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Assessing Matt Hasselbeck's prospects

Travis asks via Facebook: "I read the 'Blind Side' a while ago and Micheal Lewis points out that Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense often made average QBs much better and certainly more accurate than they would otherwise be. A lot of quarterbacks that play in West Coast offenses for a few years and then switch to non-West Coast schemes seem to struggle. Examples off the top of my head are Jeff Garcia after he left the Niners, Matt Hasselbeck last season and Jay Cutler in Chicago. I know in many cases the supporting casts for these quarterbacks weren't as strong, but could it be possible that Hasselbeck will continue to struggle now that he no longer plays in a West Coast offense?"

Mike Sando: Sure, that is possible. Walsh designed his scheme to diminish the need for a quarterback with uncommon natural ability. Hasselbeck was a late-round draft choice in part because NFL teams did not think he possessed uncommon (by NFL standards) natural ability. He subsequently worked hard, benefited from good coaching, became very familiar with Holmgren's offense and flourished -- particularly after the Seahawks surrounded him with better players.

The coaching hasn't been as good in recent seasons. Hasselbeck no longer benefits from being so familiar with the ins and outs of a system. The talent around him has fallen off significantly. Injuries born of bad luck and poor protection have affected him. The results have been predictable. Only a quarterback with uncommon natural ability might be able to transcend those things.

Hasselbeck's experience helps him compensate for some of those factors working against him. But it still might be tough to enjoy the sort of success he experienced when those critical factors were on his side.

More broadly, quarterbacks playing at a high level tend to win games, and winning promotes stability for coaching staffs, meaning schemes tend to stay in place. If a quarterback is changing schemes, it could be because he struggled the previous season and had to change teams, or his team changed coaches after a losing season. Quarterbacks in those situations aren't going to succeed as often for reasons beyond the scheme itself.

Ten quarterbacks threw for at least 4,000 yards last season and Brett Favre was the only one to change offensive schemes the previous offseason. Of the 12 quarterbacks with passer ratings of at least 90, Favre was the only one playing in a new scheme. The scheme Favre ran with the Minnesota Vikings last season was similar to the one he ran for years in Green Bay, however, so he was probably more comfortable in 2009 than he had been with the New York Jets a year earlier. He also had superior talent around him. He's also Brett Favre, which helps.

Finally, all West Coast schemes are not created the same. Cutler previously played in a Mike Shanahan scheme similar to the one Seattle is installing under coordinator Jeremy Bates, and that scheme differs from the West Coast scheme Hasselbeck ran under Mike Holmgren.

The chart shows how long the NFL's 12 highest-rated passers in 2009 have been in their current offensive schemes. Some have changed coordinators since the dates listed, but the basic systems have carried over in each case. Again, Favre is the only player among the top 12 to change schemes before the 2009 season.

2009 NFL Leaders: Passer rating