Pete Carroll plays down quarterback choice

Published on January 4, 2011 by     T.C.

For a guy as voluble and expressive as Pete Carroll, he can certainly avoid declarative comments when necessary.

And this week, as he faces one of the most delicate questions of his first season with the Seattle Seahawks, he’s playing coy about whether it will be Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst starting at quarterback Saturday against the New Orleans Saints.

Good move. Why make anything easier for the Saints? Keep them guessing until kickoff if you can.

But the best reason for not making and revealing a decision at this point is because he needs to continue taking evidence. Fair enough. Too much can happen this week; better to stay light on your feet.

“There’s just no reason to call this like you want me to right now, and so we’re not going to until we get all the information in and we can make the best choices that we can make,” Carroll said about who will quarterback in the team’s first playoff game since after the 2007 season. “Both guys are getting ready to play this football game.”

Carroll noted gladly that his options this week are a lot better than a week ago, when he was considering going into the final game against St. Louis with the veteran Hasselbeck barely able to walk with a hip injury, or Whitehurst, whose only previous start was an unimposing effort in a 41-7 loss against the New York Giants.

But Sunday night changed the dynamic. In the 16-6 division-title clinching win over the Rams, Whitehurst played with competence (no turnovers) and managed the offense well enough to get the Hawks into the playoffs.

Now, Hasselbeck’s had another week to heal, and Whitehurst has earned the confidence of the staff and teammates.

We may call it a controversy, but it’s nothing controversial in Carroll’s mind.

“Right now, it looks like we’ll split reps with those guys at practice (today) and we’ll just find out where we are and we’ll figure it out as we go through the week.”

Carroll was convincing in presenting this as a case that could go either way.

Consider some of the elements:

Hasselbeck has started nine postseason games; Whitehurst has started two regular-season games.

Hasselbeck had his most productive game of the season against New Orleans (366 yards), but he threw 10 interceptions in the subsequent five games he played. And, as well as he played against the Saints, the Hawks still were beaten decisively.

The Saints offer a complex defensive scheme, which Hasselbeck is better to decipher. But they also pressure the passer, which Whitehurst is better able to avoid.

Against the Rams, Whitehurst showed his elusiveness with eight rushes for 30 yards. Some of those scrambles surely would have been sacks (or maybe lost fumbles) had Hasselbeck been playing quarterback.

But the down side is that Whitehurst missed some big-play passing opportunities by taking off running without checking down to secondary receivers.

“He did what we needed to do to win and that was extraordinarily good for us,” Carroll said of Whitehurst. “We love it.”

The scheme devised for Whitehurst resulted in 16 points against the Rams – and the Seahawks needed only one touchdown to win that game. It’s obvious that they’re going to need to score more points than that to defeat the defending Super Bowl champions led by Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees.

It’s difficult to argue against the value of Hasselbeck’s leadership.

Receiver Mike Williams spoke about Hasselbeck’s influence Sunday, even though Hasselbeck didn’t even play.

“Matt got us going in the locker room before the game,” Williams said. “He was the only guy talking, the only guy doing the rah-rah speech, and he didn’t even play a snap. But that lets you know what kind of leaders we have and what kind of guy he is. He definitely rallied the guys to get us going.”

Neither quarterback operates in a vacuum. An offensive line that has been shaky all season is banged up and depleted, which can not only limit the quarerback’s effectiveness, but also put him at physical risk.

All of Hasselbeck’s experience will not help if he’s not nimble enough to make a blitzer miss every now and then.

It’s fair to wonder if Hasselbeck could have stayed on the field if he’d taken some of the shots inflicted on Whitehurst by the Rams.

I say that’s the best argument for starting with Whitehurst, who not only showed the ability to avoid sacks, but also turnovers.

But if I had to guess, I’d bet Carroll will decide Hasselbeck’s experience will be the deciding factor.

Either way, Carroll’s doing the right thing in staying non-committal as long as possible.

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