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Originally published November 5, 2011 at 8:01 PM | Page modified November 5, 2011 at 11:39 PM

Seahawks need to protect Jackson

There's not much question that Tarvaris Jackson will be Seattle's starting quarterback this week. The uncertainty is how long Jackson can last in the pocket.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Seattle @ Dallas, 10 a.m., Ch. 13

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DALLAS — There's not much question that Tarvaris Jackson will be Seattle's starting quarterback this week.

There's not as many questions about whether he should be starting, either, after backup Charlie Whitehurst's struggles the past two games.

The uncertainty is how long Jackson can last in the pocket, a question that is about more than just the pain of a strained pectoral muscle and speaks to the amount of punishment he has absorbed. Seattle has given up a league-high 28 sacks, allowing the quarterback to be beaten with a regularity generally reserved for dead horses.

"We have to keep him cleaner," coach Pete Carroll said.

That won't be easy Sunday given the Cowboys' unpredictable defensive schemes and their singularly dominant pass rusher: linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

"You have to be aware of him at all times," Carroll said. "He's that good. He's that impacting."

Ware had four sacks last week alone, giving him 12 this season. He ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind only Minnesota's Jared Allen, and Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan compounds that issue with his unorthodox formations and the inclusion of everything but smoke and mirrors to disguise just when — and where — the pressure is coming.

"He causes real issues for an offense, in terms of protection," Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Particularly with the guys he has, talent-wise, but then with the scheme. So there's a lot of work to be done to prepare for his defense and all the different schemes he throws at you."

That makes tempo even more important Sunday. Seattle's offense has been at its best when Jackson is standing on the accelerator, pushing the pace and making navigational adjustments on the fly. That hurry-up offense will be the quickest way to keep the Cowboys defense off-balance.

"You kind of keep those guys from disguising," Jackson said. "I don't know exactly how many calls they can make (against) the hurry-up offense."

Jackson's status in Seattle is solidified. The only two 300-yard passing games of his career have come in his past three starts for the Seahawks. No one is chanting the backup's name. At least not seriously after the Seahawks scored a total of six points in the five quarters Jackson missed after the bye with the pectoral injury.

The Seahawks offense needs Jackson. It needs his command of the playbook to operate effectively in that hurry-up pace. The offense needs to keep him upright, though. The fact he's still standing this season is testament to the fact he's Kevlar tough. To think he can keep playing amid this kind of punishment isn't realistic.

He attempted 40 passes last week when he came on in relief against Cincinnati. He was hit 12 times.

"Never can we afford to get hit that many times," Carroll said. "But that's what happened. He happens to be amazingly tough and strongly resilient in handling it."

Toughness can only take you so far. Jackson has established himself as Seattle's best quarterback for this season. Now it's up to the rest of the offense to protect him.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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