Postgame: Atlanta Falcons 34 - Seahawks 18

Watching Charlie Whitehurst struggle puts Matt Hasselbeck into perspective. Whitehurst had 16 pass attempts. Hasselbeck 17. Each took a sack. Whitehurst was dropped after John Abraham bucked Russell Okung. Jamaal Anderson brought reality as Hassebeck was reliving glory days. Hasselbeck completed a higher percentage of passes. Whitehurst threw for more yards. Charlie's big two plays were scrambles. Matt's biggest failure was something like a roll out.

Neither quarterback played well. Yet Seattle's moribund offense looked quicker, sharper and more potent under Whitehurst. Why exactly? Could it be game state? The Seahawks were well out of it by the time Whitehurst took the field. Could it just be circumstance? Whitehurst nearly threw an interception, and had he, his line would not have looked a whole helluva lot better than Hasselbeck's.

I don't know.

Nothing happened today that confirms Whitehurst is the future or even that Hasselbeck is the past.

But that never, ever has been the point of contention. It has never been Matt versus Charlie, except maybe in the Qwest bleachers. It hasn't been Charlie versus anyone. It has always, always been Matt versus Matt. And the 35 year old is winning in blowout fashion.

Not every Seahawks fan knows this, no matter how often it's repeated, but Matt Hasselbeck was a great quarterback. Like Shaun Alexander was a great running back. Like the Boz was a great linebacker prospect. Like Marcus Tubbs was a promising young defensive tackle. Like Walter Jones was the greatest offensive lineman I have ever watched play.

To be great, he first had to be better. Before Hasselbeck was Hasselbeck, before Hasselbeck was struggling to start over Trent Dilfer, before Hasselbeck was surgically carving zones, before Hasselbeck was overcoming his body and his surrounding talent and conducting a playoff bound passing offense through Leonard Weaver and Bobby Engram and Maurice Morris and Marcus Pollard, he was just a kid that outplayed BC starter Scott Mutryn. He was better than Mutryn. He earned his way to the top.

Today, Whitehurst looked better than Hasselbeck. I can't quantify it. I will attempt to qualify it in the coming week, but it's not elusive. Whitehurst moves better than Hasselbeck. He has much more life in his throws and can fit passes into tighter windows. He doesn't read like Hasselbeck but he doesn't loiter in the pocket either. Charlie takes the ball and finds somewhere to zing it. It's not poetry. It's not 2005 or even 2004. But it's not 2007 either. It isn't an overmatched quarterback winning with his steadiness, skill, read and timing. Whitehurst is a big, athletic, strong-armed quarterback with potential. Greatness may be a very long ways away, but he was better today and the Seahawks were a better team with him under center.

. . .

The Seahawks defense is sooo hard to place. The run defense returned today and with it, the scheme suddenly didn't seem so cockeyed. Maybe Atlanta just didn't target certain weaknesses. Maybe it was Colin Cole, of all people.

When Seattle signed Cole, I was pretty unhappy. Cole was a big, barrel-chested situational run stuffer. He became an instant starter on the Seahawks line, and the results weren't pretty. It wasn't just Cole by any stretch, but a line that was already hurting for pass rush couldn't survive a situational run stuffer starting and a tackle playing end. Or at least it couldn't last year.

This year, it's clear the Seahawks do not expect pass rush from Cole. He isn't collapsing the pocket. He isn't shooting gaps. He is staying alive near the line and then using his immense upper body strength to separate and tackle. Cole had a pretty astounding eight total tackles today. Play after play you could find Cole in the thick of the action: stout in the scrum, suddenly free to wrap and padlock secure in his tackle.

No one lets me into meetings and so I can't confirm this, but it sure seems like Cole is a 3-4 nose tackle playing in an otherwise 4-3 front. Green Bay planned to re-sign Cole and start him at nose in their 3-4, but Seattle scooped him up. Now he plays over tackle in a 4-3, but the way he is so often free to tackle, the way he almost never can be found in the opposing backfield, the way he controls and reacts rather than gaps and attacks, it sure looks like he is playing two gaps. Every part of the Seahawks defense looks better with Cole in the mix.

This is a long-winded way of giving the guy the game ball.

Like a 3-4 team, the Seahawks need to compensate for starting a designated run stuffer on their defensive line. I have some theories, but I'll save those for another day. Seattle needs to compensate for Cole, but for the first time since his signing, I can say without reservation that this team is better with Colin Cole than without. Better, it's not everything but it beats worse.

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