safety Earl Thomas was named to the AP's All-Pro second team. / Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks

As you peruse the NFL playoffs this weekend, it’s worth considering how thin the margins are in the NFL, particularly between the 7-9 Seahawks and 13-3 49ers, NFC West champs who are given a respectable shot by many to make the Super Bowl.

Despite at passel of injuries, the Seahawks lost on Christmas Eve to the 49ers, 19-17. As it turns out, the 49ers did it with seven players who made the Associated Press All-Pro first and second teams, compared to one, safety Earl Thomas, for Seattle.

The AP All-Pro team is a much more credible honor than the Pro Bowl, which has enough bad politics in the voting to lap a Republican primary. The AP team is picked by 50 media members around the country whose agendas are professional, as opposed doing favors, in picking the best players from the 2011 regular season.

As Jared Allen, the Vikings defensive end who was selected for the fourth time, put it, “The All-Pro Team to me is one of the all-time accomplishments. Pro Bowls are nice, but guys get voted in longer than they should and guys who deserve to go don’t always get to.

“(All Pro) is the whole league. It’s not just an AFC and NFC thing. So to me this is the honor I hold the highest. It’s something to put on the resume and tell the grand-kids about.”

What’s intriguing locally is that all but one of the 49ers’ selections were on defense and special teams. Not a surprise to those who have watched them, but illuminating concerning the issue that hangs over the Seahawks’ off-season: What to do about the quarterback position.

The Niners chosen were linebackers Patrick Willis (first team), NaVorro Bowman (first) cornerback Carlos Rogers (second) and defensive lineman Justin Smith (first team defensive end, second team defensive tackle), punter Andy Lee (first) and placekicker David Akers (first). The lone offensive player was tackle Joe Staley (second).

What the Niners under Jim Harbaugh did is what the Seahawks Pete Carroll is attempting to do: Put emphasis on defense and special teams while creating an offense that makes few mistakes and does not lose the game.

The plans of Harbaugh and Carroll are so similar, it’s no wonder they don’t like each other. Carroll would never give Harbaugh the satisfaction of saying so publicly, but no development gags Carroll more in 2011 than to be down 0-2 to Harbaugh in the NFC West after losing four of the past five to Harbaugh when Harbaugh was at Stanford and Carroll at USC.

Personal politics aside, Harbaugh’s success validates Carroll’s vision regarding the quarterback position: Other matters being equal, if Harbaugh can win 13 games with Alex Smith, Carroll has a decent shot to do the same with Tarvaris Jackson.

Smith has a better pedigree, having been taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft out of Utah, while Jackson was a second-rounder (64th overall) from Alabama State. But Smith’s Niners history has been so soaked in travail that many inside and outside the NFL believed Smith wasn’t wanted in San Francisco as much as Smith didn’t want to be there.

Sort of like Jackson in his first four seasons in Minnesota.

But this year, Smith had a 90.7 passer rating, ninth in the NFL. Jackson was 21st, at 79.2. The primary difference in their stats was interceptions: Smith had a league-low five, Jackson 13. But the pick count is as much a function of team as QB. An inexperienced line put Jackson, in his first year in Seattle,  under huge pressure early in the season, and late in the season the Seahawks were losing receivers by the boxcar-load.

Sure, Jackson made plenty of unforced errors, but anyone who watched Smith in Seattle saw a handful of dubious judgments and erratic throws. Neither guy is close to being the best in the business, but they don’t have to be if the rest of the team is built to win the game.

Both coaches say repeatedly that ball security is the QB’s No. 1 responsibility, another reason why these teams try to run the ball more than most. They don’t want Smith or Jackson to be forced to make higher-risk throws. If the defense and special teams are well above average, suddenly there’s a much bigger pool of players who can play QB and still be successful.

“Your quarterback like your point guard,” Carroll said in his final press briefing of the year. “He needs to deliver the ball to guys and let them catch and run. When it comes time, (the QB) can make the plays you need that separates you.

“By taking an approach where you don’t make him have to make all of the stuff happen,  you balance out all the responsibility. It gives you a chance to play with a number of different-style guys” at QB.

It also takes the pressure off a team like Seattle with medium-high draft pick to take a collegian who is less of a sure thing than Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. Neither will be around by the time Seattle picks 11th or 12th. Moving up to get them would requiring surrendering the equivalent of Brazil’s gross national product.

Now that the other two would-be premium draftee QBs, Matt Barkley and Landry Jones, said they will stay in college, the Seahawks are better served by expending treasure on other needs such as linebacker or defensive end.

Jackson is signed for another year and demonstrated enough progress that, with a full training camp and a healthy O-line, he could be next year’s Alex Smith.

A year ago, that would have been an insult. Now it’s an opportunity to catch up to evil, icky, what’s-your-deal Harbaugh and the 49ers by filling the roster with other All-Pro players besides Earl Thomas.


YourThoughts

  • Pingback: Thiel: Why Jackson can succeed as Seahawks QB | football-feed.com

  • Caribou

    Art – great article as always. I fully agree, in a team concept with the sum of the parts and so on, a QB like Jackson with some improvements in decision making and perhaps a new target or two, should be capable of leading this team into and perhaps advance through the playoffs next year. Here’s my question – if still available when the Seahawks pick how about Justin Blackmon?

  • Caribou

    Art – great article as always. I fully agree, in a team concept with the sum of the parts and so on, a QB like Jackson with some improvements in decision making and perhaps a new target or two, should be capable of leading this team into and perhaps advance through the playoffs next year. Here’s my question – if still available when the Seahawks pick how about Justin Blackmon?

  • http://profiles.google.com/dcrockett17 David Crockett

    I’m sympathetic to this argument Art, but only to a degree. The differences between the two rosters Carroll and Harbaugh inherited are many. Carroll had to take a flamethrower to a bottom five roster, loaded with middling “Ruskell-type” draft picks from years of mediocrity. Harbaugh inherited a roster chock full of high picks from years of suck, ready to mature. 

    SEA and SF may have the same basic approach to building a roster, but the similarity has more to do with the fact that all-pro QB is as hard to find as a high-quality lefty starting pitchers. You might get lucky and land a guy–Aaron Rodgers fell to deep in the first round–but you can’t afford to wait. 

    At the end of the day, here’s what I guess will happen. SEA will sign Jason Campbell to a 2-year deal to come in and compete with Jackson. Campbell is a better version of the “point guard QB” that Carroll likes. Then, Carroll and Schneider will look at the cards they have to play in the draft. Moving up for RG3 to be the long-term answer at QB isn’t a ridiculous notion, but it’ll depend on what MIA, WAS, and CLE do. That’s a lotta ifs. In the meantime, Campbell is a good upgrade and SEA can look for the best player available at the top of the draft.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dcrockett17 David Crockett

    I’m sympathetic to this argument Art, but only to a degree. The differences between the two rosters Carroll and Harbaugh inherited are many. Carroll had to take a flamethrower to a bottom five roster, loaded with middling “Ruskell-type” draft picks from years of mediocrity. Harbaugh inherited a roster chock full of high picks from years of suck, ready to mature. 

    SEA and SF may have the same basic approach to building a roster, but the similarity has more to do with the fact that all-pro QB is as hard to find as a high-quality lefty starting pitchers. You might get lucky and land a guy–Aaron Rodgers fell to deep in the first round–but you can’t afford to wait. 

    At the end of the day, here’s what I guess will happen. SEA will sign Jason Campbell to a 2-year deal to come in and compete with Jackson. Campbell is a better version of the “point guard QB” that Carroll likes. Then, Carroll and Schneider will look at the cards they have to play in the draft. Moving up for RG3 to be the long-term answer at QB isn’t a ridiculous notion, but it’ll depend on what MIA, WAS, and CLE do. That’s a lotta ifs. In the meantime, Campbell is a good upgrade and SEA can look for the best player available at the top of the draft.

  • Agentmick

    hmmm…ya think?

  • Agentmick

    hmmm…ya think?

  • HunterGatherer

    Right on. Great teams build great lines – and with a healthy, dynamic line, Jackson will be fine.

    Kudos to Carroll and Schneider for knowing this.

  • HunterGatherer

    Right on. Great teams build great lines – and with a healthy, dynamic line, Jackson will be fine.

    Kudos to Carroll and Schneider for knowing this.

  • CP

    You need a QB who you feel confident can lead your team when you have to drive 80 yards in a minute and a half. Jackson is a great athlete, but will never be a great leader or QB. If they don’t take care of the QB situation this off-season, they will miss the window. Good back-up and spot-starter, but will never be a QB that leads the Hawks to the Super Bowl. 

  • http://shakeyourfoundation.com Craig Playstead

    You need a QB who you feel confident can lead your team when you have to drive 80 yards in a minute and a half. Jackson is a great athlete, but will never be a great leader or QB. If they don’t take care of the QB situation this off-season, they will miss the window. Good back-up and spot-starter, but will never be a QB that leads the Hawks to the Super Bowl.