Hmmm, all I've heard for two weeks is how our QB looks scared and lacks pocket awareness and won't throw anything on time. I agree with everything said, but something seems oddly familiar about the first claim, at least. Remember saying that "Hasselbeck doesn't want to throw down field because he can't or won't trust his receivers?" Oddly enough, it took someone pointing out that the arguments were similar to make me to realize that there is one position that has escaped criticism as a whole outside the obligatory Golden Tate bash of the week.
The wide receivers.
Now maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I am here. There's now a new throw away position in the NFL (at least according to fans that watch Brady and Manning and perhaps Brees) and that's wide receiver. Like 'the O-line matters more than halfback,' argument, the new 'quarterback matters more than wide receiver' idea has become a notion people believe in.
I have to shake my head and say bullshit. I understand the view but I feel it's wrong and excusing the position entirely has gone on in favor of dumping it all in the QB's lap for the last three seasons. It fails to see the entire and very significant problem this offense has faced and will continue to face.
The last time this offense truly hummed it featured Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson, but let's be honest, it might as well have been Hasselbeck and Engram on the field because Bobby was Matt's number one and last option when things broke down. Why? Execution. Bobby Engram ran accurate routes, broke on time and gave Hasselbeck nice consistent windows to stick the ball into. The times he threw to Nate Burleson, Nate was either in man coverage or the route was simple enough to ensure Hasselbeck could trust him to complete it properly.
As Bobby Engram left and Nate Burleson missed the season in 2008 the QB became what we dumped on more and more and more and blogged about how it was time for a change. Meanwhile, the wide receivers got excuse after excuse including the silliest sentence ever uttered EVER. "Someone has to be open."
Actually no, there doesn't have to be anyone open. Wide receivers bust at a pretty high rate for a reason and that's because in order to play football at this level, even as a backup, you must be able to run routes well and run them properly at a high percentage to be successful. I'll give you an example from my own knowledge...
Jason Hill played football at Washington State. Though he was a superior athlete in college, he didn't do anything except run streak routes with his reported 4.24 speed. The kid was fast, but completely green heading into the professional ranks and big surprise, his speed is essentially worthless. He was so bad he couldn't even break into the depth chart, sitting at 5th or 6th on the roster for the 49ers for the entirety of his tenure.
Brandon Gibson, on the other hand, also from Washington State, ran solid and consistent routes in college, he lacked good speed or short burst, but he had great hands and solid footwork that allowed him to create enough separation to make catches in the shorter fields, and not surprisingly, he's talented enough to start in the NFL. Sam Bradford has leaned on him quite a bit in his first two seasons.
I'm really looking hard at last year and seeing Hasselbeck have similar looking problems. Although in his case, Matt did take fans' advice at times and just "Hasselchucked" it up regardless of the defense to try and make a play. At times, he threw some terrible interceptions for no other reason than to give his guys a chance as people are screaming for Tavaris to do now. I understand the feeling, but I think people are letting their frustrations cloud their opinions just a little bit.
Also, just to get this off my chest. Doug Baldwin gets all the credit for the route he ran against the 49ers for the TD. The fact is, it was great route by him, no doubt., but it was also a well executed throw by Jackson on time right out of the kid's break so he could turn and run almost as soon as he broke open.
Let's say that's Golden Tate last year. He probably runs that play at eight yard depth instead of fifteen, sits down late, Matt tries to force it when he shouldn't have to and the play is turned into a pick six. Watch how fast Hasselbeck gets blamed for that throw. Or let's say it's Mike Williams. He's probably doubled by an underneath linebacker and over the top by a corner as the Steelers did all game to eliminate quick throwing lanes that would make Mike Williams effective. Why is none of this stuff considered?
Let's take a true hard look at the receiving corps.
Mike Williams is slow, far too slow to be a number one. Last year, the looks he got were in single coverage mostly and Hasselbeck stuck the ball in some tight spaces even then. Williams doesn't get off the snap well and creates minimal separation. Meanwhile, he doesn't complete timing routes very consistently. This is true of both this year and last. It's hard to judge when or where he's going to make his break on a simple curl. He's got the best hands on the team, but I wouldn't expect him to get many targets from any Quarterback until he runs routes better or somehow develops a first move worthy of an NFL wideout.
Golden Tate is the next most talented, but his routes are less then stellar so far in his career. He's good in a few ways, speed is solid, first move is strong against press and can hand fight like Anquan Boldin. His big problem? You're never sure where he's going to be, that's a huge problem when your QB needs to trust and sometimes throw to a spot in double coverage to get a completion.
Zach Miller will not see the football a lot this year. His career is built on shorter routes. He executes well and is strong off the block, he doesn't get knocked around like Carlson, but unlike Oakland, we don't have Hayward-bey to pop the top off the defense as Randy Moss might say. (I know he's not a wideout, but he is a receiver and was billed as such when signed.)
Ben Obamanu is the best route runner on this team and consistently finds ways of putting his body between his defender and the ball. He had key drops that have been excused by the fact that they were high throws. Reggie Wayne makes those catches and so should Ben. He's got a complete game if he can learn to bail out his QB and make the tough ones. He also dropped a TD in San Fran and that can't happen either. There's also the lack of awareness for the ball in the air at times that bothers me.
Doug Baldwin, this kid's already shown to be someone Tavaris puts some trust in. Doug has great hands and uses his body well, shows great concentration and footwork. Clearly working in a pro-style offense has put him ahead of guys like Golden Tate and Ben Obamanu. His first move off the snap could be better, but I almost feel like I'm nit-picking here.
Deon Butler, well, what can you say about DB? Small and gets knocked around quite a bit, he's really fast, has solid concentration in traffic. He's got a knack for shorter quicker routes because of an elite first move and his hands have shown their quality through him catching and holding onto a football in the process of breaking his leg. Can't say much about his routes because he didn't run many different types. He's good on streaks and does well on short tosses that function more like screens than the typical short passes.
Did you see what was missing?
Right now, this team lacks a complete package wideout. Maybe Sidney Rice is that guy, but I don't know. None of these guys I mention outside Deon Butler have an elite first move and that's important for a number one wide out at least. This is how Darrell Jackson could catch 4 passes for 60+ yards against Champ Bailey or humiliate Shawn Springs for 9 catches in a playoff game. There's a reason why Steve Largent never missed a beat going from Jim Zorn at QB to Dave Krieg, Steve had everything but speed, but that didn't matter when the QBs could always trust him to be right where he was supposed to be, on time and alert for the football.
When you really look at this position now, it looks like a bunch of horribly mismatched parts despite some folks believing it's a position of strength. There are definitely flaws in Tavaris Jackson's game, but there are also glaring holes at the position that needs to help him find success.