Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Why Carroll sticks with Matt Hasselbeck
By Mike Sando
The arrow was pointing up for Matt Hasselbeck and the Seattle Seahawks' offense following the quarterback's 366-yard performance at New Orleans in Week 11.
"We have come together," coach Pete Carroll said after that game. "It took some time for us to get together in our thinking, Matt understanding us and us understanding Matt. I think we have cut him loose."
The feeling was mutual.
"I love Pete as a coach," Hasselbeck said at the time.
That strong relationship between Carroll and Hasselbeck is one factor keeping Hasselbeck in the Seahawks' lineup even after the quarterback suffered 13 turnovers in the team's four subsequent games.
When Carroll recommitted to Hasselbeck during his news conference Monday, my initial reaction focused as much on backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. That was justified. It's clear the Seahawks aren't excited enough about Whitehurst to bench Hasselbeck with two games remaining and a division title in the balance. But the respect between Carroll and Hasselbeck is probably more pivotal.
Carroll and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates like Hasselbeck because he's exceptionally smart by NFL quarterback standards. Coaches love going into games with every aspect of their playbooks available to them. Hasselbeck's experience and smarts make that possible for Carroll and Bates.
Of course, if you've watched Hasselbeck closely enough over the years -- Carroll and Bates were not around to do so -- you know Hasselbeck can be prone to over-thinking situations. He presses too much when the team falls behind. He worries. He bogs down.
Sometimes there's more value in having a quarterback smart enough to run the offense but not smart enough to fret so much about every little detail. So what if the receiver isn't exactly where he's supposed to be on a given play? Complete the pass anyway and move on.
Reading between the lines Monday, Carroll seemed to be blaming himself for some of Hasselbeck's penchant for throwing interceptions once Seattle falls behind. A coach would be unlikely to take such ownership for a quarterback he did not respect.
"Honestly, I haven’t had the kind of language that I want to talk to the quarterback when we’re this far behind in games," Carroll said. "Honestly, I’m not as well prepared for this as I wish I was, to make sure that I see things coming and hit it off before it happens -- where we turn a game that we’re down a couple touchdowns, or 17 points, into a game we can’t get back in."
Yes, we realize Carroll won a bunch of games at USC. But he also went into the Seahawks' 34-18 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons having lost seven times by double-digit margins this season. There's no excuse for failing to properly steer Hasselbeck through a situation the team has faced in roughly half its games this season. There's likewise no excuse for a quarterback as experienced as Hasselbeck to suffer similar decision-making errors time after time.
Hasselbeck would surely be out of a job if Carroll thought less of him.
It's the relationship between coach and quarterback that has Carroll repeatedly doubling his wagers even while the losses pile up. He's convinced a little tweaking can return Hasselbeck to how he was playing a month ago. That option is more appealing to Carroll and the staff than trying to coach up an inexperienced backup whose limitations would surely close off entire chapters of the playbook.