Charlie Whitehurst and QB Play in the Pete Carroll Era

In sports, stats are at their best when they can be averaged over a wide number of games.  That’s easy enough to do in baseball, where the pros get a whopping 162 games a year.   NBA and NHL players get the benefit of 82 games a year to show their stuff.  Even Major League Soccer players can count on 34 regular season appearances to average out their stats. 

Compared to those figures, the NFL’s 16 game season is downright unforgiving.  With so few opportunities to work with, the relative importance of each and every performance is greatly magnified.  If one of the hitters on your MLB team goes into a mid-season slump for ten or twenty games, who cares?  He’ll snap out of it eventually, and besides, there’s plenty more games where those came from.  Let your players get away with a slump like that in the NFL and you’ll be out of a job faster than you can say Scooter McLean.

Which brings us to Charlie Whitehurst and how we should view his performance against the Browns.  One way to do it would be to take the long view (like Mike Sando did) and say yes, he was pretty awful in that game, but it’s also just one game.  Everyone has bad days, especially when they’re quarterbacks with just a handful of starts under their belt. 

Conversely, you could take into account the exaggerated importance of each and every game on the schedule (like most every football fan in the Pacific Northwest did in their living rooms last Sunday) and say the regular season is way too short to gamble on this being a one-time screwup on Whitehurst’s part.  Far better to play it safe and keep him in his natural position: holding a clipboard on the sideline, far away from the ball.

Personally, I like to combine these two approaches by cursing the day Whitehurst was born, then looking at the game in perspective once I’ve gotten all the obscenities out of my system.  It’s the best of both worlds, really.

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So once I ran out of swear words, I decided to compare how every Seahawks QB, not just Whitehurst, has done in the 24 regular and post season games the team has played since Pete Carroll took over as head coach.  Since much of Charlie’s playing time to date has come as an injury replacement, instead of counting just starts I tallied up every time each QB attempted at least 15 passes in a game and counted each of those as a separate performance.  For example, in the game against the Falcons last year Hasselbeck threw 17 passes and Whitehurst threw 16, so both were credited with a performance for that game.  However, in the following game against the Buccaneers Hasselbeck only threw four passes before getting hurt and being replaced by Whitehurst, so even though Hasselbeck was the starter, Whitehurst is the only QB I credited with a performance for that game.

Game Opponent QB Pass
Yds/Att Cmp % TDs/Att
2010 G1 49ers Hasselbeck 170 7.4 78.3 8.7 4.3 108.3
2010 G2 @ Broncos Hasselbeck 233 6.7 57.1 2.9 8.6 51.3
2010 G3 Chargers Hasselbeck 220 6.9 59.4 3.1 3.1 77.6
2010 G4 @ Rams Hasselbeck 191 5.3 55.6 0 2.7 58.9
2010 G5 @ Bears Hasselbeck 242 6.1 62.5 2.5 0 87.7
2010 G6 Cardinals Hasselbeck 192 5.1 52.6 2.6 0 75.8
2010 G7 Raiders Hasselbeck 163 5.1 44.1 0 3.1 44.1
2010 G9 @ Cardinals Hasselbeck 333 9.8 64.7 2.9 0 106.6
2010 G10 @ Saints Hasselbeck 366 8.3 72.7 2.3 0 104.9
2010 G11 Chiefs Hasselbeck 282 7.6 54.1 5.4 5.4 74.4
2010 G12 Panthers Hasselbeck 229 7.6 56.7 0 6.7 53.3
2010 G13 @ 49ers Hasselbeck 285 6.8 60.2 4.8 9.5 60.2
2010 G14 Falcons Hasselbeck 71 4.2 58.8 0 11.8 28.9
2010 WC Saints Hasselbeck 272 7.8 62.9 11.4 2.9 113.0
2010 DIV @ Bears Hasselbeck 258 5.6 56.5 6.5 0 94.3
2011 G1 @ 49ers Jackson 197 5.3 56.8 5.4 2.7 78.3
2011 G2 @ Steelers Jackson 159 5.5 69.0 0 0 82.4
2011 G3 Cardinals Jackson 171 5.5 58.1 0 3.2 60.0
2011 G4 Falcons Jackson 319 8.4 65.8 7.9 5.3 96.3
2011 G5 @ Giants Jackson 166 7.6 68.2 4.5 4.5 86.6
2010 G8 Giants Whitehurst 113 4.9 52.2 4.3 8.7 44.3
2010 G14 Falcons Whitehurst 83 5.2 50.0 0 0 65.4
2010 G15 @ Buccaneers Whitehurst 66 3.7 61.1 0 0 68.3
2010 G16 Rams Whitehurst 192 5.3 61.1 2.8 0 84.5
2011 G5 @ Giants Whitehurst 146 8.1 55.6 5.6 0 100.7
2011 G6 @ Browns Whitehurst 97 3.2 40.0 0 3.3 35.0

For ease of reference, in each statistical category I’ve highlighted the best five stats in green and the worst five in orange, although some stats have more than that highlighted because of ties.  At one point I had sacks listed as well, but that stat seemed to coincide more with problems along the offensive line than with anything the QB had done, so I left that stat out.

First off, Hasselbeck’s stats are about what you would expect from a solid veteran quarterback fighting his way through an injury-riddled season, i.e. a mix of legitimately great and genuinely awful performances.  Fittingly enough, Hasselbeck managed to play both the very best game on the list (the Wild Card playoff against the Saints) as well as the very worst (game 14 versus the Falcons).

Considering all the flak Jackson has taken for his play since joining the Seahawks, his stats are actually rather encouraging, especially his consistently high percentage of completed passes (63.1% overall this season, currently tenth best in the NFL).  Granted, his yards per attempt stats are concerningly low, likely due to his overreliance on dump-off passes, and I have to admit he did benefit the most when I decided to leave out sacks (four of his five performances were highlighted in orange in that category).  Still, I think there’s enough positive here that I do believe some mild hope for the future is in order for Seahawks fans.

And with that we come to the main attraction, Whitehurst and his ocean of orange stats.  So far, he’s accumulated one great performance as an injury replacement (versus the Giants this year), an average-to-good one (versus the Rams last year), and four more that were just plain miserable. He does rate well in interceptions per attempt, with none thrown in four of his six performances, but even that’s not necessarily a good sign.  Whitehurst doesn’t avoid interceptions through smart decisions and accurate throws, he avoids them by tossing the ball away at the first sign of trouble.

Again, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from such a small data sample, but this is football — we’re always working with a small data sample.  Yes, four bad games doesn’t necessarily prove a QB is irredeemably terrible, but by that same token two good performances doesn’t prove a QB is going to develop into something worth banking your franchise on, either.  What I see so far in Whitehurst is an aging, inexperienced QB who has yet to show that he can be relied upon in anything other than spot duty.  And really, if Jackson continues his upward trend and proves he has what it takes to quarterback the Seahawks for the foreseeable future, there’s no reason the team should give Whitehurst any more chances to prove he should be the starter instead.  He failed to do that last year despite getting significant playing time in three straight games at the end of the season, and he failed to do it again last week against the Browns.  16 games a year is too few to waste on experiments.