Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Super Bowl Preview: Seattle Passing Offense

Alright, on to the final of our four-part preview of the Super Bowl matchups. So far, in my opinion, we have discovered....
1. We have a major advantage in the Steelers' running game
2. Our running game is a push/slight advantage against their rushing defense
3. Their passing game has a slight/major advantage over our passing defense

As expected, so far we have discovered that two great teams are playing in Super Bowl XL, unlike what some of the airhead pundits are saying. These are two teams that have real strengths and their weaknesses aren't profound enough to lose them the ballgame.

The one area we haven't yet outlined, however, is what might happen when Matt Hasselbeck steps back to pass. Hasselbeck, you might have realized, is the starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl for the NFC. After a horrendous Week 1 performance against Jacksonville where he was constantly throwing into pressure and not making the correct adjustments at the line, Hasselbeck settled down and, quite honestly, I don't remember a poor performance from him the entire rest of the season. Even when D-Jack and Engram went out, Hasselbeck continued to shine, focusing on sub standouts like Jurevicius and Hackett, two individuals that I would not be surprised if they made an impact in this ballgame.

Much has been written this week about how Holmgren runs the "pure" version of the West Coast Offense, and how Dick LeBeau's zone blitz schemes were designed to stop the "pure" version of the West Coast Offense. The 3-4 will, supposedly, stop us in our tracks, and the passing game will be thrown off-kilter for the entire game. Thus have the pundits said, and thus will the game occur. Thusly.

Well, just for kicks and giggles, I thought I would peer into the matchup myself, and see what all the fuss and rigamarole was about. Gavin, you want to join me?

First, here is Matt Hasselbeck, elite NFL quarterback, regular season: 449/294, 65.5% completion, 3459 yds, 24 TDs, 9 INTs, quarterback rating of 98.2

Those are superb numbers, people. 3 of those interceptions came in Week 1, so in the last 17 games, including the playoffs, Matt has thrown a whopping 6 interceptions. Wowsers.

What about the stats at our helpful friends at Football Outsiders? Do they support the claim of eliteness? Well, yes.

Hasselbeck is ranked 5th in DPAR (points above replacement) at a healthy 88.4, and is ranked 6th in DVOA (value over average) at a respectable 28.4%. This is a quarterback that makes our system work, and has answered some pretty big challenges over the course of the season.

Against Dallas, the game we were "given", Hasselbeck was admittably off his game. Losing 10-3, Matt had time for one more drive. Personally, I had given up hope after watching the sloppy performance by the Hawks. Matt had not. The drive started at our 19 yard line with just over two minutes left.

1-10-SEA19 (2:01) M.Hasselbeck pass to J.Urban to SEA 41 for 22 yards (A.Henry).
1-10-SEA41 (1:57) M.Hasselbeck pass to J.Stevens to DAL 37 for 22 yards (W.Pile). Penalty on DAL-W.Pile, Defensive Holding, declined.
1-10-DAL37 (1:52) M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete to S.Alexander. PENALTY on SEA-S.Locklear, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at DAL 37 - No Play.
1-20-DAL47 (1:45) M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete to D.Hackett. PENALTY on DAL-A.Glenn, Defensive Pass Interference, 22 yards, enforced at DAL 47 - No Play. Penalty on DAL-A.Henry, Face Mask (5 Yards), declined.
1-10-DAL25 (1:40) S.Alexander left guard to DAL 14 for 11 yards (B.James).
1-10-DAL14 (:58) M.Hasselbeck pass to D.Hackett pushed ob at DAL 1 for 13 yards (A.Henry).
1-1-DAL1 (:52) S.Alexander left guard to DAL 1 for no gain (T.Newman, C.Canty).

2-1-DAL1 (:46) M.Hasselbeck pass to R.Hannam for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.

This was a truly remarkable performance, highlighted by the opening pass to Urban which was just fit in perfectly. Sure, Bledsoe made a dumb pick at the end, but the momentum was firmly on our side after that drive, and that momentum was entirely due to Matt with some help from his bunch of no-name receivers.

Gavin: This game was a good example of how Hasselbeck can win games no matter who he is throwing to. There is no "tunnel vision" with Matt.

If you didn't hear, Hasselbeck also won for the Hawks the playoff game against the Redskins with Shaun heading out with a concussion early into the game. He was firing on all cylinders, and ended 16/26 for 215 yards and 2 TDS, one throwing and one running right past ex-Hawk Shawn Springs. And I laughed.

Do I expect Hasselbeck to be rattled by the Super Bowl or the Steelers defense? Absolutely not. Same with Big Ben. I actually expect stellar quarterback play from both sides during this Super Bowl. But, honestly, Matt is playing at an extremely high level right now. His quarterback rating through December and the postseason is ridiculous. His decision-making and audibling have been superb. I can't think of enough superlatives to describe what he has done in carrying this team to the Super Bowl.

Gavin: Matt hasn't been rattled by any of the tough defenses he's faced since Jacksonville, so I don't exactly see it happening now. He'll make a few wierd decisions (like the three near-picks against Washington) but he is getting smarter and smarter at reading what the defense is giving and he has so much confidence in the offensive line that he won't even move around as much as needed. He is showing his mobility recently, however, and this could be a nice way to avoid some of the blitzes.

But a quarterback does not a passing attack make. There remains two other aspects on the Seahawks' side. First, the offensive line. We already know how awesome they are in the running department, but what about protecting the passer?

Looks like we gave up 27 sacks during the course of the season, failing in coverage 5.3% percent of the time, good for ninth amongst offensive lines. However, let's be honest here and look at who will be rushing the passer on Sunday. Joey Porter is a beast. Granted. So was Mike Rucker, and Walter Jones erased him from consideration. Hutch, meet Kimo. Kimo, meet the turf. Hutch doesn't give up sacks. On the other side, Sean Locklear will be up against Aaron Smith or Clark Haggans. They are tough, but so were Peppers, Kearse, and Strahan, and Locklear handled all of them pretty doggone well. That leaves the gaps up the middle, and that is where I expect the pressure to come, especially with Polamalu and Farrior. These guys are fast, and it will be up to Hasselbeck to spot the blitz and audible Gray and Tobeck into the proper protection schemes. We could easily give up a few sacks this game, but, bottom line, our offensive line is good enough to thwart continued blitzing, and our running game is also good enough to go where the blitz isn't and continue to pick up solid yardage.

Gavin: I'm curious to see how often Pittsburgh blitzes early in the game, because our offensive line is so smart and so good at adjusting. You might beat them once, but you will not beat them a second time with the same blitz. The one stat Colin doesn't look at is how well Pittsburgh sacked opposing teams during the year. Not good news. They were 3rd in sack rate, putting opposing QBs on their rears 8% of the time. #1? Jacksonville, the one team that rattled Hasselbeck. The closest team we faced? Do you believe it? Houston, at #7. So we've beaten a good sack 3-4 team. That's pretty darn interesting.

What about the wide receivers? None of them are elite, right?

Go ahead and think that, Pittsburgh fans. Go ahead and think that. In the meantime, I'll introduce you to D-Jack, he of the franchise record performance against the Redskins and their vaunted passing defense. Even KC Joyner of ESPN Insider feels that the Seahawks might have a good matchup with Jackson against Ike Taylor of the Steelers. In fact, in his most recent article, I saw Joyner going against the metrics for the first time ever and just proclaiming Taylor a better cornerback then the metrics suggest. Sure, KC. Sure. Actually, Joyner had another article praising our receiving corps, which is also worth a read. I'm not linking to either one because they are Insider only and that would be bad form.

I admit, Taylor has been darn solid in the postseason. The entire Pittsburgh secondary has been. Their coverage, though, is predicated off of the pressure. Peyton Manning was entirely flustered the entire game, and his mental edge was gone by the middle of the 1st quarter. Jake Plummer predictably made several key errors off of pressure. That's about as surprising as Gavin deciding to go to McDonalds for dinner. And I won't even bring Jon Kitna into the equation, even though it appeared that Kitna had the most success of any postseason quarterback against the Steelers.

But the coverage matchups would most likely look something like this:
D-Jack against Taylor
Engram against Townsend
Joe J./Hackett against McFadden/Porter/Haggans
Stevens against Haggans

I sense opportunity there. The only matchup that appears slightly favorable for the Steelers is Engram against Townsend, who has been rapidly improving as a cover corner this year. Is the Steelers passing defense great? Absolutely, ranked 8th in the NFL acccording to FO. Is the Seahawks passing offense great? Absolutely, ranked 4th in the NFL according to FO.

Gavin: I admit I've been a little surprised as to how little press our receiver corps has gotten. It's like they only paid attention to the weeks without Darrell Jackson and deemed us poor. These guys will beat any coverage given opportunity.

This will be a matchup predicated on whether or not Hasselbeck can adjust to the blitzing schemes that Dick LeBeau throws out there. In a way, this is a very similar matchup to the one against Washington, where an uber-defensive-guru in Gregg Williams was supposed to have the upper hand over Hass and the passing offense. How did that one work out? In my opinion, and I am a homer, there is no way that the Steelers suffocate this passing attack and the overall balance of our potent offense. Will they stuff us some series? Absolutely. Will we rock them some series? Absolutely. Therefore, I deem this, again, a slight advantage for the Hawks, and really believe that 20 points is easily within our grasp in this football game. Now, if we could only get into the high 20s.....

Gavin: It really is up to Hasselbeck and the offensive line. Their recognition will predicate our success, because our receivers will get open given time. Matt just needs that time. As Colin writes, it will be a win-some, lose-some affair, and a slight advantage for our side.

posted by colin_hesse @ 12:52 PM  5 comments


At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A well thought out analysis. Do you think the talent level of the people in the Redskins' schemes matches up to the talent level of the Steelers???

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Jake said...

One thing that y'all didn't talk about was someone who made a surprise appearance in the NFC Championship and who might be an X-factor in the game on Sunday: Seneca Wallace.
In a Sports Illustrated story after the Panthers game, a Seahawks coach was quoted as saying that Wallace was a ridiculous athlete and probably the Seahawks' "best receiver" based on how awesome he is during practice. Obviously, this is some hyperbole at work, but still...the main reason the Hawks didn't use him as an offensive weapon this season was because they couldn't risk that their only backup QB would get injured.
I think that Wallace could be the Seahawks' version of Randle-El, who, if you'll remember, was a quarterback for Indiana University during his college days. I'd love to see it, as it could really add a new dimesnion to their offensive attack.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger colin_hesse said...

Both excellent points.

To Steve's question, I personally believe that the Redskins' defense is just as good as the Steelers. Sean Taylor = Troy Polamalu. Levar Arrington and Marcus Washington are just as athletic as Joey Porter and James Farrior. Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers are better than Ike Taylor and Townshend. As for their overall rankings at Football Outsiders, Washington finished 2nd, while Pittsburgh was 3rd. They were an elite defense, and we handled them well without the MVP of the league.

As for Seneca Wallace, I would love to see Holmgren pull a play or two out of his bag o' tricks. All the hype is about the Steelers' trick plays. We could beat them using their own medicine.

At 4:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I don't agree with you, as I am also a "homer" on the other side of the fence.

I like your blog, though.

One thing I will point out is that some of the stats you cited are a little skewed because of Roethlisberger being out for a while.

There's no question Seattle has a great team. It has been hard to find any serious analysis of the game the last two weeks, but you raise some great points.

nice job...

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Gavin said...

Steve, you're right about the stats. In fact, we're going to link to an article today on that does a terrific job rating the Pitt offense taking Ben's injury into account. Basically, he's very good.
You're right about the dearth of quality analysis, though, it's been disappointing over on this side of the fence too.


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