NASHVILLE, Tenn. Uh oh.
The Seahawks’ offensive line has had a difficult enough time blocking four-man defensive fronts so far this season. Even on their only touchdown through two games, quarterback Russell Wilson had to magically escape all four San Francisco down linemen that were rushing free on him. He then threw the winning pass last weekend.
Now Seattle’s concerning blockers meet a team that may the NFL team that challenges an offensive line the most. The Tennessee Titans (1-1) and Dick LeBeau, their 80-year-old defensive coordinator guru, are rarely content with sending just four men at opposing quarterbacks. The creator of the "Blitzburgh" Steelers of the 1990s and 2000s –this is his 59th year in the NFL as a player or coach -- has guys flying in from linebacker, safety, cornerback, nickel back and maybe even section 114. He has Titans defensive ends drop deep in pass coverage. Tackles standing up and moving around like freelancing pass rushers, picking their spots through which to race.
"Yeah, from all different angles. With everybody," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who at age 66 is 14 years LeBeau’s junior.
"He’s doing new things. You don’t know what he is going to do. You just have to wait until game time and adjust during game time.
"He makes it very difficult."
Very difficult does not seem to be what Seattle’s O-line needs right now.
The team that’s had issues targeting the right men to block and blocking four down linemen this season is going to have far more than four pass rushers to block here in Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. (Pacific time) game at Nissan Stadium.
"Got a big task ahead of us," Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
Veteran Seahawks guard Oday Aboushi calls this the NFL’s biggest challenge schematically for blockers.
He would know. Aboushi signed with Seattle this spring after a season and a half with Houston, a rival of the Titans in the AFC South. Aboushi played from 2013 into ’15 for the New York Jets, another AFC team. This is the seventh time he’s had to prepare for Tennessee’s defense in the last five seasons.
That’s why he’s the likely change to Seattle’s struggling line on Sunday. Evidence this past week was Aboushi will start at right guard over Mark Glowinski. Glowinski had trouble with San Francisco’s front four running free up the middle at Wilson last weekend.
It’s about the only in-house move the Seahawks can make up front. Aboushi alternated with Glowinski as the first-team right guard throughout the preseason before Glowinski won the job for the opener. Rookie second-round Ethan Pocic is more valuable currently as the versatile backup at center, guard and tackle, should any blocker get hurt or just run over too much during a game.
"You have to prepare for everything: the blitzes; the off-levels (rushes from linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks)," Aboushi said. "They try to get you on it.
"The biggest thing, honestly, is playing our game and being in-synch with each other. Communicating, we are able to pick up a lot of the stunts and the blitzes we bring. The biggest thing with Dick LeBeau’s defenses has always been communicating."
Most of all between center Justin Britt and Wilson, on protection calls just before the snap.
"You have to be able to communicate," Wilson said. "Have great eyes, communicate with that, and making sure that we’re on the same page."
Wilson has been sacked six times and hit 17 other times through two games. He looked affected by 10 hits last weekend in Seattle’s 12-9 rally past San Francisco. His passes were either way high or skipped so far in front of a receiver one of his throws dislocated teammate Paul Richardson’s ring finger. On one of three sacks by the 49ers, early in the second half, Wilson spun around inside a pocket that was holding up, for a change. He finally went down because he had abandoned his throw expecting to get hit.
"If you are not poised after the snap and you can stay calm about it and deal with it, then it doesn’t matter if you make the right call or not, you are going to misfire," Carroll said. "There is a lot to it. It is an incredible part of the game that it is hard to really appreciate for people that watch, how much is going on and how difficult it is for a guy to execute under those circumstances.
"So it is a magnificent part of the game and the challenge that the quarterbacks have every week."
Especially Wilson in this one.
So how can the Seahawks combat all they are about to see coming at them?
More no-huddle might not be a bad idea.
The Seahawks through games are averaging 3.1 yards per play and have scored nine point on drives when they’ve exclusively huddled. On the three drives this season that have included no-huddle snaps and a noticeable increase in tempo, they have averaged 14.2 yards per play and scored 12 points.
One of those no-huddle drives came at the end of a half, the opening one of the season at Green Bay when the Packers were more of a soft, preventative defense. But the Seahawks’ other two drives with no-huddle have been in the middle of the fourth quarter against regular defenses. They have resulted in a field goal at Green Bay and Seattle’s only touchdown this season, against the 49ers.
Wilson has been hit or sacked those 23 times through two games all while huddling. He has not been sacked nor even hit on those three drives that have included no-huddle sets.
Bevell, the play caller, said he and Carroll are constantly considering during games whether to use more no-huddle.
"We talk about it all the time," Bevell said. "There were a couple other times during the game that we had talked about it, but we sped up different tempos…But that specific drive (to the go-ahead touchdown last weekend) was the whole drive pretty much that we stayed in it.
"But our tempo when we are moving the ball, our tempo is pretty good. We are getting out of the huddle quickly, we are getting on the line of scrimmage quickly, you can see them sometimes trying to get lined up quick enough to match our tempo, so that improved us. We improved in that area because we converted third downs and we had longer drives and we could extend them.
"But the one drive you are talking about, we definitely changed it and stayed in it the whole time."
Carroll said some games he is hesitant to use more no-huddle offense because he doesn’t want to give a potentially lethal opposing quarterback more possessions.
Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota is a potentially lethal opposing quarterback Sunday. When it matters most, too.
The former Oregon star, the second-overall pick in the 2015 draft, has 33 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a completion rate of 62.1 percent in the red zone in his career. In his 29-game career, he has only been sacked two times inside the opponents’ 20.
"They are good at running the football," Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard said of the Titans. "Anytime you get down there and you can establish the run, it makes it a whole lot easier for the quarterback to manage things.
"They’re very effective at maintaining their standard and who they and running the football down there. He’s a guy who eliminates mistakes."
Stop the run and Titans big back Derrick Henry first. Seattle’s defense, dominant at times so far this season, knows its task Sunday. The last few years, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Cliff Avril and company have most been up to such tasks.
But the offense? Its job here Sunday is even more formidable--and potentially, if the Seahawks suddenly fix their issues up front, more rewarding.
"I think," Bevell said, "we can do a great job in being able to pick up all the pressures they are going to give us in this game."