Seahawks O-line coach Tom Cable has a big job on his hands this year
I don’t like the cliché that football games are ‘won in the trenches’. You only have to look at some of the more recent Super Bowl winners. Elite quarterbacks win Championships behind porous lines.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat… or win at football. And so it is for the Seahawks.
Russell Wilson will still avoid trouble. Seattle will still run the ball with authority. The defense will make plays.
And yet there’s this nagging little itch you just can’t scratch.
The offensive line was an area for improvement especially after Breno Giacomini’s departure. So why is there justified concern that it could be even worse in 2014?
Snake-bitten Russell Okung is recovering from surgery again while rookie Justin Britt has also been nursing a sore shoulder.
Aside from Giacomini’s crucial and somewhat underrated departure to New York, they’ve also lost veteran guard/tackle Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie is now in Cleveland.
That’s some change given the two starters at right tackle have moved on, as well as a backup (if not ideal) left tackle who started multiple games. With Bowie struggling and then leaving, in came the previously unemployed Eric Winston plus Wade Smith and Cory Brandon.
With Okung and James Carpenter not 100% (although Carpenter will dress against the Broncos) the starting offensive line tomorrow could be: Bailey, Smith, Unger, Sweezy, Winston. It’s unlikely, but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that will be the starting line against the Packers.
That’s going to put some pressure on Tom Cable to get the best out of this unit.
(And for all the talk of Cable going after ‘his’ guys, a line of Bailey, Smith, Unger, Sweezy and Winston would only include two he’d developed from the start. Swap Okung for Bailey and it’s down to just one.)
It’s a serious investment of trust in Cable. Not misplaced trust, I’d add. But they’re relying on possibly the most high-profile line-coach in the NFL delivering an improvement without major new additions.
At times last year the line nearly cost Seattle some key games. Rams on the road, Cards on the road. It did contribute to the Seahawks losing their undefeated record at Century Link against Arizona.
All of those games came in the NFC West — the battleground where playoff destiny will be decided this year.
The Cardinals (signed Jared Veldheer, regained Jonathan Cooper) and Rams (drafted Greg Robinson, regained Jake Long) reinforced their protection. They needed to — this division isn’t going to get any easier. All four teams sport elite defenses — with the Rams adding another first round pick (Aaron Donald) to their front four.
It’s possible, as we saw, for the Seahawks to play badly on the offensive line and still win tough road games. History could repeat itself.
To some extent there’s not a great deal they could’ve done. Clearly they weren’t going to spend big on a guard or tackle in free agency — they couldn’t. They passed on Joel Bitonio in the draft but added Justin Britt in round two. None of the alternatives were especially alluring.
In terms of last minute veteran signings, Winston isn’t a bad one. He’s scheme familiar and although he struggled in Arizona for the most part, he played on an inexperienced O-line really lacking in quality.
(Some of you will draw comparisons I’m sure, but Seattle’s line won’t be that bad in 2014… I think).
Picking at #32 doesn’t offer much opportunity to go after a top offensive lineman — guard or tackle. The good ones go early — three in the top four in 2013, three in the top-12 this year.
When Cable, Carroll and Schneider took Britt at #64 they took the best remaining tackle on their board knowing they needed one. Unless they’re going to take Bitonio at #32 I’m not sure sleepless nights are necessary after missing out on Jack Mewhort.
Yet the pressure is there for Cable to make this a unit capable of dealing with adversity better. Bailey showed promise as a left tackle in pre-season last year and should be a superior stop-gap compared to McQuistan. J.R. Sweezy can continue to develop and Max Unger should bounce back from an inconsistent 2013.
It is though, sadly, the only unit with a big question mark. And it could be the difference between merely the playoffs and another shot at home-field advantage.
If Cable can get this group rolling, it’ll be a major shot in the arm to any ambitions he may have of becoming a Head Coach next year.