Hasselbeck: Offense Will Turn It Around

So far this season, the numbers haven't been the ones expected for Matt Hasselbeck, the NFC's most efficient and productive quarterback in 2005. As his offense has struggled, so has he.

Ranked 18th in the league in passer rating (78.9) after two games and with seven more sacks than touchdowns, the Seahawks’ field general knows that his defense has carried the team to its current 2-0 record. He also knows that this is a franchise based on offensive production, and that things must turn around very soon.

”Our defense has just played great football, and our offense has kind of sputtered so far, which is not that unusual for us,’ Hasselbeck said on Wednesday, asking impatient fans to remember the slow starts of previous years. “For whatever reason, we don’t play our best football the first two weeks of the season. I wish I had an answer why, but we’re working hard. Obviously we have an offensive-(minded) head coach in Mike Holmgren, and he’s on us very hard. He’s watching us very closely, being very critical of every little thing that we do. I’m confident that we’ll get that turned around. I’m just happy that our defense has played so well so far.”

The numbers for that defense tell the story – fourth overall in the league and second-best against the run with only one touchdown allowed. It’s a unit that places the Seahawks in the unfamiliar position of reliance on the ability to stop production as opposed to creating it.

The obvious story behind the offense’s struggles is the departure of left guard Steve Hutchinson, the best at his position in the NFL. Hutchinson teamed with tackle Walter Jones for five years to provide Seattle with an impenetrable left side. After Hutchinson signed the richest contract ever given a guard with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason, the Seahawks countered with Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, who had provided unspectacular results early on before injuring his knee against the Cardinals last Sunday. He’s expected to be out for up to six weeks, with Chris Spencer – Seattle’s 2005 first-round pick – taking his place. Spencer played some guard at Ole Miss, but he’s new to the position as a pro in the regular season.

While Hasselbeck acknowledged Hutchinson’s excellence, he’s looking to the future. “(Hutchinson’s) a great player and it was a tough loss. He’s a great teammate. I think we have some great talent at offensive line on our team – Pork Chop Womack, who’s hurt right now, but he’s a good player. Chris Spencer, a kid we drafted in the first round – excellent, excellent football player. We signed Tom Ashworth from the New England Patriots – good player. Rob Sims – good player for us. We have some talent there.

”I think it’s a loss that we can overcome, but at the same time, there are some things that Hutch brought to our team in terms of leadership and intensity in the locker room, and also maybe even a little bit of a nasty streak, an intimidation factor that he brought just because of the kind of Pro Bowl player that he was,” Hasselbeck said. “You can’t really replace that. You look for other guys on your team, whether it be Chris Gray or Walter Jones, to step up a little bit in a leadership way on the offensive line, along with Robbie Tobeck. I think we’re getting that from those guys, but it takes a little while. It maybe takes a couple of weeks to find your groove with your new set of guys.”

One weapon Hasselbeck’s looking forward to using in the very near future is new receiver Deion Branch, acquired from the Patriots last Monday. The Super Bowl XXXIX MVP will be activated for this Sunday’s game against the Giants at Qwest Field. When added to his current receiver corps, Branch could provide Hasselbeck with an almost unsolvable attack. “From an experience standpoint, absolutely,” Hasselbeck said, when asked if this is the deepest unit he’s ever worked with at the position. “Last year we had Joe Jurevicius who stepped up and played great for us, but then we had young guys in Jerheme Urban and D.J. Hackett come in and play pretty well for us, too. But this right from the get-go gives us, with Hackett and (Darrell) Jackson and Branch, and (Bobby) Engram and (Nate) Burleson – those five guys right there, that’s a great group. I’m spoiled.”

What does Branch bring to the team, in his quarterback’s mind? “He’s won two Super Bowls,” Hasselbeck said. “He was the MVP of one of those Super Bowls. Whatever critical situation we may put him into this season, he’s been in bigger games and had bigger plays. I just think experience, and then obviously the talent’s there. He reminds me a lot of – I should say, when we brought him in, it reminds me a lot of when we brought Jerry Rice in. There are certain things that are just extra – they just come with the package – and that’s a guy who studies really hard, and a guy who’s out there on Tuesdays, the off day, having an equipment guy throw him balls, because he feels like catching more balls.

”During the week, he’s getting loose an hour before practice. He’s working out an hour after practice. Some of that stuff is just contagious. It’s great not only for the wide receiver group, but the entire team, to see someone with that kind of work ethic and dedication. It’s just a contagious thing. The more guys you get on your team that have that kind of an attitude, I think that’s just good for your football team.”

Certainly a far cry from the dysfunctional, underperforming “Three Amigos” of years past. Now, every pass-catcher had best work to impress if he wants those throws on Sunday. With tight end Jerramy Stevens out for this game, and Itula Mili listed as questionable on Wednesday’s injury report, the Seahawks game plan against the G-Men could come down to blocking TE Will Heller and some very interesting receiver rotations.

An aspect of this game that’s been discussed already is Seattle’s quick-tempo game versus the no-huddle offense the Giants implemented in the fourth quarter of their amazing comeback against Philadelphia last Sunday. Hasselbeck knows how important tempo is to coach Mike Holmgren, but he bristled at one particular tag. “We’re not a hurry-up offense,” he said. “I read where we supposedly snap the ball around 18 seconds on the play clock. I wish that were true. That’s sort of my goal. If I could get the guys into the huddle and the play called and get to the line of scrimmage by that time. I would love to do that. That just gives the quarterback more time at the line of scrimmage. I don’t know if that’s really accurate. It’s not something we coach, it’s not something we really talk about. Mike Holmgren will always say, ‘Hey, tempo, tempo, tempo.’ He wants us to practice with tempo, he wants us to practice fast and quick, be on the field for not a very long period of time, get on the field, get off the field. I think he wants those same things on game day. After a play, he wants the guys up off the ground and back in the huddle – those kinds of things.

”I think the hype that our offense has gotten in terms of a hurry up or anything like that, that’s not at all what we try to do. I guess there are some teams that go to the line of scrimmage with…They don’t have a play when they get to the line of scrimmage. They have maybe three or four plays and then they make calls at the line of scrimmage. They take their time, they use all of the play clock. That’s not what we do. We call the play and we’re going to run the play regardless. Sometimes we line up a certain way and people will say, ‘We know what play you’re about to run.’ Our coaches, they don’t care. They say, ‘We don’t care. Run it anyway, and just run it hard, run it fast,’ and that’s the general philosophy we have.”

2005 NFL Most Valuable Player Shaun Alexander didn’t practice today – he was listed on the team’s injury report as probable with a foot injury – but one would tend to expect him to get in the game in a battle of running backs with New York’s Tiki Barber, the 2005 leader in yards from scrimmage. Another representation of the offensive line’s struggles is Alexander’s 3.1 yards-per-carry average. Hasselbeck says that this is yet another aspect of the offense that will come around in time. “If you look at our rushing statistics, I think in the first game (vs. Detroit), we were held under 100 yards, and if one guy gets his block that he was supposed to, a three-yard gain turns into a 12-yard gain. And that happens five or six times in the game. Penalties have hurt us – things like that. Just very correctable stuff.

"Sloppy football is how I would describe it. I think we’ve played like we’ve practiced. We haven’t practiced all that well through the preseason and through training camp and it’s just taking us a little while. For whatever reason, we seem to do it this way. Hopefully, we can get our acts together real soon.”

Going back to the 24-21 victory over the Giants last November 27 at Qwest Field, an overtime barn-burner which featured a phantom touchdown awarded to New York tight end Jeremy Shockey, three missed field goals by kicker Jay Feely and eleven false starts called on a New York line that couldn’t hear itself think in the tornado of noise that was (and still is) the Seahawks home turf, Hasselbeck remembers what that win meant to the team that would go on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. It was a huge win for us,” he said. “The Giants were a very, very good team last year. I think they were probably the favorite in their division, the NFC East, which is looked at, I think, by most people as one of the stronger divisions in football. It was a game that we very easily could have lost. There were so many opportunities for that game to be over and the Giants to go home with a win.

”I think that really got our crowd into it for the first time last year, and we kind of had that home-field advantage from that point on because such an emphasis was made on our crowd noise. It was one of many games that could have gone either way for us last year, and we were fortunate enough to squeak it out. I just feel like we got some good bounces last year, and that was one of them.”

Of course the big story today was that the NFL seems ready to look into the crowd noise issue, specifically as it relates to the Qwest crowd, and even more specifically addressing an allegation that the Seahawks pipe in crowd noise through their public address system. This is not good news for a fanbase trained to ask, “What’s next?” from the officiating arm of the league, but their favorite quarterback is unconcerned. “I had heard that today, that the league was looking into that. I obviously don’t know. I’m on the field. But I do know that we have the loudest stadium that I’ve played in, and that’s great. It’s a huge advantage for our team.”

A natural advantage, no doubt.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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