Resolved: Which QB Seahawks should start

January, 6, 2011
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll seemed to be relishing the drama surrounding his quarterback situation.

Would Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst start Saturday against New Orleans in the wild-card round?

"We'll find out," Carroll said Wednesday.

Carroll finally answered the question Thursday by declaring Hasselbeck the choice.

Now we know; Hasselbeck will start. Should he?

I opened the subject for discussion on the blog amid some concerns the comments section would devolve into a mass food fight. That didn't happen. A few morsels flew back and forth on occasion, but this was largely a substantive discussion. I've singled out a few of them, added my own thoughts, tapped ESPN Stats & Information and reached out to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. Here we go.
Matt Williamson: If healthy, I would lean toward Hasselbeck this week. Gregg Williams' defense is very aggressive and difficult to decipher. Hasselbeck will be WAY beyond Whitehurst from a mental perspective in that department. As for last week's performance, I thought Whitehurst was fine against St. Louis. But it was a pretty poorly played game overall. I liked how aggressive Seattle was early in the game. It paid off by getting an early lead, which made Whitehurst's job much easier. Can't say that I am the slightest bit excited about either QB, though.

There's some evidence and logic to support the idea that Hasselbeck, 35, is better suited to handle complex pressure packages from an opposing defense. Hasselbeck completed 6 of 6 passes for 128 yards, one touchdown and a perfect 158.3 rating when New Orleans sent six or more pass-rushers against him in Week 11, ESPN Stats & Information notes.

The chart below compares production for Hasselbeck and Whitehurst when opponents have rushed with six or more defenders.

Thirty and 16 pass attempts don't constitute the broadest sample size. The Saints bring six or more rushers frequently, however. That probably helps to explain why Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman (73 such attempts) and Atlanta's Matt Ryan (55) rank first and fourth, respectively, in pass attempts against such pressure.

Of course, experience hasn't prevented Hasselbeck from throwing 17 interceptions with only 12 touchdown passes this season.
danfromosc85: I think giving Charlie another full week of first-squad reps would benefit him greatly. The more comfortable he gets with the first-team receivers, the more they can open him up and let him chuck it. He has a strong arm and can buy time with his mobility. We have three receivers over 6 feet tall if Ben Obomanu is healthy. Lots of big targets for Charlie to hit against smaller cornerbacks. Also, giving our "QB of the future" a playoff game of experience would be great for us, since Matt won't be back next season.

The receivers need to help Whitehurst, too. Mike Williams ran a couple of sloppy routes in the St. Louis game. He needed to give Whitehurst a bigger target on one fade pass in particular. He might have even drawn pass interference had he used his size more effectively.
CaseyduNord: Given how Hasselbeck has performed after a week off -- opening day against San Francisco, at Chicago following a bye, at Arizona and at New Orleans after sitting out the Giants game -- I think his knowledge of the playbook and leadership/experience (especially in playoff games) would put him ahead of Whitehurst. As we saw, much of the game plan with Whitehurst involved short passes and a lucky blown coverage, plus an abnormal night of good running. Give him credit for playing well enough not to lose the Rams game. However, against the Saints, Seattle won't be able to play not to lose. The Seahawks will need to play to win. And by the looks of it, I'm not sure if Whitehurst can win this game.

Interesting points. I hadn't considered the thought that Hasselbeck had played better coming off weeks when he had not played. I also think it makes sense to assume the Seahawks will need to score more points in this game, and Hasselbeck gives them the best chance to do that -- even though he could blow the game with turnovers, too.
lextizzle: It's kind of hard for me to choose between Hasselbeck and Whitehurst. Whitehurst did look good on the first drive of the St. Louis game, but was very conservative the rest of the game. Although he avoided turnovers, the Seahawks are going to need a little more offense playing against New Orleans. Hasselbeck did have one of his better games against the Saints a few weeks back -- on the road. I'm split between the two. I mean, since they're both splitting time at practice, why not play Hasselbeck? Pull him if he makes critical mistakes.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonMatt Hasselbeck, left, got the nod over Charlie Whitehurst as Seattle's starter for Saturday's playoff game against the Saints.
ILoveTennis647: The media types keep mentioning the Hasselbeck turnovers without bringing up the fact that he has had 10 different lines in front of him this year. Not to mention his own injuries. You certainly can't put all the blame on him -- he has had to try and make something happen. That being said, Matt still represents the best chance for a win. He has the ability to get in a rhythm and play huge. The kid just doesn't have the knowledge yet. When the Seahawks have won this year, it has been because of Matt. He should be healthier and the team is healing a bit, too.

Again, it's refreshing to throw open a controversial subject for debate and wind up with well-reasoned, balanced feedback.

I would start Hasselbeck, but I could also see going the other direction. Give Whitehurst the start, then turn to Hasselbeck if necessary -- although the long-term ramifications of benching Whitehurst in a big game could prove more damaging.
nomore2pick: I say give Whitehurst a chance. It seemed to me that he avoided several sacks against the Rams that Hasselbeck would have taken. An incomplete pass is better than a sack in most cases. ... I also think that the Hawks would have been in a better position if they would have thrown a few more deep balls. Even without completions, these balls would have opened up the short stuff a bit more. The wideouts also need to run better routes if the Hawks are going to be successful. With his mobility and stronger arm, Charlie should start. Give him another week with the first team and see what happens. I think he did very well considering the pressure of the game on Sunday.

I think Carroll would have named Hasselbeck the starter earlier if he were convinced Hasselbeck could withstand a reasonable amount of punishment and move well enough to avoid trouble. Those were primary considerations for Carroll's decision to give Whitehurst the start against the Rams with a playoff berth on the line.
myguitariscoolerthanyou: Based on recent history, I think we have to start Whitehurst. I think its likely going to come down to our defense getting off the field in a timely fashion and us keeping the offense out there. It's hard to believe that Hasselbeck is going to flip the turnover switch to "off" overnight. ... Whitehurst has gotten progressively better through the year when given playing time, and did exactly what we needed him to do last week: keep the ball. If I'm Pete, I've gotta give the nod to Whitehurst.

Fair points, but I thought Whitehurst appeared uncertain when the Rams brought pressure, and too quick to take off running at times. Throwing him out there in a playoff game against the Super Bowl champs might be asking too much for a player with two NFL starts on his résumé. But if he flourished and won, the Seahawks might be onto something.

I'll close with thoughts from -- surprise -- someone who agrees with my basic premise.
mterui24: Hey Sando, I like how you put it. Matt gives the best chance to win or get blown out. At least winning is one of the possibilities. The Hawks will need to do a lot more than just protect the football on Saturday and Charlie Whitehurst doesn't have enough firepower to keep up with the Saints. Matt has the playoff experience and playbook to at least give us a chance. And if the Hawks lose, I'd much rather it be with Hasselbeck than wondering what Hasselbeck might have been able to do.



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