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Matchupalooza: Marcus Trufant V. Darrell Jackson

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What's the angle here? Two former teammates meet on the battlefield, one out for revenge, one out for cash. Something silly like that I suppose. Unlike many of the matchups I scribe, this one shouldn't be key to the outcome of the game. I don't think if Trufant shuts down Jackson that Seattle will certainly win, nor do I think that if Jackson finally comes to life against Tru that the Niners will win. This matchup, rather, is about the Hawks: past and future. Was Seattle right to trade their #1 receiver to a division rival? Should Seattle resign Trufant to a bank-busting contract in the offseason?

I detailed my thoughts on Trufant, his statistical struggles and how they flew in the face of observation and opinion in this recap. I think my final paragraph more or less summarized my sense of how Trufant might play in 2007.

Seattle's secondary has a chance to be very good next year. Kelly Jennings looks fit to take over the #2 cornerback duties, the upshot lands us a very capable nickel in Herndon. Grant shores up a huge hole deep, and if he's as excellent as rumored, Boulware should be allowed to freelance closer to the line (his strength). And Trufant will no longer have to be Champ Bailey on a secondary full of misplaced role players. Barring injury, Seattle has finally given Trufant a chance to succeed, and with him our secondary.

Boulware and Herndon are gone. Brian Russell has done a fine job of making me pleasingly incorrect in my assessment of him, but the meaning prevails. Seattle asked Trufant to be a shutdown corner, of which roughly a half-dozen exist in the entire NFL. Tru is a fine cover corner, but, nearing 27, shutdown corner status is in all likelihood permanently beyond his ability. This year the Hawks have completely revamped their secondary, despite commentators fetishistic obsession with Jennings size, he has done well against some the league's elite receivers. Grant has shown the rare ability to contribute in run support and, mostly, give good deep coverage. And Russell, though no world beater, has ably handled deep coverage.

It's still hard to get a handle on Trufant performance, though. Ike Hilliard/Michael Clayton/Joey Galloway were basically shutdown by Trufant: three incompletes and a 28 yard reception for Hilliard who found a hole in the Hawks zone. Anquan Boldin recorded four receptions for 83 yards and no TDs, below his 7.3/95.3/1 average. More importantly, Matt Leinart completed only half of the passes he intended for Boldin. Boldin has caught 69% of the passes intended to him for all of 2007. That same stat is informative when understanding Tru's performance against Chad Johnson. Johnson, for the season, has caught 63% of the passes intended him and averaged a robust 17.7 yards per catch. Against Seattle both numbers were down, recording 15.3 YPC and a 60% reception percentage. Trufant only really dominated the first matchup, but did very well against Boldin and at least above average against Johnson. Seattle will no doubt suffer if/when Trufant leaves as a free agent, but it's also impossible to justify giving him the near-Nate Clements contract he seemingly wants.

A lot of outcry swirled when it was announced that Seattle had traded their number one receiver, Darrel Jackson, to their division-mate San Francisco. I was never terribly up in arms, I think we must conclude that San Francisco had the best offer on the table, and though many didn't think a fourth round pick was a particularly "grand" prize for our former number one, let me pose it to you this way. Even ignoring the disparities in their salaries, would you rather have the next four years of Baraka Atkins, or Darrell Jackson? Jackson is 28 nearing 29. He's had numerous injuries to his lower half, you know the things he runs with: Knees (13), ankles (6), legs (3) and feet (2). Within the parentheses I've indicated the number of times he's been on the injury report with each ailment. That's a recipe that often portends early decline. Jackson has 11 receptions for 166 yards, a 5.2% VOA and 52% catch percentage, against two pretty good secondaries, Pittsburgh and Arizona, and one really bad one, Saint Louis. It's fair to say we just don't know how his season will end up. Certainly, having Alex Smith throwing to you has got to hurt. I think it's also fair to say, division rival or no, that the trade is likely to look better and better for Seattle each coming season.

My guess, given my research on the two, is that Trufant should put a minimum security lockdown on D-Jack: containing him, but also allowing him some regular daylight, too. My conclusion, given my research about both teams--I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag after playing boogeyman all week--is that it would take some colossal screw-ups for Seattle to not win against San Francisco. The Niners offense has been awful all year, their two wins are very close, one against a panicky Matt Leinart, the other against a spiraling Rams club, and against their only capable opponent they were crushed. This already borderline club has seen its best athlete offensively and defensively lost to injury; Manny Lawson for the year. I worry about Matt Hasselbecks' health given the Niners blitzing linebackers, but on the whole Seattle's system has been very successful against the 3-4. It's not as sure of a win as Seattle's sizable talent advantage should make it, largely because of a few key mismatches, but if things click and the Hawks are gifted a few breaks, I see no reason to not believe Seattle will win and will win big against San Francisco's paper tiger.

Photo Courtesy allposters.com