Time for a different angle on all the O-line talk.
I mentioned in the podcast yesterday something that possibly doesn’t get brought up enough. Are some of the problems on the offensive line self-inflicted?
After all, this is a team that for years has sought to be committed to the run. To an extent the players they’ve added were brought here to run block first and foremost — to carve out Seattle’s key identity on offense.
Run, run, run.
Has it ever felt like this team truly committed to the run game at any point in 2016?
The Seahawks have drafted some of the most explosive players in the draft in recent years to play on the O-line. When we put together our Trench Explosion Formula to judge draft prospects, we went back and looked at Seattle’s previous picks. The results showed a concerted effort to target explosive, physically dominant players to compete in the trenches.
Seattle’s guards and center are arguably the most explosive trio of linemen in the league based on their pre-draft testing.
This isn’t a finesse group of guys. They’re made for running the ball.
In the pre-season we saw an interior blowing people off the LOS and creating nice lanes for Christine Michael. We saw clever misdirection plays, big yardage. A group that looked ready to set the tone during the regular season.
And yet here we are, heading into the final weekend of the NFL season and the Seahawks are 19th in the league for total number of runs (378).
The Dallas Cowboys, ranked first, have run the ball exactly 100 more times than the Seahawks. Even the New England Patriots are #3 on the list with 453 attempts.
Alternatively, the Seahawks are #12 in pass attempts. Dallas are at #19.
You’d never imagine these numbers watching the Seahawks between 2012-2014 or listening to the way Pete Carroll talks about his vision for this franchise.
Can a case be made that the Seahawks could’ve made life easier for this young, inexperienced group by dedicating their offense to the run? Emphasising their physical traits and covering up some of their technical weaknesses and lack of understanding?
Have they damaged the confidence and psyche of the unit by asking them to pass protect a lot, considering the widespread criticism that has followed?
Have they abandoned the run too early in games and almost ignored it in others?
There might be reasons for this. Injuries to the quarterback and how defenses have adjusted when playing Seattle. Losing Russell Wilson’s run production. Injuries at running back. The way certain games have flowed (eg needing to come from behind). Have they ever truly trusted the running backs? Christine Michael was cut, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise injured and it took another spate of injuries for Alex Collins to get any kind of significant work.
None of this excuses the poor play in 2016 — but has progress stalled because the Seahawks have not focused on the one thing they’ve done well for years and arguably drafted these guys to do?
There are flashes of talent on the tape. Potential. Tom Cable noted in his press conference yesterday that Germain Ifedi has been ‘fairly dominant’ recently. Look at the way he attacks the second level here:
Ifedi actually looked kind of…good? For large parts of the Arizona game pic.twitter.com/K8smQUKojq
— Ben B (@guga31bb) December 29, 2016
Also note the way Gilliam drives his man off the LOS to create a nice big lane for Alex Collins.
This was a run play.
Now let’s look at this one:
Ifedi: Who should I block???
Britt: Block 98
Ifedi: BLOCK NO ONE!? pic.twitter.com/SpjKAEEuAH
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) December 29, 2016
This is a pass. Ifedi doesn’t know his assignment and has to ask Justin Britt what to do. Britt points at one guy but it’s too late. Ifedi is lost and doesn’t block anybody.
It’s a small sample size of course but it kind of highlights how green this O-line is. They don’t even fully understand what they’re supposed to do. With three first time starters including rookies at right guard and left tackle — this has probably happened a few times this season.
How often do you think Ronald Leary or Zack Martin turn to Travis Frederick right before the snap and ask, ‘Hey, so which is my guy again?’
And yet physically they’re good enough to just get out there and execute a run play against a big, aggressive Arizona defensive front and look really good doing it.
Should they be leaning on the physical upside of these guys instead of trying to master pass-protection?
Should they be committing, universally, to the running game to make life easy for them?
It’s too late now, going into week 17, to really feel the benefit of such a commitment. Had they done this after the Tampa Bay game we might’ve seen a 2014 style ‘slug fest’ end to the season and an offense that at least is not a hindrance (as it has been in several games).
Hindsight is a wonderful thing — but I suspect they’d rather be in the top-five for rushing attempts right now than #19 and live with the results. Maybe they’d be a bad running team still? At least we’d know.
They might actually have an offensive identity. They might actually have a consistent offense.
What they actually have is a hotchpotch of parts. They’re not doing anything particularly well game-to-game. Given everything we’ve heard about the importance of the run to this team since 2010 — it feels like a mistake that with this O-line they didn’t just commit to their physical upside.
What are the consequences? The clamour in the off-season will be for the Seahawks to spend big on the O-line in free agency. Find immediate quality starters in the hope expensive talent will give the team a quick fix.
It’s a shame really because it’s clear there is talent and potential with the existing starters. And the plan, we all believed, was to create an O-line that could grow together and be good for years at an inexpensive price.
It’ll be a hard sell to stand by this group going into 2017. Not just with fans — but also probably with the more outspoken members of the team. 2016 has the feel of a potential lost season. They don’t want to go through this again next year.
And yet you might be giving up on them because of a self-inflicted crisis. They might actually be the answer, believe it or not. Some further investment would be needed of course. I still think Utah’s Garett Bolles could be the ideal first round pick for this team. They might not get a chance to select him — he is that good. There are others though. The middle rounds of the 2017 draft should provide some nice options too.
However, with the 2016 performance so far you imagine they’ll feel obliged to open the cheque book and be aggressive. Or make trades.
Anything to extend the Championship window.
This won’t necessarily be the answer either. According to Football Outsiders, Minnesota’s O-line is 30th in the run game and 19th in the passing game. Their big off-season moves included signing Alex Boone and Andre Smith. Combined the pair cost $11.2m in 2016.
In comparison, Seattle is ranked 26th and 25th for running and passing respectively.
The teams at the top of the rankings are generally sides with home-grown O-lines. Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Orleans, Tennessee. Units crafted over time with a bit of experience thrown in for good measure.
So while it will be attractive to many to go out and spend, a greater commitment to running the ball in 2017 and further investment via the draft might not be the worst thing for this side. Whether they can justify that — internally or externally — is another thing completely. Especially this team, determined to win now and needing to address other needs too such as the defensive line or a defense in general that is enduring a historically bad year for turnovers.