The 4th was a VERY uneventful quarter of football. So I'll offer a brief note on Hasselbeck and then cover how the Hawks nearly gave the game away, only to have the Eagles give it right back.
- Just a terrible game for Matt Hasselbeck. Terrible. Since I've been tracking the Hawks, I've never seen a game where Beck was so inaccurate, or worse, so bad about throwing into coverage. Every pass I note whether Beck's throw was accurate, underthrown, overthrown, into coverage or tipped. In most games Beck's accuracy rating is 70%+. On Sunday he was accurate on just a shade under 59% of his passes. In the fourth quarter he was especially bad, accurate on just 30% of his passes. So, he didn't have a bad fantasy day, his QB rating, a somewhat bad but not awful 78.92, and as for a meaningful stat, his DPAR was a more indicative -2.2, but though I haven't compiled information for the entire season yet, I think this was likely his worst game of the year. One more reason the Seahawks were lucky to survive on Sunday.
- The other is that they practically gave the game away. I don't have access to an NFL version of win probability added, but let's be clear, when you're up by 4, on your 44, first down, with only 1:56 to play, you're probably going to win the game. A first down wins it. A decent punt forces them to drive the length of the field with no timeouts and score a touchdown. That's pretty unlikely. The only way the other team has a chance to pull back into it is if you A) Don't even try to get a first down, and B) Don't even try to get a good punt. I say don't even try on the latter, because kicking down the center of the field to a man who when last called upon as a regular punt returner averaged 15.3 yard per return, including 2 TDs, is tantamount to not trying. Worse, it's almost not paying attention. Like they were punting to Josh Scobey, or He Hate Me. In fact, they twice punted to Brian Westbrook. Meaning that the second punt was a do-over after previously boning the first chance. Yep, the play calling was on cruise control. It took some kind of laziness and disregard to even get Seattle to the point where they were punting to Westbrook, that they then screwed that up is like adding stupidity to insipidness. Here's why.
The Hawks, up 4, on their 44, with only 1:56 to play, decided to call their banal, clock killing offense. On the first play, Seattle comes out in a 2 WR, 1 TE, I-Back set, the Eagles, naturally, put 8 in the box. This isn't the Hawks worst call on this drive by any stretch of the imagination. They are smart enough to put two receivers wide, opening some possibility of a pass. Given that the Eagles have 3 timeouts, but must (at least, one can anticipate) march the length of the field if they get the ball back, you want them to at least burn one timeout. So a first down run makes some sense. What doesn't make sense is running it behind right end with Shaun Alexander. Right end is already the Hawks second weakest spot to run behind, (28th in the league) and Alexander hasn't the burst to get the ball to the edge in the best of circumstances, much less when the other team is anticipating run. Further, you have a replacement right guard who can't run block, and a replacement center who can't block at all. So you're taking an iffy but justifiable formation and then playing to its weakness. Predictably, Alexander is gang tackled after one yard.
On the next run the Hawks get even more conservative, moving into a 1 WR, 2 TE, I-Back set. It's not like the Hawks have especially good run blocking tight ends either. I mean Pollard and Heller are alright, but we're not talking about freakin' Jim Kleinsasser and Matt Spaeth here. The Eagles are like "alright, we get this" and stack 9 in the box. The Hawks call, what else?, another run to right end. Not only is that senseless for the previously mentioned reasons, but because the Hawks only receiver is on the left side, meaning that Alexander is running towards the uncovered cornerback!! The Eagles burn their second timeout.
Now, it's 3rd and 8 and the Eagles' final timeout is all but immaterial. In all likelihood, Philly will have to march the length of the field and the ability to stop the clock once without spiking it is not that important. Its significance, essentially, is that it opens the possibility to run one play that isn't directly designed to be run out of bounds. Again, not very significant, and especially not significant in light of the fact that the Eagles offense has ripped off 15 yards all quarter. The Hawks exit with the exact same formation previously run, except for one wrinkle, the receiver that was before left, is now right. Pretty tricky. Alexander runs this one off left end, again towards the Eagles uncovered corner, does his goddamn best to break free, and is tackled after a gain of one. I feel compelled to mention, Alexander really does run hard on all three runs and it's not his fault that he's just not very quick around the edge or that the play calling was dumbfoundingly predictable and wrongheaded. These were plays destined to fail, and if all Holmgren wanted was to force the Eagles to burn their timeouts without risking a turnover, a simple kneel would have been just as effective. Further, once you're in 3rd and long, and the Eagles have only the one - basically immaterial - timeout, it's time to at least attempt to convert the first down. Forcing the Eagles to burn that final timeout increases your chance of winning, what?, 2%, something almost immeasurable like that, where as converting the first wins the game. No ambiguity, get the first, win the game. But, no dice, this offense is on cruise control, don't do anything you regret, I'm tired of coaching, wake me when it's over, the fights out of me I just don't want to lose, what does the Haines manual on coaching say to do, an algorithm written on a player piano could do better - Dear god did we just punt right to Brian Westbrook?
That's when the play calling warps from ho-hum, peewee-coach play calling, to get-that-Exacto-out-of-that-man's-hand suicidal play calling. First, if you're going to go through all the trouble of stripping Philly of their timeouts, for Christ's sake, you have to eliminate the chance of a big return. It's so easy to do that, just punt the ball out of bounds, not ten yards from the right hashmark. Second, if you're going to kick the ball out of bounds, max protect the punter so the felchin' punt doesn't almost get blocked. The more I watch the return, the more I think that Westbrook could have probably scored if he didn't overestimate Kevin Bentley. The way he was running, if he hadn't broke stride to examine his blockers (likely a product of him being rusty as a returner) there really isn't much for him to do to get into the end zone other than to take a slight move in and run right past the blocked Bentley. That's almost giving the game away. And it didn't happen because Holmgren and company made a single wrong decision, but many not just wrong, but dead-wrong decisions.
- After all this hullaballoo, the Eagles started their drive on the Hawks 14 w/ 1:14 on the clock. Thank god A.J. Feeley sucks, because, that, and that alone, saved Seattle. All that effort to kill the Eagles' timeouts, and Philly didn't end up having any use for them. Their second play was a run for crying out loud. Nope, the only thing that saved Seattle was Feeley's limitations as a quarterback. He's what I call a single read quarterback. He has one receiver he wants to throw to and come hell or high-water, dagnabit, that's the receiver he's throwing to. So after covering that one receiver on the first pass, forcing Feeley to scramble despite little pass rush from the Hawks, having that scramble lead to Feeley being sacked by Julian Peterson, and after Andy Reid called a run on the next play he had so little faith in his quarterback and so little fear of the clock, it still took Feeley throwing into quadruple coverage to save the day for Seattle. That Lofa Tatupu happened to be the body before the pass is a nice little bit of luck for Tats, who deserved it, but don't think he did anything particularly spectacular in coverage. Unlike his first two picks where he employed good cover and smart route awarness to pick off Feeley, Tatupu didn't do anything more than stand in his zone and allow the ball into his hands. Hey, when you're lucky you're lucky, and when you're good you're that much luckier.