Among the offensive starters the Seattle Seahawks can least afford to lose, left tackle Russell Okung, reliable guardian of a right-handed passer’s blind side, ranks just behind quarterback Russell Wilson.
Running back Marshawn Lynch inspires enough adjectives to fill a thesaurus page, but “indispensable” is not one of them. For all the lightning seen Sunday at CenturyLink Field, little of it was supplied by the wide receivers: Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice combined for three receptions during the Seahawks 29-3 victory against San Francisco. And despite Zach Miller’s timely emergence as a go-to target during last season’s playoffs, let’s not forget the tight end has averaged about two catches a game since his 2011 arrival as a free agent.
But Okung? Reports that a turf-toe injury will sideline the Pro Bowl selection this week, and possibly much longer, give Seahawks fans reason to wonder if this seemingly enchanted season will be undone by misfortune.
Okung was seen as anchor of an offensive line whose durability had been crucial to the Hawks’ 2012 breakout season. And while tentative replacement Paul McQuistan is a versatile veteran – he’ll move to tackle from left guard, where James Carpenter becomes the starter – the difference between McQuistan and Okung is the difference between a prayerful hope and a proven plan.
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McQuistan now occupies a difficult position, doing the best he can. Okung has dominated the same position and exerted his
will. McQuistan allowed two sacks in three quarters Sunday. Okung allowed two sacks in 15 games last year.
The good news? The guy who gave McQuistan so much trouble the other night, 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, is trouble for almost everybody.
The bad news? After the Seahawks complete their expected drubbing of Jacksonville’s hapless Jaguars, McQuistan figures to be matched against Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, a quarterback stalker whose penchant for tipping passes has earned him the nickname “J.J. Swatt.”
There’s a chance Okung could recover in time to prevent Watt from putting on a Sept. 29 chainsaw-massacre in Texas. It’s about the same chance Eminem has of pursuing a career in the TV booth as a college-football analyst alongside Brent and Herb.
A more reasonable timetable for Okung’s recovery is six weeks, which is what Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon needed after suffering a similar injury last year. (Upon returning, by the way, Garcon was not 100 percent.)
Pessimists can be forgiven for suspecting Okung’s turf toe as the accident that ends up toppling the house-of-cards construction put together by Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Except the Seahawks’ roster is anything but a house of cards.
Remember all that talk about how Seattle’s preseason cuts were liable to be viable elsewhere? Remember how many of the No. 2’s on the two-deep roster were touted as potential No. 1’s in Oakland and Cleveland?
An injury, even if the victim is as valuable as Russell Okung, doesn’t change that.
Remember this, too: No Super Bowl champion has escaped some measure of adversity.
The 1966 Green Bay Packers were Super Bowl champs even without any substantial contribution from Hall of Famer Paul Hornung. The great running back, whose 105 rushing yards against Cleveland helped the Packers win the 1965 NFL title, sat out most of ’66 with a pinched nerve in his neck.
A tough break, to be sure, but nothing comparable to the tribulations endured by the 2012 Ravens, the most recent Super Bowl champs. Their dreamiest of seasons began with the challenge of finding a substitute for impact linebacker Terrell Suggs, who’d ruptured his Achilles tendon in a pick-up basketball game.
Linebacker Ray Lewis tore a triceps muscle midway through the season, reducing (or maybe enhancing?) his role into that of a cheerleader until the playoffs. Lewis was hurt the same day Ravens star cornerback, Lardarius Webb, went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Although Suggs’ recovery from the Achilles tear bordered on the remarkable – on Oct. 21, he was back on the field – the Ravens’ offense stalled and sputtered. When their record fell to 9-4, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired.
Can you imagine the fallout if the 2013 Seahawks, with a 9-4 record, relieve Darrell Bevell of his responsibilities? I can. The fallout would be chaotic.
Teams destined for the Super Bowl usually don’t replace the most significant of their assistant coaches after 13 games. Teams destined for the Super Bowl usually aren’t buoyed by injuries.
But the best teams – the championship teams – find a way. If the Ravens found a way last season, the Seahawks can find a way this season.
The team that just clobbered the defending NFC champs is the best Seattle football team we’ve ever seen.
It’s an even better team when a Pro Bowl left tackle is patrolling the blind side, granted, but sometimes it’s necessary to acknowledge the only numbers that count.
The score was 0-0 when Russell Okung walked off the field. The score was 29-3 when everybody else did.