Facing a 3rd-and-14 from his own 16 at the start of the second half, Matt Hasselbeck could sense trouble as he stared down the Cardinals' line from the shotgun. Eight Arizona rushers jammed the box and were ready to pounce.
The quarterback managed to find T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a three-yard completion, but the Seahawks again were forced to punt.
“Even if he completes it, he has to get it out of his hands quickly,” Fox color commentator Brian Billick said during last Sunday’s key NFC West matchup.
The play served as a microcosm for the game, as a frustrated Hasselbeck finished with his lowest completion percentage since 2004 (34) and his team ended the day 0-for-11 on third down. Under a makeshift offensive line with its fourth different lineup in six games, Hasselbeck had little time to throw.
As Hasselbeck hurried to avoid a Karlos Dansby sack, he released the ball in just 1.47 seconds. The short release time impacted all aspects of the Seahawks offense in the 27-3 romp.
During Arizona’s five sacks, Hasselbeck held on to the ball for a minuscule 2.03 seconds per play. After the Seahawks surrendered three first half sacks, coach Jim Mora dug deep into the playbook to buy extra time for the quarterback. He called for max-protection with seven blockers, three-step drops and instructed Hasselbeck to bootleg out of the pocket to avoid the rush. None worked.
Unlike a week earlier, when Hasselbeck had numerous opportunities to throw downfield in a 41-0 win over the Jaguars, poor protection forced him to check down to underneath routes. Of the 29 passes he attempted against the Cardinals, 24 were of a short variety.
Against Jacksonville, Hasselbeck had more deep attempts in the first half than he did during the entire Arizona game. Much of it was due to the aggressive game plan devised by Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who wanted his 32nd ranked pass defense to take advantage of the Seahawks’ injuries on the line.
“They squatted on it, they sat on a lot of routes,” Mora said. “They knew what our circumstances were up front, and they knew that we were going to have to get rid of the ball quickly. And their corners did a nice job of playing for quicker routes.”
For a depleted offensive line, the bye week could not have come at a better time. Injured left tackle Sean Locklear walked without a boot for the first time Monday since suffering a high ankle sprain and the team released fourth-string tackle Kyle Williams on Tuesday.
This suggests that either starter Walter Jones, newly-acquired Damion McIntosh or Locklear will be ready in two weeks. Mora also expects LG Rob Sims to return from an ankle injury against the Cowboys.
Hasselbeck refused to blame the line for the team’s failure to move the ball. The Pro Bowl quarterback also did not criticize offensive coordinator Greg Knapp or find fault with the new offensive scheme that Knapp installed at the start of the season.
Instead, Hasselbeck said his communication with his receivers could be improved when it comes to recognizing looks at the line. Houshmandzadeh, the team's prized off-season acquisition, had just four catches for 34 yards.
“T.J. and I have to get on the same page, we have to be automatic,” Hasselbeck said. “He and I have to narrow our focus.”
Fellow receiver Nate Burleson attributed the struggles to an early deficit that forced the Seahawks to become one-dimensional. An early 17-0 deficit caused Seattle to abandon the run and pass their way back into the game. The Seahawks finished with a franchise-low 14 yards rushing. Burleson said his team encountered the same problems that the Jaguars did a week before.
“We knew they (Jacksonville) were going to pass the ball,” Burleson said. “It wasn’t that they were running wrong routes, or the offensive line was bad or the quarterback wasn’t getting the ball out. It was that we had a such big lead.”
Mora does not plan on making wholesale changes. He has faith in his team’s ability to overcome adversity and “saw a determination in their eyes,” during team meetings on Monday. In the first six weeks of the season, 13 Seahawks starters have missed at least one game and 36 games combined.
He hopes the week of rest will allow his starters to return and establish consistency for a team that has two wins by a combined 69 points, but four losses in six games.
“We’re going to stick to the things that we’re doing, and we’re going to try to do them better,” he said. “That, to me, is the best formula.” ####