Solving Seattle's Quarterback Dilemma

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 18: Tavaris Jackson #7 of the Seattle Seahawks runs with the ball against of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

DK edit: Please give a warm welcome to Derek Stephens, another great new writer here at Field Gulls. Some of you probably already know him from his work formerly at his Seahawks' blog The Blue Bird Herd, but if not here's what you need to know: Derek is an expert draft contributor at First Round Exchange (draft site that features Mel Kiper and Rob Rang as well), a writer for NFL.com's NFL Blog Blitz, has scouted for Lindy's Sports Pro Football Draft Guide and provided player draft analysis at NFLDraftScout.com.

His writings have also been featured on SeattlePI.com, NFL.com, SportsFanLive.com, TheNewsTribune.com, and AOL Fanhouse. He's legit. And he's a cool guy. I'm stoked to have him writing here.

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Since the beginning of training camp, we've heard on multiple occaisions Pete Carroll and John Schneider go on about how mistreated Tarvaris Jackson was in Minnesota.  How raw of a deal he got.  How he was "(Expletive) on", to quote Schneider and how "jerked around" he was, according to Carroll.  And from Jackson himself, how disheartening it was to be benched "after two starts."  

The entire violin section has been playing on this guy's behalf from day one, and now, the front office faces a dilemma.  Mind you, it's a dilemma that they'll in all likelihood say, at least for now, is not a dilemma.  But regardless of what they say, there is officially a quarterback controversy in Seattle.  

Jackson hasn't been a turnover machine.  He hasn't been wildly off or horrifically errant, to the casual viewer's eye. But looking at the replay of Sunday's  game, as well as last Sunday's loss in San Francisco, at closer glance, it's apparent that Tarvaris Jackson is not the answer at quarterback in Seattle. He's technically flawed. Consistently.

Particularly when considering the rhythmic, timing-based, precision offense that he's working in, Jackson's footwork and timing are a terrible fit. He doesn't set his feet.  He takes a hitch when the ball should be out as soon as he hits the 3rd or 5th step on his drop.  

A perfect example was the comeback throw that Mike Williams caught out of bounds at his knees. If Jackson would have released it on time, it would have been converted successfully.  And watching the replay, there was no reason for the delay, other than Jackson simply being out of rhythm, and hesitant.

Problem is, he's not been in rhythm at all, ever, since coming to Seattle, save a few garbage time tosses in San Francisco, post-"Operation Ginn." If he were a 24 year old rookie, or 2nd year guy, there'd be a grace period, and we'd be somewhere at the beginning or middle stages of it.  But that's not the case here.  He's 28 and has "known" this system for 4 years with no signs of significant growth or improvement.

That said, it's easy to see why the 'Hawks brought Jackson in, and it makes some sense. There was a lockout and Seattle needed someone who knew something about this offense. Jackson's time on the bench in Minnesota made him a natural candidate.  That's not the problem.  Fine, the guy knows the offense, knows the coach and knows the oft-injured wide receiver you paid millions to bring in...sign him.  Again, not the problem.  

People guess wrong on guys all the time. Guessing wrong is normal.  It's about how quickly you recognize you're wrong, and the subsequent response that could make or break you as an organization or individually as a coach or GM. And this is where I fear Seattle may continue down the wrong path.

This quarterback controversy is as much about the publically verbal miscues of the Seahawks' leadership and front office as it is about the play of Jackson or the presumed better impending play of Charlie Whitehurst. This is about over-commiting to a guy publically before he ever took the field for you. 

Bottom line - Neither John Schneider nor Pete Carroll should have ever so much as hinted anything publically concerning their views on the lack of support for Jackson in Minnesota.  They should have never reflected disdain for the perceived shortage of opportunities that the Vikings or their coaching staff provided him. Because now, here we are two games into the season, and they know Jackson needs to sit.  They know he's not the answer.  Unless they're stupid.

Which they aren't.  

It should make perfect sense to them why Brad Childress spent half of training camp on dinner dates with Brett Favre, and why Jackson was benched after two games.  He wanted to win, and his butt was on the line as the coach. They've arrived at the exact same place, with the exact same player.

I watch a lot of tape.  I scout a lot of players.  But I would never claim to know as much or more about scouting NFL caliber talent than someone like John Schneider.  The guy has sat shoulder to shoulder with legendary packer GM Ron Wolf, and learned directly from the guy many consider to be the best evaluator of talent the NFL has ever known in Ted Thompson. This is why I refuse to believe that Schneider doesn't see the flaws.  

But again...nobody needs to tell John Schneider or Pete Carroll about Jackson's problems. As I've already said, they must already recognize that a change has to be made.  The issue, if anything, will be pride.  After letting the entire football world know how they felt not only about the Minnesota Vikings, but about Tarvaris Jackson and his seemingly endless upside, they're now faced with the task of possibly having to eat their words and resort to the Childress-like act of benching him after two games in favor of the guy they dubbed the potential "quarterback of the future" last year.  Hey, at least with Whitehurst they weren't ripping the Chargers.

Eating humble pie is never fun.  The good news for the Seahawks' brass, is that I don't think Seattle fans will care for very long, if a change is made and it proves to be the right decision.  If Whitehurst steps in next week and proves to be more decisive and accurate, and leads this team to victory, are you going to sit dwell on their initial favorable approach they took with Jackson?  Or would you applaud them for recognizing their evaluation error and correcting course before it was too late?

Trust me, I am not of the opinion that Charlie Whitehurst is an automatic upgrade.  In fact, he may come in and perform worse than Jackson.  I am, however, of the opinion that Jackson has done nothing to deter this team from taking the competitive approach they tout so loudly at every other position, and applying it to the quarterback spot.  

So how will Seattle respond? 

So far we've heard that it's the O-line.  Or receivers not getting open.  Or the O-line some more.  And just yesterday we heard more denial from Carroll. "It had nothing to do with the quarterback spot," Carroll said, in reference to Seattle's loss in Pittsburgh yesterday.  It will be interesting to see what it "had to do with," once they look at the tape. 

I took a look for myself.  

The O-line pass-blocked much better in the first half, and Jackson had more time to throw than Big Ben did on some possessions.  Wide Receivers were open.  The late game blitzes were a different story and threw things off quite a bit, but when Jackson had time, he remained indecisive and out of rhythm. These are all normal and tolerable, if you're determined to develop a guy and believe he's the answer down the line. But after 5 years in the league and no substantial improvement, is Jackson really the answer?

Will the Seahawks do what's best for the organization?  Or will they try to save face and force Jackson as a guy who simply needs a fair shot? 

This is the quarterback dilemma in Seattle, and it started with a couple of public comments that should have been kept private.

If nothing else, let's hope Schneider and Carroll have learned the valuable lesson of keeping their negative feelings about other organizations behind closed doors.  If they keep preseason playing time plans a secret, they should most certainly be able to do it with their emotions.

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