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O-Line Woes Threaten Seahawks’ Long-Term Success

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The depletion of the Seahawks offensive line has been a slow, deliberate process of neglect. With the cheapest line in the NFL, can the Hawks rebound?

The Seattle Seahawks have been as good as the franchise has seen in the seven-year tenure of coach Pete Carroll’s mad NFL experiment. Harnessing the confidence of a Super Bowl XLVIII victory and compiling a depth chart featuring All-Pro players, the Seahawks have become perennial playoff participants. 

It’s been good news for the team and 12’s alike. The “Win Forever” philosophy of Carroll has produced some of the most exciting and statistically prolific seasons in the franchise’s history. However, after a disappointing exit from the playoffs in 2015, the Seahawks finished the season wondering if they could recapture the magic in 2016. 

Despite the franchise’s boon of recent success, QB Russell Wilson and the entire offensive scheme have operated under extreme pressure. Even the dominance of their 2013 Super Bowl season was at times threatened by poor O-line play. 

Since Wilson’s rookie season, he has had to operate in a hostile backfield and make use of every ounce of his athleticism. In his 2012 rookie campaign, he was pressured on 39.2% of his drop backs, and by 2015 that had soared to 45.6%. When the running game was solid and Wilson was at peak health, this pressure often resulted in huge gains for the Seahawks, which kept drives alive, and opposing offenses off the field.

2016 TeamRankSacksAdjusted Sack Rate
2016 NFL AverageX356.1%

Yet, fielding an O-line which can protect Wilson and establish offensive momentum seems to be of little-to-no concern for the organization. The Seahawks let two Super Bowl champions sign with other teams (Giacomini & McQuistan) in 2014, traded Pro Bowl center Max Unger to the Saints for the high-priced tight end Jimmy Graham in 2015, and said goodbye to 2010 and 2011 1st round draft picks Russell Okung and James Carpenter before the start of 2016.

The offensive situation was aggravated further when running back Marshawn Lynch retired just before Super Bowl 50. Lynch made the best of a difficult situation in Seattle, and often had to break tackles and drag defenders just to get back to the line of scrimmage. He walked away with the league’s 2nd-best yards-after-contact from 2011 to 2015 behind only the invincible Adrian Peterson. It was a devastating loss in rushing production and overall team identity.

 2016 Team Rushing   Rank   Yards per Attempt   Yards per Game  Touchdowns  
NFL AverageX4.17108.914

From 2012 (Wilson’s rookie year) to 2015, Seattle was a top-5 rushing team— a characteristic which marked their physical style of play. After Lynch’s retirement they dropped to 25th and amassed a measly 1591 total yards and 13 rushing TD’s. The lack of run production shortened Seattle’s average drives and kept their defense on the field longer. In 2012, Seattle was the 5th-best league-wide in time of possession with an average of 31:24. By 2016 it had dropped to 20th with 29:47. Time of possession is key to controlling pace and holding leads. From 2012 to 2015, the Seahawks were a top-10 team in offensive production, but slipped to 18th this year with only 22 points a game.

The lack of running options after injuries to both RB’s Lynch and Thomas Rawls in 2015 put further emphasis on Russell. He began to air it out and posted career numbers in passing the last two seasons, finishing 2016 with a career-high and franchise-record 4219 yards. However, the trade off of all those pressured passes was a career low in touchdown-to-interception ratio at 21 to 11, which slightly dipped his still-impressive career passer rating to 99.6.

The unique physicality of Beast Mode and the threat of a healthy Wilson led Seattle’s offense to success in spite of the o-line’s deficiencies during their Super Bowl runs in 2013 and 2014.

The loss of consistency in the running game and re-emphasis on Wilson’s arm meant more focus on pass blocking efficiency. Creating a pocket was never a focus of Seattle’s o-line. Coach Tom Cable’s has utilized an odd and difficult zone blocking scheme. It is an approach suited to getting athletic blockers to the second level to further opening up running lanes, not hold their ground against the league’s best pass rushers. The short story— the unit is overdue for drastic improvement. 

Despite being the lowest paid o-line in football, it would seem the depth chart shortcomings will continue to be a sacrifice of Pete Carroll’s scheme and focus. For the Seahawks, it means no big free agent signings, and no change in how they draft.

2016 Team O-line Spending   Rank  Total Cap    Dollars  Average Cap   Dollars  Percent of 2016   Cap
NFL AverageX$22,659,628

Since 2010, Seattle has used only 12 of their 66 picks on offensive linemen, and Germain Ifedi is the most recent 1st rounder since they selected Carpenter back in 2011. The rest have been a collection of low-round talent and defensive converts. None of Seattle’s choices have flourished, and third year lineman Justin Britt remains the most talented and experienced, despite playing a different role on the line every season thus far.

“You’ve got to get guys that can play worthy of it, and when they demonstrate that then they get paid,” Said Carroll in a recent press conference. “We’re not going to go out and spend a ton of money in free agency on one guy to try to save the day. That’s now how we function at all.”

With words like that, it’s safe to say that this is Carroll’s plan for the offensive line. If Seattle is not willing to spend money on an offensive line, then it is time the Seahawks aim high in the draft for offensive linemen, and stop its experiment with journeymen. The franchise’s future success might depend on it.

Edited by James Malloy, Kat Johansen, Vincent Choy.

What year did Seattle Seahawk's Hall of Fame LT Walter Jones retire?
Created 2/6/17
  1. 2009
  2. 2010
  3. 2011
  4. 2012

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