MMQB: "Jaguar Bummer"

The first game of the Tim Ruskell Era in Seattle is in the books, and…let's just say that things can only get better from here on several fronts. The Seahawks were trounced by turnovers in a contest that was saved from blowout status by a spirited young defense.

Jacksonville Jaguars 26, Seattle Seahawks 14
Sunday, September 11, 2005
ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, Florida

Play Of The Day: Darrell Jackson’s 9-yard TD catch from Matt Hasselbeck with :47 left in the second quarter. With Jaguars cornerback Donovin Darius draped all over him, Jackson brought in the score that had the Seahawks leading 14-13 at halftime.

Handouts To The Standouts: Jackson, for handling every (catchable) ball that came his way…Bobby Engram, for holding things together on the short end…Seattle’s D-Line, for pushing back an ever-increasing tide…and a very special “shout out” to the New Orleans Saints, their heartfelt win under unimaginable circumstances, and their legions of devoted fans. Our thoughts are with you…

Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: Mike Holmgren, the tactician…Matt Hasselbeck, for making us wonder what happened to the miraculously accurate quarterback we saw this preseason…and Marcus Trufant, before he makes us forget the cornerback we saw in 2003 and 2004

Offense: Two of the three heads that make the Seahawks’ offense go will have some hits to take away from this game. Mike Holmgren suffered from some really questionable playcalling stretches (especially in the second half), and Matt Hasselbeck had a game that he’s likely desperate to forget. Hasselbeck started off fairly strong, completing 5 of 7 attempts for 65 yards in the first quarter. As the Jaguars defense broadened their focus from stopping the run to pressuring the passing game, Hasselbeck’s day unraveled with a quickness. Before he was completely thrown out of rhythm by the Jaguars’ quick defensive line, Hasselbeck was able to throw two touchdown passes in the second quarter.

But the second half was an entirely different story. As Jacksonville wore down Seattle’s offensive line, Hasselbeck became more and more erratic. Even in that second quarter, his first of three interceptions was the result of a wild five-yard overthrow to Engram, right into the hands of free safety Deon Grant at the Jacksonville 38 with 9:34 left in the half. When the Seahawks returned to the field after halftime, Hasselbeck’s compass was completely off. “Forced” to throw almost exclusively and with Jacksonville very aware of that fact, Hasselbeck’s downward spiral ended with an interception, fumble and interception in Seattle’s final three possessions. Those turnovers compressed the field for the Jaguars and ended any competitive hope for the Seahawks. Hasselbeck’s final line (21 of 37 for 246 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 INTs) included at least five throws which defied all available logic.

Shaun Alexander may be wondering if his coach has developed selective amnesia regarding his existence. While Jacksonville made Alexander the key focus early, he gained only 5 yards on 4 carries in the first quarter. This seemed to play into the pregame prognostications that had John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, the Jaguars’ superlative DT tandem, “owning” him. The second quarter told a different tale, as Alexander gained 62 yards on only 6 carries, including a gorgeous run to the right which picked up 36 yards on the ground.

Then…nothing. Alexander saw only four carries in the entire second half – only ONE in the fourth quarter, despite the fact that the Seahawks were within a touchdown of the lead until there was less then five minutes left in the game. Jacksonville held the ball for almost twelve minutes in the third quarter alone…and none of that disproportionate time of possession in the third quarter was predicated on turnovers. Jacksonville mixed their playcalling up as Seattle would not, which shaved away at the Seahawks’ defense (as did the on-field temperature, which reached over 120 degrees at times) and shifted momentum entirely in Jacksonville’s favor.

Given that Alexander is the team’s most obviously productive offensive weapon – even against a strong run defense – Holmgren’s second-half game plan fell somewhere between inconceivable and unforgivable. Little doubt that Tim Ruskell will have some serious questions for his coach after watching the tape on this one.

Seattle’s receivers, 2004’s big bugaboo, showed the improved consistency hoped for after a severe personnel reshuffling in the offseason. Jackson was superlative, grabbing more than one difficult catch. Engram and Joe Jurevicius showed toughness and resiliency in the middle, and Jurevicius was rewarded with a 33-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second quarter, which might be the easiest one he will ever get. Due to a complete breakdown in Jacksonville’s coverage, Jurevicius was the very definition of “wide open”. Unfortunately, these breakdowns would happen on both sides.

A little more variety will do this offense a world of good. They aren’t as dismal as advertised here – but the early abandonment of the running game is worrisome. Especially since it isn’t the first time Holmgren has done this.

Defense: Led by linebackers coach John Marshall this week (defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was home in Seattle, recovering from a hospital stay following recurring dizzy spells), Seattle’s defense reversed the common course – with the offense falling all over itself, it was the Seahawks’ D which made several clutch third-down stops to keep the game competitive almost to the end. Three of Jacksonville’s six scoring drives began in Seattle territory, all three from turnovers, and all three resulting in field goals. When you give your opponent a short field repeatedly, you’re doing alright to give up a series of threes, and it’s fair to say that last year’s defense would have allowed this game to plummet to laugher status.

Which this unit never did.

The Seahawks showed pressure early with a series of linebacker blitzes. Throughout the day, Jags QB Byron Leftwich was frequently feeling the heat, and was sacked three times (Bryce Fisher, Rocky Bernard, Marcus Trufant). Grant Wistrom and Joe Tafoya also showed good push from the outside. The interior rotation, led by Marcus Tubbs and Chuck Darby, shut down the Jaguar running game fairly effectively, as Fred Taylor could only manage 76 yards on 20 carries. The Jags tried a bit of razzle-dazzle by twice lining up rookie wideout Matt   Jones (a quarterback in college) under center with Leftwich as a receiver. The first example of this “skullduggery” resulted in a five-yard run for Jones, and the second was a non-factor, due to a false start penalty on receiver Reggie Williams. Jones did pull off a 25-yard run in the first quarter on an end-around to the left side.

Poor takedowns were an issue in this game for the Seahawks, as evidenced by the fact that the team’s three leading tacklers (Marcus Trufant, Michael Boulware and Kelly Herndon) reside in the secondary. Jamie Sharper ended the day with five tackles and an assist and D.D. Lewis and Lofa Tatupu each had four tackles (Tatupu with an assist as well), but Jacksonville had it a bit too easy in the intermediate game due to various whiffs. Leftwich also benefited from this unfortunate phenomenon on several occasions, as the Seahawks would penetrate and pass right by the Jaguars’ QB.

Seattle’s coverage unit, expected to be the strength of the defense, had taken a backseat to the resurgent line through the preseason. And so it would be today. 36-year-old Jaguars wideout Jimmy Smith enjoyed a near-career day today, grabbing 7 catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. His longest reception, a 45-yard non-TD in the second quarter, was assisted by coverage confusion between Trufant and Herndon. His first TD came about when Michael Boulware missed a zone handoff from Kelly Herndon in the second quarter, allowing Smith to walk into the endzone disturbingly uncontested on a 30-yard score. Smith’s second TD was caught in the third quarter over Trufant, who was slow to recover and mistimed his jump in the end zone after Smith initially blew by him from the Seattle 7-yard line. Trufant was burned several times today (mostly by Smith)…and after an indifferent preseason, the former Wazzu golden boy is causing some concern.

Special Teams: From the opening kickoff (fumbled by Josh Scobey and recovered by Jacksonville), Seattle’s special teams continued last year’s frustrations. Scobey returned three kicks for an average of 27 yards, but that initial drop set up Jacksonville’s initial score. New wideout Peter Warrick returned one punt - a questionable decision, as he was doing so having caught the ball at the Seattle 1-yard line. Warrick got the ball out to the Seattle 10, but an illegal block penalty on Tafoya brought the ball back to the 3. Leo Araguz punted five times for an average of 46.0 yards. His longest was 53 yards.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to contact him at Top Stories