The pressure’s on Tom as Cable aims to get Seattle’s line rolling

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.


  1. CC

    I agree with you Rob! Moffitt, Bowie both gone – Carp hasn’t performed to his potential – hopefully it is this year. Sweezy – well, let’s see if he can take the next step this year. I know they trust Cable, but the jury is out for me on whether he knows something everyone else does not. STL/SF/AZ games last year showed problems with the line. This year the line has to be better. I’m hoping Winston can hold off the rushers on the right side. My biggest worry this year is whether the line can protect Wilson

  2. kevin mullen

    I hate to rest my hopes on some surprising OLine cuts after week 4 of preseason but I’m sure theres a name or two that’ll pop up that we’d pounce on. This team was built on roster churns, can’t imagine we’d go into our 2014 season without a new name or two come the Packer game.

  3. HD

    We share the same concerns…I will say this…last year many of us thought Bailey should have got a shot at LT as badly as McQuistan played….he’ll get a good look this preseason. The other young prospect I’m hearing good things about is Hauptmann now moved to left guard from tackle. Game time will show if Wade and Winston offer any answers…they both come from a ZBS system…where they did their best work in Texas…Winston was not playing under that system in Arizona or KC…and I understand that Wade was a pro bowl guy in 2012…and he sucked in 2013…how mysterious is that?
    Britt needs the real time reps to be evaluated and coached up…We’ll know by the end of preseason if Wilson need to up his life insurance…and yes…JS is always shopping…look for other adds at the 53 cutdown…I just got a hunch…You have the helm Mr Cable…make it count.

  4. RossJ

    It’s not the starters I’m concerned about but the depth. Okung, Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy and Winston looks like a pretty good starting five lineman, providing the tales of Carpenter’s improved conditioning are true and the rest are fit and healthy. I was encouraged by the signing of Winston, actually. I know he struggled a lot at times with the Cards but you don’t start at least 118 games for three different teams in seven seasons without being a pretty damn good player.

  5. Brandon

    The o-line is definitely is a concern. Cable seems to have good understanding of the zone scheme and run blocking, but does this guy teach pass protection well? I wonder. One other thought –
    Winston was playing for in a more man on man power scheme with the Cards last year, after playing most of his career in a zone blocking unit. The other thing is Bruce Arians has alot of that Norv Turner interest in always pressing the ball down the field, and he puts his share of pressure on his line to hold their blocks to allow those deeper routes to develop. Winston is by no means much more than league average, but league average isn’t bad by last year’s standards.

  6. EranUngar

    While being a concern, the OL should be better then most of last year. Sweezy and Carp in much better phisical shape should improve on thier 2013 performance. A healthier Unger and a healthy Okung would be another step forward. If we get some reasonable solution at RT we should be ok.

    However, my issues with TC and his OL management remains the same. Gibbs said that given a year he can turn garbagemen into an offensive line and that a ZBS Oline has to spend 100% of the time practicing ZBS. Cable said that with a functioning ZBS Oline you don’t need a great RB or QB. He also stated that his Oline likes to tattoo people rather then play pin cushions.

    With all the above it’s no wonder we keep drafting tough run blockers rather then better pass protectors. It’s also why Bowie was valued way ahead of the better pass protector Bailey. With 54% run plays plus 21% play action passes the Oline plays proper pass protection just 25% of the snaps.

    All of the above is fine. It won us a SB. Still, we do have this RW guy and what looks like an impresive array of targets. Maybe a functioning offense based on ZBS run blockers could become a great offense with more attention and time spent on “pin cushion” duties?

    I think it can. I think it should. TC doesn’t.

    I guess we’ll find out if RW will be pinned to the ground again this year while TC’s Oline keep working on tattoo artworks.

  7. Cysco

    My hope is that a fully stocked receiving corp can help take some pressure off the O-line. With Percy and Richardson in the mix I see the Hawks doing more quick outs, screens and sweeps. If they are able to demonstrate some success with quick hitting plays, it might keep the defensive lines a little more honest.

    that’s my hope anyway.

  8. James

    Health is the key. Injuries were the main reason the OL was so bad last season. Okung out half the season, and half-speed the other half. Unger was just not right due to injury, but he toughed it out. Carpenter was hurt, fat and slow, maybe this year healthy and fit, huge and strong? Sweezy’s main problem was lack of heft and strength….he added 20 lbs of muscle. Both Britt and Winston have quicker feet than Brenno, so that could actually be an upgrade in the pass pro, if not the run game. A healthy O line will be a much better O line

  9. JeffC

    I’m interested in seeing Lynch at some point this preseason. He looks fat.

    • CC

      I’m not sure if PC was serious or not, but he has said several times that Marshawn is not ready to go and needs to get in shape. I don’t know if that is because he’s sending a message for missing camp or if he really needs work. I really like Ware and hope he can stay around. I think next year he could compete with Michael for the starting job if Marshawn isn’t here.

      • JeffC

        I’ve been one of those who believes this is Marshawn’s last year in seattle because of the cap hit. So unless Ware falls flat on his face, I think he’s a lock for the roster, but we’ll see how it all shakes out. I also want him to stick around. Loved his style in the short stint last year. Loved Michael too. Not a huge fan of Turbo, but he’ll certainly have his chance this year to cement his place.

      • Steve Nelsen

        There are a lot of fans of Ware’s physical style of play. But, his speed (4.62 40) simply isn’t good enough to be a featured NFL running back. Lynch, Turbin and Michael all run in the low 4.4 range and as much as Pete talks about the physicality of a running offense, he is always looking for the explosive plays on offense.

  10. Mylegacy

    I spent most of last season fretting that our OLine, “…isn’t a Championship Team quality unit…”

    Same old refrain in 14?

    I fear it will be. The FIRST unit of: Okung, Carp, Unger, Sweezy and Winston has serious questions…Okung, is he ever going to be healthy? Carp, even if he can keep up his run blocking will he ever be able to protect Dangeruss? Unger, are his chest injuries going to reoccur, and even if not, has he lost too much strength to dominate? Sweezy, might be the only guy with a normal natural progression from “OK” to “not a liability…” Lastly is Winston, will he be who he once was or was in 13?

    Bailey and Jeanpierre are both guys we know and I think they might be OK to OK+. (But – that just might be the Devil you Know syndrome).

    As to Britt (clearly not ready yet) and then Smith, Cory and Schilling – really – who knows.

    Given our division, our schedule and our too early bye week, I’m pretty sure I’m be saying again this year – “Our OLine is not a Championship quality unit.”

    At this point I fear any regression in the OLine (below 13’s squad) will be enough to keep up out of the Show. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if we came in third in our division (nor would I be surprised if we won the SB either).

    • RadMan

      I agree. I think it’s been clear for some time the O line has been a weak point of this team. Curious, given the investment in draft picks and coaching resources. I like Richardson as a talent. But I can’t help but think our first and second pick should have been o line, given the talent and needs on this roster. There’s a certain hubris in the zone blocking coaching tree, that they can take Garbage man’ talent and shape them into an NFL squad. That might be true if everything goes right. But I’ve not been impressed so far with what they’ve managed to do in Seattle.

  11. AlaskaHawk

    It is a little to early to talk about regression. If our starters reinjure themselves for the umpteenth time then we will be back to struggling on offense. Seems like our backups are a little better this year, or perhaps just more versatile at filling positions.

    I do expect PC to pick up another linemen or two from the cuts other teams make. Basically all the backups except Bailey and Britt are on a prove it deal.

    Speaking of Britt, when will we spend a high draft pick on someone who will start and play at a high level???? Last time we did that was Earl Thomas. Also Bobby Wagner qualifies.

    • EranUngar

      There also that RW guy starting right after the draft.

      However, the likes of K.J., Sherman, Chancellor etc. indicate that we can make non starters into great players so we have to wait and see.

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