Monday, October 4, 2010

Statistics sack Hasselbeck

To claim that Matt Hasselbeck is an elite quarterback is wrong. I'm sorry, Seahawks fans, I know how hard it is for you to hear that, it's hard for me to say it too, but it's time for Seattle to make a change.

The Seahawks have made philosophical changes in every area of the team except quarterback. They've dramatically turned over the roster, offensively and defensively, to bring in more talented, athletic, competitive players. They've done the same with the coaching staff, who bring modern NFL experience and strategies to the table. And yet the long-standing, short-pass beacon of the Mike Holmgren past still remains, battling away with a skill set that doesn't match the new offense or the evolution of NFL defenses.

He may have been an elite quarterback in the past, he may have been the torchlight that carried the Seahawks into the Super Bowl five years ago, and he's rightfully earned a lot of respect and admiration for the quarterback he was and the success he brought to the Seattle Seahawks, but that Matt Hasselbeck is long gone. Or, perhaps, he's simply the same quarterback he was five years ago, only the rest of the league has evolved past him, offensively and defensively.

I like Hasselbeck, and I think he's been a great player and great spokesman for the Seahawks for the last decade. But sports fans, especially Seattle sports fans, tend to let those moral and personal relationships with players excuse them from fair criticism. Hasselbeck isn't cutting it, and at any other franchise in the NFL, other than the Minnesota Vikings who are dealing with their own struggling, grandfathered veteran QB, a change would've been made. Pete Carroll says the team needs to earn everything, to always compete, and he's lived up to that with high-profile benchings and surprising roster moves, but that same ruthlessness isn't being extended to the failing quarterback.

Don't believe me? Think this is the knee-jerk reaction after a tough road loss against a team we should've beat? It's not. This is straight-up statistics. I spent the better part of Sunday night hawking over NFL quarterback statistics, filtering out all back-up/part-time QBs and any non-QB player who's thrown a pass. What I ended up with were the "starters," the 32 starting QBs from all NFL rosters thus far, and statistical proof of Hasselbeck's issues.

Matt Hasselbeck is the third-oldest QB in the league, I only mention that because, out of all QBs in the NFL over the age of 30, only Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and, of course, the resurgent Michael Vick have a QB rating over the league average of ~85. Matt Hasselbeck's QB rating of 70.7 puts him 27th out of 32 available starters. Seneca Wallace has a higher rating than #8 so far this season. Just throwing that out there.

But QB Rating doesn't really tell the full story about where Hasselbeck stands. Hasselbeck is getting opportunities to throw the ball, he's 15th in the league in attempted passes this year, ahead of some great throwers (Aaron Rodgers, Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady, etc.), but his conversion percentage on those attempts, the so-called "accuracy" that people have used for years to excuse Hasselbeck's lack of arm strength, is only 61.1%, putting him 19th on the board. Combine that mediocre completion percentage with the arm strength issue -- Hasselbeck is 23rd in the league in yards per attempt (6.5 Y/A) and 27th in the league in adjusted yards per attempt (5 AY/A), which weighs in touchdowns and interceptions, of which Hasselbeck is 25th and 7th respectively -- and what we have is a seriously underperforming quarterback. Even when he does complete a pass, he still isn't gaining statistically-prevalent yardage compared to his peers: He's 21st in yards per game (203.5 Y/G) and 26th in yards per completion (10.6 Y/C).

Would that cut it anywhere else but here?

Yes, he's the vocal leader on and off the field. Yes, he's the talisman of the Seattle Seahawks, the so-called "best quarterback" in franchise history. But he's lost his pocket composure after years of bad offensive lines in front of him, and it's impacting his performance on the field. You can't, as a quarterback, be scared of being sacked. You just can't. Nearly every touchdown I've seen this year from QBs all around the league have shown a strong, confident player standing tall in the pocket and delivering, despite pressure or contact around him. Hasselbeck usually sacks himself when he feels pressure, diving to the ground once he feels a hand or a breath on his neck. You can't blame him, he's been banged up for years behind bad offensive lines, but you can't sacrifice the offense in a sea of excuses (legitimate or not).

I'm still convinced Matt Hasselbeck is the same quarterback he was five years ago, but with the growth and evolution of NFL defenses and the emergence of the modern, deep-threat offense that's dominating this league, it's time for Pete Carroll to open up the competition at the quarterback spot, just like he did with every other position on his roster. Hasselbeck's performance shouldn't be cutting it, this team shouldn't be 2-2 and tied for first place the NFC West, but thanks to gut-check defense and stunning special teams, we're still alive. But survivalism tends to mask reality, and the Seattle Seahawks may be better off with someone else at quarterback.

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