This bye is no rest week for the Seahawks’ concerns on the offensive line.
Nor should it be.
What the much-maligned line has produced through five games is not sustainable. Not if the team wants to keep Russell Wilson upright and in one, fully functioning piece--which it must.
The Seahawks hosted two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert for a free-agent visit on Monday, coach Pete Carroll confirmed.
Seattle is also reported to be talking to Houston about the possibility of obtaining holdout left tackle Duane Brown in some kind of trade. The three-time Pro Bowl selection and 2012 All-Pro hasn’t played all season. He wants his contract redone. It has this year and next remaining on it. He’s scheduled for $19,150,000--$9.4 million in base salary this year and $9.75 million in 2018. None of that money is guaranteed. Brown’s losing $550,000 per week in game checks while holding out.
So, yes, the Seahawks (3-2) are still trying to settle its offensive line five games into the season, even though they are back in first place in the NFC West after beating the Rams on Sunday.
Everyone focuses on sack numbers to measure a line’s effectiveness. That’s one measure that shows the Seahawks’ blockers are performing more poorly than they were at this time last year--when they had already gotten Wilson two major leg injuries in the first three games. This season their quarterback has been sacked 13 times. That’s tied for eighth-most in the league. After five games last season Seattle had allowed 10 sacks.
If Wilson wasn’t a magician escaping so many would-be sacks each game, as he was again wondrously against the Rams last weekend, that number would be far higher--higher than the NFL high of 20 sacks allowed by the Texans so far this season.
Just about every game the last two seasons there have been at least a half-dozen to a dozen times most QBs would be their backs sacked while Wilson escapes. Instead of a loss of yardage and gain of pain, Wilson scrambles away from rushers. He runs for positive yardage. He throws on the run to a receiver coming back on an improvisational route at which they have all become adept, such as Paul Richardson just standing on the Seahawks sideline as if waiting for a cab on a reception at the end of a scramble late in the game at Los Angeles. Or Wilson throws the ball away to avoid the sack, loss of yardage and chance of injury. Each Sunday, countless second and 10s should be second and 18s.
But more telling, and more dangerous to the Seahawks’ season, is how many hits the line is causing Wilson to take beyond just sacks.
Wilson has been hit a total of 43 times by pass rushers through five games, according to the league’s official statistics and game logs. Only Arizona’s line has allowed its statuesque, older quarterback, Carson Palmer, to get hit more: 50 times. Seattle’s line has been beaten six on five by the Rams’ extra, blitzing linebackers last weekend such as Alec Ogletree. They’ve been beaten four on five, such as on third and 20 in Tennessee’s territory in the fourth quarter against the Titans in week three. They’ve even been beaten by three pass rushers against five blockers, such as on fourth and 20 in that same, key series late when the Seahawks needed a touchdown at Tennessee but got nothing and lost the game.
Wilson is on pace to absorb 138 hits over 16 regular-season games. That is not only unsustainable, it is potentially lethal to Seattle’s goals of winning the division and getting a least a second-round playoff game at home for the first time in three years. That’s 138 chances to get injured, 138 chances to doom the Seahawks’ entire offense and season.
And we thought last year was bad. In 2016 Seattle allowed 111 QB hits. The most in the NFL last season was 140 by Cleveland--which went 1-15.
Those official league statistics on quarterbacks hits by a defense only counts drop backs to throw. They don’t count the 30 times Wilson has run the ball this season, for 154 yards. Of those runs 13 have been called QB rushes such as bootlegs, and 17 times Wilson has scrambled, for 144 yards. That’s been after giving up trying to throw and just taking off running from the pocket, usually with multiple defenders having beaten Seattle blockers.
He’s run out of bounds on 10 of his 30 runs. He’s slid down ahead of tacklers a few times, like he did last weekend short of the line to gain on third down in the first half against the Rams. Still, that’s an additional 15 or so hits, on top of the official quarterback-hit statistics.
So Wilson’s actually been hit almost 60 times through five games. That’s even more unsustainable.
Last year showed how those additional runs are dangerous to Wilson--and the Seahawks’ entire season. He got a sprained knee ligament abandoning a pass and scrambling for the sidelines but not reaching it before he got dragged down onto his leg by San Francisco’s Eli Harold. That was in week three of the 2016 season. Doctors told Wilson he should miss four weeks. He didn’t miss a practice, let alone a game. But he was severely limited for months. So was Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks won the division with 10 victories, instead of 12 or 13 (remember the 9-3 loss at the Rams, or 6-6 tie at Arizona, or 14-5 loss at Tampa Bay?) That meant a divisional-round playoff game on the road against a hot team for the second consecutive January instead of at home against a lesser one. The season ended at Atlanta in the second round.
Coach Pete Carroll has stated since the day after that loss in January at the Falcons that getting to those 12 or more wins so the Seahawks can have that second-round playoff game in Seattle is the goal for the 2017 season.
But now left guard Luke Joeckel is having arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday. The Seahawks almost certainly will need another new starting lineman when they next play, Oct. 22 at the New York Giants. It could be Mark Glowinski, their 2016 starting left guard who’s been a backup right guard the last few weeks, or rookies Ethan Pocic or Jordan Roos. And as their interest in Albert and Brown show, they aren’t convinced Rees Odhiambo is their 2017 answer at left tackle in the wake of George Fant’s season-ending knee injury and surgery in August.
In mid-October, the Seahawks’ offensive line is still in flux. And in need of improving.
What is Carroll’s overall assessment of the offensive line through five games?
“That we have made improvement and we are kind of feeling our guys in terms of what their strengths are and how they are fitting together, with still areas that you can see that we will improve,” Carroll said. “In terms of identification (of which defenders to block), communication on the move, some of the pass rushes, there (are) just small things that we can do better that will keep us cleaner.
“Russell is being very resourceful in the pocket, keeping those guys alive, too, when they do have issues. He has been able to escape.”
That is the biggest understatement of the Seahawks’ season so far.
“But we are getting better,” Carroll said of his O-line. “And so we just got to keep going in that same direction and keep improving.”