RENTON The offensive line may finally be settling. Just in time for the biggest tests of whether it is truly jelling.
Seahawks assistant head coach and line coach Tom Cable said following Wednesday’s practice for Sunday’s night’s showdown with the soaring Philadelphia Eagles that he now wants continuity with Seattle’s set of five starting blockers from last weekend’s win at San Francisco. That’s after the return last week of left guard Luke Joeckel after his five-game absence because of knee surgery.
Cable’s intent is for the current, fifth iteration of the line this season to be his last: Duane Brown at left tackle, Joeckel at left guard, Justin Britt as center, rookie Ethan Pocic at right guard and Germain Ifedi as the right tackle.
After months of injuries, moves, ineffectiveness, benching and a trade--for Brown, the three-time Pro Bowl tackle from Houston--Cable’s word for December is “continuity.”
“That is the whole key right there, is to see if we can keep that group together and let them grow together now, to see if we can keep working on finding the runner (in the lost rushing offense). If we can continue to do that then cohesiveness will start to show itself. And that is always a positive.”
Nothing about Oday Aboushi. The veteran who has started eight games this season was out last week with a shoulder injury. Pocic replaced him at right guard. Aboushi didn’t practice again on Wednesday.
The Seahawks have had everything but continuity so far this season up front.
Rees Odhiambo was the Plan B left tackle after starter George Fant had season-ending knee surgery in August. Odhiambo was ineffective to the point of Seattle trading last month for Brown; Odhiambo has since gone on injured reserve to his fingers operated on. Mark Glowinski, last year’s starting left guard, was the starting right guard for the first two games. Then he lost his job to Aboushi. When Joeckel had arthroscopic knee surgery in October, Pocic became the left guard.
Then Absoushi sustained a shoulder injury two games ago against Atlanta. Cable chose the promising Pocic, the tall, rookie second-round pick who can play every position on the line, over Glowinski to replace Aboushi at right guard last weekend at San Francisco.
That’s how it will be again Sunday night when Seattle (7-4) hosts Philadelphia (10-1) as a rare, big home underdog: Brown, Joeckel, Britt, Pocic and Ifedi, from left to right across the line.
That line did not allow a sack against the 49ers last weekend, the first game without one surrendered since December 2015. The overriding reason for that was quarterback Russell Wilson making more magical spins and escapes from defenders then runs or completed passes instead of sacks. But still, with the bar for pass protection so low for the Seahawks, that was progress.
Cable said the 6-foot-6 Pocic’s biggest issue is not getting low enough coming out of his stance.
Asked how Pocic did at right guard at San Francisco, Cable said: “Just fine.
“He’s got some things he still does as a young guy in terms of squareness in his hip level and all that. We are working on it. But the nice thing about him is he is a really good learner so as the game kind of unfolds, he is able to improve right in the middle of the game and he has done that now for a while.
“So really it’s him just understanding where he is best at (out of his stance) and learning to start there. And not have to go back down to get that leverage position you are looking for, but to start in that position. That is a big emphasis this week obviously with the opponent we have coming up.”
The Eagles have 31 sacks in 11 games, fifth-most in the league, part of the reason they are third in points allowed (17.4) and second-best deny teams on third downs (to a conversion rate of just 28.6 percent). Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell mentioned every one of Philadelphia’s front seven defenders rushes the passer aggressively.
The Eagles don’t try to trick you defensively. They line up in their base 4-3 and say, here we come, try to block us. It’s not unlike how Seattle’s 4-3 was in its best years of 2012-15 when it played in two Super Bowls, won one and became the first team since the 1950s Cleveland Browns to led the NFL in fewest points allowed over four consecutive seasons.
“They’re just really aggressive,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Their front play is excellent, and they’re not going to fool you. They’re going to line up and play football and come after you.”
Cable noted the experience of Philadelphia’s defense. The front seven has a combined 38 seasons in the NFL. Second-year middle linebacker Joe Walker is the only one with fewer than four years in the league.
“If you look at them, they are a really experienced group, guys who have played for a long time,” Cable said. “Guys who have a real good skill set at each position. They got a nice rotation of players that come in.
“They don’t do a lot, so they really know what they are doing.”
For the last two seasons Seattle has had one of the league’s youngest offensive lines. It’s added experience with Brown, the 10-year veteran who arrived last month in that trade from the Texans, and the return of Joeckel. He spent his first four years in the league with Jacksonville before signing with Seattle in March.
Cable’s hope is now that he’s got five blockers that he likes--and coming off a game in which they finally did not allow a sack--the Seahawks will have offensive linemen that not only really know what they are doing but spend all of December actually doing it.
And what a month of tests December will be. Big tests.
After the best team in the NFL right now comes a trip next week to the AFC South co-leading Jacksonville Jaguars. Then Dec. 10 the NFC West leaders, the Los Angeles Rams, come to CenturyLink Field with the division title likely on the line.
The Eagles, Jaguars and Rams defenses rank sixth, first and sixth respectively in sacks, third, first and seventh in points allowed and sixth, first and 16th in total defense.
Asked how close the Seahawks’ offensive line is to being where he wants it, Cable said: “I really think the best way that is going to get answered here very quickly, if you look at what this week is and the next week and the next week, we got a month here of real big challenges against really good defenses, so we are going to find out.”