Protection-Less in Seattle
By Corbin Smith
This might have been the ugliest win in franchise history. And the 'Hawks current offensive line might be the worst unit in the National Football League.
A win is a win at this level, but the Seahawks cannot expect to be a championship contender with a porous offensive line that limits the team on a weekly basis. Prior to Monday's game, Russell Wilson and the offense had been able to overcome the line's shortcomings on the way to a franchise-best 6-1 start. Playing in primetime for the 2nd straight week, the line once again let the team down despite leaving town victorious.
The Rams kept the heat on Wilson all night long and never let Marshawn Lynch find a rhythm on the ground, making Seattle's offense near non-existent. Defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long both racked up three sacks a piece opposite of reserve tackles Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie, and the Seahawks were unable to make effective adjustments to jump-start the offense. At one point, the Rams sacked Wilson on four out of five drop backs, which is unacceptable for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. McQuistan and Bowie have done an admirable job, but the current situation isn't working.
Did St. Louis provide a blueprint for beating the Seahawks?
In some ways, yes. One game doesn't make a season, but Seattle's offensive line has gotten progressively worse as the year has unfolded. The Rams consistently stacked eight guys in the box to force Seattle to beat them through the air, but poor pass protection prevented Wilson from taking advantage of single man coverage. When he did have time to throw, his receivers dropped several catchable passes and struggled to get open.
Upcoming opponents will look at the Rams' game plan and certainly try to use similar tactics against Seattle's beleaguered front line. Teams will try to shut down Lynch from the outset and force Wilson to win games with his arm, and unless the line shows great improvement, that could spell doom for the Seahawks. In the past two games, the line has surrendered 13 sacks to the Cardinals and Rams, and the unit has greatly hindered an offense that should be putting lots of points on the scoreboard. Wilson can receive a little blame for sometimes holding onto the football too long, but for the most part, the line hasn't given him a chance to make plays the past few weeks.
As if a poor performance by the front line wasn't enough, Seattle also will have to move forward without Sidney Rice, who tore his ACL during the game and will miss the rest of the season. With Percy Harvin set to make his debut in the next week or two, the 'Hawks have reinforcements on the way, but a struggling offense will miss having Rice on the outside. Opponents won't have to worry about defending a dangerous four wide receiver set featuring Harvin, Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate for the foreseeable future, making defensive game planning a little simpler.
Upcoming opponents will also have some ammunition to work with in terms of attacking the Seahawks' defense. Seattle held the Rams to nine points, but it wasn't a traditional vintage performance from a normally dominant defensive unit. The Seahawks picked off Kellen Clemens twice and helped the team win the turnover battle, but St. Louis found great success running the football with powerful rookie running back Zac Stacy.
If not for a sprained ankle forcing him out of the game, Stacy most likely would have been able to run the ball for a game-winning touchdown on the Rams' final drive. He ran through and around Seattle's vaunted defense all evening, finishing with over 130 yards on the ground. Opponents will look at the game film from Monday night and attempt to replicate this success running the ball in an effort to wear down the defense and open up the passing game.
How can Seattle remedy this situation down the stretch?
The Seahawks could have investigated trading for upgrades at the tackle positions, but opted not to make any moves prior to Tuesday's deadline. The team hopes to have talented left tackle Russell Okung as well as veteran Breno Giacomini back in a few weeks, which should provide immediate improvement in pass protection. Okung's return will also allow McQuistan to move back to his natural position as a starting guard over James Carpenter, who has been a major disappointment since being drafted in the first round out of Alabama. Pete Carroll hasn't missed on many draft picks, but Carpenter has shown little progress since coming into the league and has battled injury woes throughout his tenure.
If the current lineup has to remain for a prolonged period of time, Seattle may have no choice but to start experimenting with personnel changes. Offensive coordinator Darell Bevell may have to leave tight end Zach Miller in for blocking purposes more frequently, limiting his impact as a receiver and minimizing what formations the team can utilize during games. Reserves like Lemuel Jeanpierre may need to be inserted into the starting lineup in place of ineffective players such as Carpenter or J.R. Sweezy.
The million dollar question is: Will those tackles be back in time?
As poorly as the offensive line has performed in recent weeks, Seattle has to be concerned about Wilson's health. He's simply taking too many hits each week, and even though he's shown to be very durable, it's only a matter of time until he doesn't get up after taking a big hit from an unblocked defensive end. On numerous occasions against St. Louis, the Seahawks failed to block Quinn and Long, and they were left untouched to unload on Wilson. It's hard to fathom why Seattle allowed standout players like Quinn and Long to come through the line with very little resistance, but it continues to happen every game and eventually Wilson will go down.
If this trend continues, Tarvaris Jackson will have to play at some point. Jackson knows the offense and has won some games in his career, but he doesn't have the mobility that Wilson has and he has dealt with injury problems of his own in the past. If the line can't protect Wilson, how can it be expected to protect Jackson? Keeping that in mind, who plays quarterback if both players get hurt? B.J. Daniels currently sits as third on the depth chart, but Seattle would have to look at free agent options if somehow the first two quarterbacks went down with injuries.
That's a scary proposition that this team does not want to face, but it could become a reality if the front line doesn't show vast improvement and the combination of Okung and Giacomini fails to get healthy. Adding Harvin to the fold will make Seattle's offense more explosive, but ultimately, an underwhelming offensive line will continue to derail any plans for making it to New Jersey in February.
The Seahawks are loaded with talent at every other position and something has to be done to prevent the offensive line from holding the team back. Finding a solution to this problem must be the top priority for Seattle's coaching staff. In a league where championship windows close quickly, they have no other alternative.