A lot of people see the offensive line as Seattle’s biggest draft need.
The game at St. Louis in week eight really was the tipping point. The Seahawks couldn’t block a thing. Russell Wilson was getting half a second to make a decision, and really they should’ve lost that night.
A terrific defensive stand saved the day, but they won in spite of the offense.
It wasn’t the only game where they struggled as a consequence of bad line play. The Houston win was torrid at times — with a lot of Wilson magic and a Richard Sherman pick-six being the antidote this time.
Across the board the stats weren’t good. The pundits looked at the stats and made their judgement.
“Major changes are needed.”
Unfortunately there’s no column on the stat sheet for ‘devastating injuries‘.
Make no mistake — a lack of health was the big problem with Seattle’s offensive line in 2013.
Not a lack of talent.
Very few teams can survive losing a Pro Bowl left tackle and center. Even fewer teams can survive losing your left tackle, center, right tackle and then having to move your left guard to man the blindside.
They also had a 7th round rookie starting at right tackle for a large chunk of the season.
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but this is not a good thing.
That Seattle had only the second worst offensive line in the NFL should be a major surprise. One team actually had it worse than this?
What on earth were they doing in Miami?
(Well, actually, we know what they were doing in Miami. They were texting each other about hookers and drugs. And then falling out.)
You simply cannot field a starting offensive line of McQuistan, Carpenter, Jeanpierre, Sweezy and Bowie and expect results.
It aint happening.
Not against some of the best pass rushers in the league.
Throw in Pete Carroll’s desire to be the #1 scrambling team in the NFL and you’re going to see some sacks. Whether they’re fielding the greatest offensive line in the league or one of the worst, it’s unavoidable.
A case in point — against New Orleans in the playoffs Wilson was sacked three times. On two of those occasions, the ‘sack’ was a -1 yard rushing attempt by the quarterback.
Peyton Manning doesn’t get many of those.
Speaking of Manning, the reason he was barely hit all year had nothing to do with his offensive line. It’s the style of offense — which is designed to limit the pass rush with a quickfire short passing game.
If Wilson and Seattle used this approach, they too would see a major reduction in sacks.
It’ll never happen of course, because Manning and Wilson are polar opposite players in terms of skill set and size.
Sometimes you just have to accept this is the team the Seahawks are. They’re going to keep scrambling, they’re going to pick up sacks.
And they’re also going to make a ton of big plays with Wilson moving out of the pocket.
This isn’t just about the passing game either — the Seahawks had trouble establishing the run in certain games too.
In 2013 they averaged 4.3 yards a carry and 136.8 yards per game — down from 4.8 YPC and 161.2 YPG.
It’s also indicative of the number of teams who set out to stop Marshawn Lynch and the running game. Many dared Wilson to beat them with his arm.
To be fair, any drop off in the rushing attack is mostly picked up by the passing game. In 2012 they managed 189.4 YPG, and it increased to 202.2 a year later.
The cumulative loss is 12 YPG for the season. Hardly back breaking stuff.
As Wilson develops as a passer (and let’s remember, he’s only two seasons into a long career), I suspect he’ll be become even more productive if teams continue to challenge him by selling out against the run.
We had a taste of that against the Saints in week 13.
Let’s take a closer look at Seattle’s schedule last year, because this also played a part in Seattle’s perceived struggles up front.
The Rams are fielding two of the best pass rushers in the league right now, including (for me) the absolute #1 in Robert Quinn. According to DVOA, Arizona had the #2 defense in the NFL behind Seattle. Everybody knows how good San Francisco’s front seven is, and the Seahawks were unfortunate to dodge Aldon Smith’s prolonged absence.
That’s six games against rock solid opponents right off the bat, three of which they faced without their preferred starting o-line — including their left tackle.
Here are some other pass rushers they met in 2013 — J.J. Watt, Jared Allen and Robert Mathis. They also tackled three of the better overall units according to DVOA — New York (#6), Tampa Bay (#8) and New Orleans (#10).
This was a tougher than usual schedule for the Seahawks’ o-line. Doing it with three of your starters missing a combined 18 games is a challenge some teams couldn’t overcome.
Even in Seattle’s poorest display of the season — the defeat against Arizona in week 16 — they were missing J.R. Sweezy.
Having missed the injury bug in 2012, it was back with a vengeance in 2013.
I’ll say it again — a lack of health hurt this group. Not a lack of talent.
Avoiding injuries can be a cause for concern itself, but I think the talent level is sufficient that you almost have to invest an element of faith.
I genuinely believe Seattle has a competent offensive line when everyone is good to go.
Russell Okung is one of the better tackles in the NFL — and was described as such after playing 17 games in 2012. He’s got an injury history but they can’t afford to give up on him at this stage in his career. He’s worth persevering with.
Max Unger had a difficult 2013 but never looked truly 100% either. A fresh start and a clean bill of health could get him back to his best.
Breno Giacomini is one of the more underrated players on the roster — and for me deserves to be re-signed on a 2-3 year deal if possible.
J.R. Sweezy gets a bad press at times, but 2013 was only his second year as an offensive lineman and his first as the unquestioned starter. He’s still learning and growing — and there’s no reason to question Tom Cable’s judgement on this one.
Then we have the revolving door at left guard — the area most people see as the problem. James Carpenter has been hit and miss and could even be a cap casualty this off-season. Yet he’s also had big games — most notably when combating Justin Smith.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a guard play as well against Smith over the last couple of seasons. That in itself has some value.
Michael Bowie played well in his only start at left guard, he deputised well for Sweezy on the right side in week 16 and could take on a more prominent role in year two.
Alvin Bailey had a terrific pre-season at left tackle but has the size and movement skills to grow into a top-class guard. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s where he ends up going forward.
This isn’t a bad group — and the 2013 depth of Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Caylin Hauptmann also did their job, with McQuistan seeing his fair share of time on the field at guard and tackle.
Despite what the stats say, I challenge anyone to tell me this is one of the worst lines in the NFL based on personnel.
Really it comes down to this — competing in the NFC West aint easy.
There isn’t an offensive line in the league that can block the four NFC West defenses out of a game.
You’re going to give up some plays against this bunch. I think we can all agree on that.
A lot of people regard San Francisco’s offense line as one of the very best. And yet they couldn’t stop Seattle forcing two forced fumbles in the NFC Championship game, shutting down the run completely and forcing two interceptions.
This is how it’s going to be.
Even if you get Okung, Unger, Sweezy and Giacomini for 16 games next year — and spend a first round pick on a guard — I’m telling you, they aren’t going to shut down Robert Quinn, Calais Campbell, Aldon Smith and co.
The Rams could spend two high first round picks on their offensive line in May. Guess what? They’ll also struggle to stop the other three NFC West teams.
This is a division where elite defensive line play is rife.
Whoever you put out there, it’s not going to be pretty.
Some people will argue — not unfairly — that if you play in such a tough division, upgrading the offensive line where possible is a necessity.
I wouldn’t disagree with that. In fact if this was an excellent guard class, I think you would consider making an early pick if you felt you could really make an upgrade.
I’m not arguing the line is perfect. Far from it. And Seattle sets up its draft board to try and identify where they can make the biggest improvements.
The problem is, it’s a really poor guard class. Borderline horrible.
Players like Cyril Richardson and Gabe Jackson are wildly overrated and will struggle to crack day two of the draft. Richardson is a particularly bad fit for the zone blocking scheme.
David Yankey is this years ‘guard who everyone loves mid-season’. It happens every year. The internet finds a guard, dubs them the next Steve Hutchinson and then the reality check comes around in December/January.
Yankey isn’t terrible, but he is a technician. He looks extremely accomplished in Stanford’s scheme — frequently pulling right and putting his excellent coaching into action.
At the next level however, there’s so much more to it. Physically I’d be concerned he’s going to get seriously overmatched.
Out of all the guards in this class, Xavier Su’a-Filo is really the only one I’d consider in round one — and that’s mainly based on upside. He combines rare athleticism with a nice power base and he could develop into a very accomplished guard.
He also needs to improve his technique and while I think he could go in the first round, many others see him as no more than a late second rounder at best.
Looking at what’s on offer, you’d be reaching for a guard in round one. Maybe even in round two as well depending on who’s left.
I suspect they’ll look for depth and further competition. Let Cable go back to work in the later rounds. That plan has worked so far to an extent. It hasn’t provided a genuine star, but Sweezy, Bailey and Bowie are all young, talented players with the opportunity to keep developing.
They could do with a lineman to replace the (likely) departing McQuistan. I’d also consider signing a veteran left tackle to backup Okung, if the price is right.
And they may concentrate on two other areas early in the draft — continuing to add weapons to the offense (another way to alleviate pressure is to surround Wilson with as much talent as possible) and making sure Seattle’s defensive line is well stocked.
Is there more to be gained by putting a big receiver outside for Wilson to throw to (jump ball/red zone specialist) and having Bailey/Bowie/Carpenter at guard, than there is having a starting offensive line that includes Okung-rookie-Unger-Sweezy-Giacomini and a lesser quality big wide out?
I haven’t covered a year on this blog without people highlighting the offensive line as a need.
I guess when you’ve enjoyed Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson in the past, it comes with the territory.
It’s also worth remembering how rare those two players were. Trying to recreate those days will be nearly impossible.
While that duo (and a trio of journeyman in the other three spots) carried the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl… the current group finished the job.
And they did it without conceding a single sack.