Seattle has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Football Outsiders ranks it as the #1 run blocking unit in the league after week 16. They’re still ranked at #16 for pass protection based on adjusted sack rate, but only seven teams have given up less sacks in the entire NFL.
The 49ers have three first round picks playing on their offensive line (Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis). They’re the #2 running unit in the NFL. They’re also ranked 31st for pass protection. The New York Giants are ranked #3 for both the pass and the run for the #1 overall line. They have no first round picks featuring on their line. We’ll come back to that.
Offensive lines are a bit of a bug bear in Seattle. A never ending need if you will, a constant craving for an unlikely goal of elite starters at every position. The 2005 Super Bowl offensive line was incredibly effective and set the standard for this franchise. It was still made up mostly of no-thrills blue-collar lineman with minimal cost. The big investment came on the left side, with two first round picks at tackle and guard.
It’s no surprise that some fans are desperate to get there again. However, it’s worth noting the similarities between the two units. Once again the Seahawks have first round picks starting at left tackle and guard. Russell Okung is playing at a league-leading level, just like Walter Jones did for many years. James Carpenter isn’t Steve Hutchinson, but he’s shown flashes of real potential when healthy. The big issue for Carpenter is going to be proving he can stay on the field for a full season, but the team has coped without him.
What this line has over the 2005 group is an elite center (Max Unger) and enough young quality at right guard and tackle to make this a solid, overall unit with good depth. They’re not relying on ageing veterans here. They are starting first and second year players and they’re getting the job done.
Breno Giacomini still can’t catch a break from some fans. I don’t have access to statistics that will back this up, but the eye test says there haven’t been many better right tackles in the league in the second half of the season. The first half was frustrating – he had far too many penalties and the offense suffered as a consequence. Now he’s playing at an elite level for a right tackle. There, I said it.
This is how I’ll back that statement up…
Jared Allen, Cameron Wake, Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Aldon Smith.
Five of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Five players who had absolutely no impact rushing the edge against the Seahawks. Some of that’s down to Russell Okung. Some of that’s down to Russell Wilson’s quick thinking and elusiveness. Some of it’s down to the brilliant play of Breno Giacomini.
The league isn’t stupid and they’re not going to line these guys against Okung every snap. They’ve tested Giacomini. And he’s answered the question. The entire offensive line has answered the question. Gone are the days where quarterbacks have no time to throw or appear to be under constant duress. Gone are the days when this team gets pushed around in the trenches. ESPN has removed the video of Trey Wingo, Mark Schlereth and Tedy Bruschi all picking the Seahawks to beat the Niners this week. I can’t directly quote Bruschi, but he made reference to there being only one team in the league that was physical enough on the offensive line to deal with the Niners. That team was Seattle.
Amid all the impressive performances against the leagues top pass rushers, the Seahawks maintain the #1 ranking for run offense. There’s no getting away from it, this is an elite unit and Giacomini deserves some credit. They all do.
It’s also a fluid situation. Carpenter, Paul McQuistan and John Moffitt have all spent time at left guard. McQuistan, Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy have all started at right guard. The coaches are happy to do this because they trust all of their guys. How many of you held your breath when you discovered Sweezy rather than Moffitt would start against the Niners? And how many of you noticed Sweezy during the game?
Going back to the New York Giants offensive line – the #1 line in the league according to Football Outsiders. They have a similar system, where they’ve had to plug people into the line-up. They’ve also won Super Bowls. They haven’t filled the line with pricey first and second round picks. Their biggest investment on the line was second round tackle William Beatty in 2009. What they have done is create consistency at the line, let the players learn the scheme and then trust them to execute. I ‘ve used this quote before, and I’ll keep rolling it out. This is the secret to success according to Giants guard David Diehl:
“People forget playing together for a long period of time is what makes you the best as possible. Now with someone getting hurt, or free agency, you don’t see a group together very long. When we had our best years here, it was when the five of us played together during that one long stretch. That’s what you have to have to have an effective offensive line. You have to have a lot of game experience together because there is so much continuity, fitting next to each other, being on the same page, being able to communicate when you can’t hear because of the noise.”
If you buy into this theory – and I do – the worst thing you can do is keep changing the offensive line every year. Consistency is key. You don’t have to keep going to the well to pick up first or second round picks.
Another quote I like? This one from Mike Shanahan:
“Everybody says we don’t have a good right tackle. I say show me who does?”
The Seattle Seahawks, Mike. They have a good right tackle. You might get a chance to meet him in the Playoffs.
This team has underrated quality on the offensive line, solid depth and a group of individuals who just get the system. They are familiar with each other. And they are helping this team win games of football. What’s more, they are organised by one of the best line coaches in the NFL, if not the best. I’m not trying to tell people what to think, but the offensive line just doesn’t look like a vital upgrade target. The depth’s good too.
The teams biggest needs – in my opinion – are as follows:
Three-technique – we’ve all seen how effective Aldon Smith is with a partner in crime. And yesterday we saw how effective he is without Justin Smith. The 4-3 under scheme Seattle uses is supposed to put a three-tech and the LEO next to each other so that a similar partnership can develop. Clemons has 11.5 sacks without that advantage. If the Seahawks can find a guy capable of crashing the pocket from the interior, Clemons and eventually Bruce Irvin will dominate in the same way Aldon Smith has in San Francisco. If only players like Justin Smith weren’t so rare…
Wide receiver – Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. Essentially, that’s Seattle’s real depth chart at wide out. And it’s not big enough. And it’s not good enough. There’s room for at least one more top target to be added to that group especially with the respective injury history’s of the aforementioned players. Russell Wilson needs good targets just as much as he needs good pass protection and a running game. This is a vital need for the Seahawks.
WILL Linebacker – Leroy Hill continues to start ahead of Malcolm Smith and it leaves open the possibility that this is an area the Seahawks will consider upgrading in the draft next April, especially with players like Alec Ogletree expected to turn pro and Arthur Brown entering the league after his senior year at Kansas State.
Now that the Seahawks have qualified for the playoffs, they will pick no lower than #21 overall in the 2013 draft.
I’m planning a piece on Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU) for after Christmas. Although I don’t think the Seahawks will draft another LEO rusher in round one next April, he looks almost too perfect for the role. After his big performance against San Diego State in the Poinsietta Bowl, I wanted to highlight just how good he could be. He has first round potential, but he won’t fit every scheme. He fits like a glove in Seattle.