It was early, almost four hours before kickoff, and only a few grounds workers and media types were out on CenturyLink Field.
These were the quiet moments before the field evolves into an unworldly noisy and violent place.
In one corner, though, coach Tom Cable had his entire offensive line clustered in a group.
They weren’t padded up, but they were drilling nonetheless. It wasn’t just going over plays, but techniques, footwork, timing.
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More than anything, it was a matter of getting their attention, reminding them how important they would be in Saturday’s wild-card game against the Detroit Lions.
The extra work, the focus, the time spent together paid off Saturday as the Seahawks went back to their ground-and-pound persona, rushing for 177 yards, with back Thomas Rawls piercing the Detroit defense for 161 yards on 27 carries.
The offensive line, this season’s whipping boys, the Fighting Scapegoats, were the key to the 26-6 victory that sends the Seahawks into the divisional round next Saturday at Atlanta.
Here’s the takeaway, the crucial nugget of importance regarding the play of the offensive line: If this team can block consistently, then anything can happen.
The defense is good enough to play with anybody.
The offensive “skill” positions can play with anybody.
But if they block like this, then they can run as they did. And then the Rawls runs open a world of possibilities for quarterback Russell Wilson and receivers Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham and the suddenly emergent Paul Richardson.
A natural progression of the line could be expected as they had more time together as the season went on. But some of the linemen pinpointed the early pregame work as being a specific factor in the last two games, particularly.
Reserve tackle Bradley Sowell explained the extra sessions.
“It’s something we came up with together, some of the veteran guys,” Sowell said. “We decided to get together and get out there to make sure we’re on the same page, and go over some stuff, to do some individual work and tune up some of our stuff. It sure has paid off the last couple weeks.”
How early were they out there? “Probably four hours,” Sowell said.
And nobody else was on the field? “Not a soul,” he added.
“I felt it helped out tonight, for sure,” Sowell said.
Big credit is due to this unit. They fired out low off the line, got into the Lions’ defenders and drove them back.
They seemed to use a little more power blocking this game, pulling a guard on occasion, playing more downhill than blocking laterally as they tend to with their zone scheme.
The effects were almost immediately obvious.
And more credit goes to them for getting this thing turned around so convincingly. They’d heard the talk and read the stories.
They knew eyes would be on them. If they lost this one, the offensive line would be blamed for everything that had gone wrong all season.
And those accusations might not be that big a stretch. Most consider this strange mosaic of undrafted tackles, rookies and newly situated starters as the weakest link of a team.
They certainly constitute the least-paid offensive line in the NFL, so betting they’d jell early was a long shot.
Saturday, there were some of the problems that every line in the NFL is going to see now and again, but there was so much positive, it represented a significant improvement.
And so importantly, there was toughness. There was the ability to line up and get a push against the defenders.
It wasn’t just the linemen, either, but tight ends and fullback Marcel Reece. Once it was even Russell Wilson racing downfield to throw a block.
And once Rawls got past the line, or Wilson had fired a pass out toward the sidelines, the offensive linemen were sprinting downfield looking for that block that might turn a short gain into a touchdown.
“We were close all year,” tackle Garry Gilliam said. “It was a matter of us fitting our helmets and running our feet, finishing our blocks, our runners getting downhill and making their cuts.”
So what was the difference, Garry?
“It was just a matter of us going out there and having the cajones to do it,” Gilliam said, flashing his Spanish-language skills.
Fact is, it finally looked right. It finally looked like a Pete Carroll offense.
“It’s nice to have our running game back,” Gilliam said. “It feels like Seattle again.”
And that could make a world of difference in coming weeks.